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Pirates' woeful performances tied to pitching

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011

Amid the tortured numerology of the Pirates' 2010 season, the most glaring numbers are 105 and 19.

The Pirates lost 105 games, the third-highest total in their history. They extended their streak of losing seasons to 19, the longest run of futility in pro sports.

The reason behind that dismal season lies in numbers such as 34, 5.00, 5.27, 1.49 and 1.91. Those digits are indicators of one of the worst season-long performances by a starting rotation in franchise history.

The rotation accounted for 34 wins, the lowest total in 58 years. For the second time in three years, no Pirates starter reached double digits.

The rotation's ERA was 5.27. With the bullpen factored in, the Pirates' 5.00 team ERA still was the highest in the majors. The team also ranked last with a 1.49 WHIP, an indicator of how many batters reach base per inning. The 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio was third-worst.

Before the Pirates are able to contend for the playoffs — heck, before they even dream of a .500 season — they must fix their starting rotation. It starts Monday, when pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton, Fla., for spring training.

"I don't think anybody in the rotation last year was happy with their season or pitched close to their potential," right-hander Ross Ohlendorf said. "I expect everybody, myself included, to have a much better season. What's it going to take• It depends on each individual. "

Going into spring training, four starters — Paul Maholm, Ohlendorf, Kevin Correia and James McDonald — are locks. The fifth spot likely will be filled by either Charlie Morton, Scott Olsen, Brian Burres or Brad Lincoln.

Each of the four pitchers battling for the last job has flaws — injury, inconsistency, inexperience — to overcome. But each of the four guys already in the rotation also have issues.

Maholm is the most experienced of the group, with 159 starts over the past six seasons. Yet, he hasn't notched more than nine wins in a season since 2007. Last year, he was one of five starters in the majors who allowed an opponent's batting average of .300 or better.

The Pirates mulled trading Maholm last summer and again during the offseason.

Entering the final year of his contract, the former first-round draft pick will make $5.75 million this season. Maholm's deal has a club option for 2012 for $9.75 million in base pay plus up to $1.1 million more in incentives. It's a price the value-minded Pirates likely will deem too high.

Hampered by injuries to his back, head and shoulder, Ohlendorf made 21 starts and went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA. His win-loss record was due more to bad luck and lack of run support than poor performance.

General manager Neal Huntington said Ohlendorf was "the best 1-11 pitcher in baseball last year," but that's small consolation.

"Was there anybody else?" Ohlendorf said with an edge to his voice. "It made for a season that wasn't very fun, only getting one win. But I don't dwell on the record. I think more about improvements I made and how I finished strong."

Ohlendorf changed his throwing program this winter, getting an earlier start and keeping close track of pitch counts. He's thrown off a mound five times already since January.

"My arm feels great right now, so I'm really encouraged that I'm going to start off strong and do well," he said.

Correia, 30, signed a two-year free-agent deal in December. The right-hander is looking to bounce back from a sub-par 2010.

"I don't know if it's luck or karma or what," Correia said. "Two years ago, I had a really good season and it felt like things were really going well for me — guys would hit line drives right at somebody with the bases loaded. Last year, I don't feel like I threw the ball that poorly, but I never got on a good roll, even though I got 10 wins."

McDonald, 26, arrived in a July 31 trade and went 4-5 in 11 starts down the stretch. This year, the righty has to show he can work deeper into games by not trying to strike out every batter he faces.

"I wish there was a simple answer as to why our starting pitching never got on a roll," Huntington said. "When we got consistent starting pitching, it was a fun team to watch. When we didn't, we put ourselves in a hole early and had a hard time digging out. I fully anticipate this year is going to be better."

spring training at a glance

Three questions the Pirates must answer this spring

1. Who is the closer? Management has kept mum, though most signs point toward Joel Hanrahan getting the job instead of Evan Meek. Hanny has done it before and has a more experience overall in the bigs than Meek. Hanrahan also has a hefty contract ($1.4 million) and put up crazy-good strikeout and walk stats last year.

2. Whither Ryan Doumit? His days as a starter are over, but can the Pirates afford to hang onto a $5.1 million bench player• So far, they have not been able to trade Doumit, even when offering to swallow a big chunk of his salary. Everyone in the clubhouse is quietly holding their breath as they watch to see how Doumit, a vocal critic of the trade-a-thons in 2008 and '09, will react to his reduced role.

3. Can the newbies keep it up• After early-season callups, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker both flirted with .300. Tabata made it, Walker fell four points short. They, along with expected savior Pedro Alvarez, will be under pressure to repeat their fine debuts. A little falloff would not be surprising. A big drop, though, would be disastrous for an offense which was deficient in so many ways last year.

Three players with something to prove this spring

1. Scott Olsen — The lefty racked up double-digit wins in each of his first two full seasons in the majors, but is 14-23 over the past three years. He tends to give up a lot of hits and his strikeout rate has dropped noticeably.

2. Steve Pearce — Another injury-filled season resulted in Pearce getting a special fourth minor-league option. That's good news for the Pirates, who can stash him at Indy again, but possibly bad news for Pearce, who seems to be caught in a logjam at first base and right field.

