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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Oct. 4, 2013

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 1:06 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings, all, from St. Louis, where first pitch will come exactly seven minutes after we're done here today. So pull up a stool.

Drew: Is it fair to say that the history, even the character of Clint Hurdle made that strategic mistake of leaving AJ in too long almost predictable and even consistent with his many similar GOOD decisions all season? If so, is it also fair to say that consistency supported by (mostly) winning baseball is an acceptable risk? Or have I lost my Blackout Mind?

Dejan Kovacevic: We live in a world that's increasingly about absolutes. I wrote a column from London critical of Mike Tomlin, and a reader sent me this passionate letter about how he agreed with me that Tomlin should be fired. ... Wow.

If I write that someone's doing great, it doesn't mean I think they're doing great 100 percent of the team. Same with the reverse.

Hurdle blew that game yesterday. He's blown some others. He also won 94 of the 162 games he managed this past season, and that can't all have been because of his folksy manner.

No need to generalize everything.

Guest: With Vokoun out, is it possible this is a blessing which if Fleury gets exposed, Shero makes a big move?

Dejan Kovacevic: Forgive me for this in advance, please. There's no blessing when a good man, a family man, is hit with a potentially career-ending condition that could be chronic and threaten his life. I'm sure you realize that, too, but I don't want to answer before saying that.

If Fleury has any change in his status this season, it'll be because he now has an opportunity — however unfortunately arrived — to be the man. No more vet backup. No more parachute. Nothing but a Zatkoff sitting on a folding chair.

It's his gig. Great start last night. Let's see how he does.

kibab1979: So, to make sure I have this right, Hurdle and Tomlin should be fired today, and Pens fans are now hoping Fleury bombs so that a big trade is made. Makes me just shake my head sometimes.

Dejan Kovacevic: Bylsma, too. He also should be fired.

You know, I apologize for the delay I just had here. ESPN's Jayson Stark just stopped over and was asking me some Gerrit Cole stuff. But in the process, Jayson correctly observed in his own inimitable way to what extent Hurdle really blew that game yesterday.

Jayson's research shows that Burnett seeing eight batters without getting an out only happened one other time in baseball playoff history. That was Tom Glavine in 1992.

That's astounding.

It just doesn't happen, and it shouldn't have happened yesterday. As Jayson said, and obviously I agree per the Friday column I filed from here, you can't manage like it's the regular season. That's a shutdown inning. You can even argue that Jeanmar Gomez — who did great — wasn't even the right choice there.

You have to shut that inning down. You have to win that game.

Zane (not Smith): Are you still there?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, sorry. Like I said, got a little distracted.

Nick: Can you foresee any scenario (0-16?) for this season which would put Tomlin's job in jeopardy?

Dejan Kovacevic: I really don't. None. Zero. But then, I also don't see 0-16.

They're the Steelers. They don't change like that. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will stay.

Now, the people under them ... that's different.

War Horse: Dejan, If you were on the plane from Pittsburgh to St. Louis on Tuesday night after the win over Cincy and clubhouse clebration, did you notice more than the usual amount of alcoholic drinking by the still celebrating players? Especially by someone scheduled to pitch on Thursday? Or are they all reasonably moderate with their boozing?

Dejan Kovacevic: No reporters travel with any professional sports team. Ever. We fly commercial. Or, in the case of my trip here, we fly Southwest, which is so awful it deserves its own category.

Zack: If Maata plays well these next 8 games, will they find a place for him? Aside from his first two or three shifts like sound and calm

Dejan Kovacevic: I didn't have a chance to see it yet, Zack, being out here, other than a condensed version on I've heard from our reporters on site — and yes, I asked — that Maatta was damned good. And that's no surprise. He's got a special level of calm and maturity for a 19-year-old, maybe even for a vet.

Would love to see him stick.

ShouldBWorking: At what point do we say that, going in, the Morneau deal looked good on paper but now, after the results, it's no longer good? And when does he no longer bat 4th?

