Pirates notebook: Merchandise, ratings, attendance get boost

Fans give the Pirates a standing ovation at the start of their game against the Cubs on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, at PNC Park.
Fans give the Pirates a standing ovation at the start of their game against the Cubs on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Travis Sawchik
| Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

Pirates' merchandise sales are up 55 percent from a season ago. The club's local cable ratings are up 15 percent through Sept. 9, and Pirates' attendance is up 5 percent for games through Sept. 11, according to Major League Baseball.

The Pirates are projecting their second best attendance in PNC Park history, 2.3 million fans, the best mark since the facility's opening year in 2001 when the Pirates drew 2.435 million fans. The Pirates are 19th in baseball in average attendance (27,683), but numbers have increased in the second half.

The Pirates rank third among U.S.-based clubs in average television rating (7.6) and set a single-game ratings record, according to MLB.

Despite the start of the Steelers' season, Pirates merchandise still is prominently displayed at local sporting goods stores. The merchandise sales increase is the fourth largest in baseball, trailing only the Orioles, Astros and Athletics.

No limits for Cole

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said that Gerrit Cole will be available for duty throughout the postseason as a starting pitcher if the club wants to have him in that role.

Hurdle said over the weekend that Cole's postseason role — either in the bullpen or rotation — is “an ongoing conversation.” More starts such Monday's — Cole pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine — would end any debate. Hurdle said Cole will be a starter in the postseason if he is one of the club's best four pitchers.

The Pirates have tried to be careful with Cole. Seven of his 15 starts have come with more than four days' rest. Cole is on pace for three more regular-season starts, which projects to push his combined Triple-A and major league innings total to between 180 and 185. Cole pitched 150 innings last season.

Defensive shifts irk Burnett

A.J. Burnett was asked again Thursday about words he exchanged a day earlier with Clint Barmes. The right-hander was unhappy with the shortstop's defensive placement on a two-run single in Texas.

“I do not have a problem with Clint Barmes,” Burnett yelled at reporters. “I have a problem with the (expletive) shift.”

Barmes appeared to be playing at traditional double play depth on the batted ball in question.

Morton ready to go; Rodriguez and Marte close

Charlie Morton (left foot) threw a side session Wednesday and said he was ready to make his start Friday. Hurdle concurred.

“It was good,” Morton said. “It was touch-and-feel.”

Wandy Rodriguez (elbow tendinitis) threw a 70-pitch simulation game Thursday.

Hurdle said he thinks Rodriguez is close to returning.

“He seemed to be in a good place,” Hurdle said.

Starling Marte (right hand) took swings during the simulated game.

Grilli still expected to close

Jason Grilli will begin pitching with leads in the seventh and eighth innings, Hurdle said Thursday.

Hurdle said his preference is for Grilli to work his way back to the closer role.

“I think each outing is getting better,” Hurdle said. “There's still some finishing touches needed.”

Grilli's velocity has dipped since he returned from the DL.

Left turn

Despite a .550 OPS vs. left-handed pitching entering Thursday, Hurdle batted Justin Morneau fourth against Cubs left-hander Chris Rusin.

Gaby Sanchez has a .991 OPS against left-handed pitching.

“(Morneau) can hit a left-hander. He's shown it his entire career. He showed it again (Wednesday),” Hurdle said. “Gaby is not going to be out of the picture. But we did acquire Justin for a reason.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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