Dejan Kovacevic: The deal itself isn't all that material at the time, but Morneau's lack of production certainly is. He obviously wasn't the only one who couldn't hit Wainwright yesterday, but there's no question he stopped driving the ball after about his first week with the Pirates.

Can't stick with him much longer, maybe not even Sunday, if that doesn't change today. Garrett Jones isn't a former MVP, but he can play a little.

Damon: Any chance Levi Brown can come in a settle the O-line down like Max did a few years ago, or is he Adams the sequel?

Dejan Kovacevic: What was wrong with Max?

What is wrong with Max?

That's the question I've had after watching the Steelers repeatedly pass him over for players they pretty much acknowledge aren't any better than the bad ones they've already got.

Afraid to admit a mistake?

Disgruntled Fan: No question. Just a complaint. Thank you MLB and Atlantic Broadband for not allowing me to watch one of the most important game in 20 years. It makes sense to block out a percentage of the market that just scored a 33.6 viewership. Again, thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Have a feeling I'm going to be hearing about this all day.

The game's on MLB Network. That's a business that wants its potential customers to pay up to a new level of cable coverage or to demand that it's put on a non-premium level. That's their business.

Sam: Dejan, the other Pittsburgh paper site is transitioning to a paid digital subscription. When will the Tribune follow suit? And, will there be an a la carte subscription for just the sports and chats?

Dejan Kovacevic: Such decisions are made way, way over my head, but I've heard nothing at all to suggest the Trib's website won't be free for the foreseeable future.

That said, we, too, are a business. We rely hard on our print subscribers and our dedicated online viewers to make money, and we appreciate those who contribute more than anything.

Fact is, about two decades ago, newspapers blew it by going all free with everything. We sent the message out to the world that what we're doing isn't worth anything. We devalued ourselves. And now the industry as a whole is paying a dear price for that, with a hard road toward any reversal.

Guest: Hey DK, What's up with Simon Despres being in the minors?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's not good enough, plain and simple. I've heard all kinds of rationalizing, including from the Penguins, about his contract/waiver/cap status. It's all bunk. If Despres was good enough, if he was truly the top-four defenseman and ready to show it right now, he'd be here.

Maatta is good enough, and he's here, and he should stay here, junior rules notwithstanding.

The Penguins need to get younger, fresher. Maatta helps that every bit as much on the blue line as Beau Bennett does up front.

jds182: Part of the problem with the defense seems to be how many teams are running the 3-4. They used to have their pick of whatever small defensive end they wanted, now you have to take them early.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a great point. The day of the Steelers finding an undersized DE and converting him to OLB, from Jason Gildon to Joey Porter, even LaMarr to an extent, that's over. The rest of the football world didn't go comatose while Dick LeBeau's defenses were tormenting the NFL. They took notes and learned.

jds182: Is it possible that the defense's whole problem starts and ends with the line? It's not Aaron Smith out there any more.

Dejan Kovacevic: Are you sure about that?

Our Mark Kaboly dissects film every week, and he's got roughly three-quarters of all pressure on the pass rush as coming from the down linemen. That's pretty impressive, even as it's also a warning sign that Jarvis Jones hasn't done much the past couple games.

The run is a different story, particularly as it relates to Steve McLendon, and maybe that's your reference there. Brett Keisel has led the way on run defense among the D-line, and that's probably not the way it should be.

Nick: I don't get these people who complain about the MLB Network thing. Call to add that tier of programming and then call and cancel it right after the game if you'll cost you next to nothing...

Dejan Kovacevic: So, there you go.

dan in t town: To all the previous questions about the D line. Cam Heyward better be starting next game he has been the best defensive player by far.

Dejan Kovacevic: Cam's been good. Your last statement is a stretch, but he's been better than last season, for sure.

ShouldBWorking: Explain to me why I shouldn't have a good feeling about Cole today? And why is the first reason, “He's a rookie. He doesn't know any better?

Dejan Kovacevic: He throws 100 mph, and he's as confident as any young pitcher I've encountered. He'll be fine in the jitters context. The rest, I don't know.

Kevin in Dover (PA): Is this a new Tanner Glass that showed up to camp than the one everyone wanted to buyout over the summer?

Dejan Kovacevic: Glass had a great opening two games last season, too. Easy there. He was a complete non-anything the rest of the way.

Jason: Do you know who gave the order for Jagr to be taken down from the Ring of Honor? Why now and not before?

Dejan Kovacevic: Let me start with some clarifying, even though this was all in my original news report Wednesday: Jagr's likeness was removed from the locker room. He wasn't stripped of any actual designation, including the Penguins all-time team that's celebrated with the ring. One image was taken down because he's an active player with another team.

Does it look petty?

Sure, after he was on the good end of a handshake line against your team. You bet.

Is it ill-timed?

Yeah, terribly so. If you had it up there for two years, leave it up there for his last season rather than kicking up an unnecessary fuss.

But it's one image, not some actual designation, that's down.

I don't have a hard answer as to who ordered it down, but I can emphatically share this with you: It was not Mario Lemieux.

Steel City Archer: Nice comment about Starks, Dejan. There isn't any reason in my eyes why he has been treated the way he has by the organization. I'm sure Ben, while picking himself up off the turf, agrees whole-heartedly also.

Dejan Kovacevic: Assuming he's conscious. Or alive.

MAdesso: DK, the Browns are in 1st place right now. How long will that last?

Dejan Kovacevic: Given that the Browns themselves brazenly acknowledged the season doesn't mean much to them by dumping Trent Richardson for a draft pick in Week 2, I'm guessing not long.

But there's something in here for the Steelers, too: This will sound absurd at 0-4, but this division is just sitting there for someone to take it. I'm not saying that will be Pittsburgh. That'd be nuts after what we've seen so far. But I am saying that I think you'll see all four teams believing they've got a chance until mathematically ruled out.

jefft: Hi Dejan...not that I'm predicting it (I'll go with 5-2 Bucs), but let's say Cole struggles early today. With Gomez having pitched yesterday, & Cole needs an early hook, who goes in for long relief?

Dejan Kovacevic: In that event, I believe you'd see Charlie Morton, which would mess everything up. But we're talking about an epic, two-inning blowup or something like that. More realistically, you'd probably have some cobbling together of various Vin Mazzaros.

Drews wife: Based on your pointed Q to CH yesterday and the idea of managing differently in the playoffs, how long a leash do you expect for Cole today?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you're suggesting that my question for Hurdle yesterday might influence him today, that's pretty wild. And not remotely likely.

What is likely is that Game 2 alone will heighten the urgency on a lot of fronts. Urgency that should have been in place for Game 1.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm two blocks away from the Blues' arena, but it's still Tampa Bay Lightning time. Short Qs, short As the rest of the way ...

Damon: Does it benefit Cole that the Cards have never faced his pitching before?

Dejan Kovacevic: Cole was asked this yesterday and said he doesn't think so. Most of his stuff is pretty straightforward, so it's not like there's some tricky aspect to it.

Nick: As of now...think A.J.'s back next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. I really do.

William: Can tell Kobasew isn't adjusted to the Pens system yet? He was driving to the net, creating traffic and thus scored a goal. (I kid, of course)

Dejan Kovacevic: Again, all I saw were highlights, so I saw that Kobasew at least did that once, on his goal. I also saw Glass drive hard on Craig Adams' goal.

Quite the concept, eh?

Tuukka Rask doesn't know who these guys are anymore.

jefft: Over/under on Pedro Ks today?

Dejan Kovacevic: Two.

Nick: Do the Bucs trust Jordy enough to put all their eggs in his basket at SS next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you trust him to take the position in Game 2 of the NLDS, you'd better be willing to trust him in the regular season. The job will be his, I believe.

Nick: Any concerns about Charlie's ability to handle the pressure of a potential elimination game (should we reach game 4)?

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, man, no. I think we've all seen enough of Morton to know he functions on some other plane of existence. Totally silent clubhouse yesterday, everybody all sullen, and Charlie walks over to me and whispers, “How was London?”

That's Charlie.

jefft: In 5 words or less...the look/feel of the Bucs for warmups today?

Dejan Kovacevic: Immaterial. Do I have to do the other four words?

Vinqtin: Any chance that the Steelers make some philosophical changes in their defense over the bye week? More press coverage, intercepting the ball rather than tackling it, more 4-3?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not a 4-3. My God, that's a total philosophical overhaul.

But I do think they've got to figure out a way to strengthen center field, if you will. Either Troy goes back — and Troy told me pointedly that isn't happening — or Clark does. Can't have them both hanging too tight.

Guest: who wins the world series?

Dejan Kovacevic: Rays.

Adam: Dejan, I respectfully disagree about the sense of urgency yesterday. Given the pitching matchups and locations of each game, Game 1 is the one we could most afford to lose. We have hit Lynn well, and then we go home where we've done great against STL.

Dejan Kovacevic: So there was no urgency to Game 1?

Not following you here.

Julian: What kind of deal do you see liriano getting at the end of the year, and will it be from the pirates?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's an option that will be exercised by the Pirates. The Trib's Travis Sawchik reported that about a month ago. He's staying.

Rob: Were you surprised the Steelers made a trade?

Dejan Kovacevic: Always surprised when any NFL team makes a trade but especially in-season.

Not surprised at all they went looking for a left tackle, to put it mildly.

Utah Bob: It seems Timmons is back to being a non-impact. Him, or circumstance of losing Foote?

Dejan Kovacevic: Losing Foote has translated into some really lousy play at his position from Kion Wilson and Vince Williams. Believe I saw that Williams graded poorly on 22 of his 25 snaps in London. Yikes.

hankpsu: Who finishes with the better record this season, Pitt or PSU?

Dejan Kovacevic: I still like Penn State, but they'd better take care of business at Indiana before the far bigger game the following weekend against Michigan.

If the Pirates are out of the playoffs, I'll be up in Happy Valley for that one.

Rob: Since I did not get to see the game yesterday. Was the Pirates lack of runs due to their bats or Wainright's pitching? Or some combo of the two?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wainwright was really good, but Andrew McCutchen had a point when he lamented all the Pirates' swings and misses when they could have put more pressure on his curve.

Mark: Despres falling out of favor with the Pens? chances he becomes a trade chip for some forward depth?

Dejan Kovacevic: Why not? He isn't winning you any games in Wilkes-Barre, and it's pretty clear — no matter what they say — they aren't crazy about him.

Alan: Why do pitchers not have there stuff, mental or physical?

Dejan Kovacevic: Burnett had his stuff. He absolutely did. But as he stated, he was anxious and out in front and had no control over it. Big difference.

Kevin in Dover (PA): I know you didn't see any of the game... just want to hear your thoughts on Fleury. In regard to elevating back to 2009 levels, or if we will be counting the days until TV's return?

Dejan Kovacevic: Everything about Marc-Andre Fleury's season needs to point toward what's optimal for his playoff preparation and mindset, plain and simple. That doesn't mean I won't appreciate what he does in the regular season. That won't be unfair. It just means the postseason is what matters for him.

Nick: Where would you rank the Cardinals stadium against the others in baseball?

Dejan Kovacevic: Top 10, for sure. My top three: 3. San Diego. 2. San Francisco. 1. Pittsburgh.

And never ask a writer about the old stadiums. We're all so self-centered all we care about is the press facilities, don't you know?

Carlos: Thoughts on Dusty getting the axe? feels good that the Pirates were a main reason for that.

Dejan Kovacevic: You'll miss Dusty next season.

Dejan Kovacevic: Game's about to get going, and so am I.

Thanks to all for the participation today. I'll be writing Pirates pretty much every day until they're out, so no point reciting a column schedule. The radio show is Wednesday, this here chat every Friday.

The blog, of course, is perpetual!

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