3. Charlie Morton — Unless the righty can unscramble his mental approach, this could be his final shot with the Pirates. Morton has great stuff, but struggles with his confidence.

Three players poised to make jump to the majors

1. Brad Lincoln — His debut last year was brief and unimpressive. If he rediscovers his old self by working with pitching coach Ray Searage, Lincoln will battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

2. Alex Presley — An eighth-round pick in 2006, Presley is a solid defensive outfielder who'll hit for a decent average. He's a better fit as a bench player than an everyday guy.

3. Daniel Moskos — The former first-rounder was lights-out at Double-A, but struggled during a short stint at Triple-A last year. The Pirates don't have a lot of lefty relief options, though, so Moskos could be on his way up if he puts it together at Indy.

Key dates

Feb. 14 — Pitchers and catchers first workout, noon

Feb. 19 — First full-squad workout, 9 a.m.

Feb. 25 — Exhibition game against State College of Florida at McKechnie Field, 12:05 p.m.

Feb. 26 — Grapefruit League opener against Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., 1:05 p.m.

March 1 — Yankees' only game at McKechnie Field, 1:05 p.m.

March 10 — Lone night game at McKechnie Field, 7:05 p.m.

March 15, 22 — Off days

March 28 — Grapefruit League finals against Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.

March 29-30 — Exhibition games against Phillies at Citizens Bank Park

March 31 — Pirates preseason workout in Chicago

April 1 — Season opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 2:20 p.m.

April 7 — Home opener against the Rockies at PNC Park, 1:35 p.m.

Spring training roster

40-man roster


62-Ramon Aguero (Bats R, Throws R): 6-4, 195 pounds — played with Bradenton, Altoona in 2010

45-Jose Ascanio (R-R): 5-11, 195 — x-GCL Pirates, x-Bradenton

29-Kevin Correia (R-R): 6-3, 200 — Padres

60-Mike Crotta (R-R): 6-6, 235 — Altoona, Indianapolis

52-Joel Hanrahan (R-R): 6-4, 245 — x-Bradenton, Pirates

25-Kevin Hart (R-R): 6-4, 229 — Indianapolis

27-Jeff Karstens (R-R): 6-3, 185 — Indianapolis, Pirates

63-Chris Leroux (L-R): 6-6, 225 — New Orleans, Marlins, x-Jupiter, Pirates

32-Brad Lincoln (L-R): 6-0, 208 — Indianapolis, Pirates

61-Jeff Locke (L-L): 6-1, 214 — Bradenton, Altoona

28-Paul Maholm (L-L): 6-2, 220 — Pirates

34-Daniel McCutchen (R-R): 6-2, 208 — Pirates, Indianapolis

53-James McDonald (R-R): 6-4, 200 — Albuquerque, Dodgers, Pirates

67-Kyle McPherson (S-R): 6-4, 220 — West Virginia, Bradenton

47-Evan Meek (R-R): 6-0, 220 — Pirates

64-Bryan Morris (R-R): 6-3, 220 — Bradenton, Altoona

50-Charlie Morton (R-R): 6-5, 230 — Pirates, x-Indianapolis

57-Daniel Moskos (R-L): 6-1, 210 — Altoona, Indianapolis

49-Ross Ohlendorf (R-R): 6-4, 240 — Pirates, x-Altoona

26-Scott Olsen (L-L): 6-4, 210 — Syracuse, Nationals, x-GCL Nationals, x-Hagarstown, x-Potomac

30-Chris Resop (R-R): 6-3, 225 — x-Gwinnett, Braves, x-Mississippi, Pirates

69-Aaron Thompson (L-L): 6-2, 196 — Harrisburg, Syracuse

65-Tony Watson (L-L): 6-4, 220 — Altoona


41-Ryan Doumit (S-R): 6-1, 215 — Pirates, x-Indianapolis

35-Jason Jaramillo (S-R): 6-0, 217 — Pirates, Indianapolis

19-Chris Snyder (R-R): 6-4, 242 — Diamondbacks, Pirates


24-Pedro Alvarez (L-R): 6-3, 235 — Indianapolis, Pirates

5-Ronny Cedeno (R-R): 6-0, 190 — Pirates

3-Pedro Ciriaco (R-R): 6-0, 172 — Indianapolis, Pirates

37-Lyle Overbay (L-L): 6-2, 220 — Blue Jays

51-Steve Pearce (R-R): 5-11, 210 — Indianapolis, Pirates, x-Indianapolis, x-Bradenton

7-Josh Rodriguez (R-R): 6-0, 185 — Akron, Columbus

18-Neil Walker (S-R): 6-3, 215 — Indianapolis, Pirates


14-John Bowker (L-L): 6-1, 205 — Giants, Fresno, Indianapolis, Pirates

23-Matt Diaz (R-R): 6-0, 215 — Braves, x-Gwinnett

66-Gorkys Hernandez (R-R): — 6-0, 186 Altoona

46-Garret Jones (L-L): 6-4, 240 — Pirates

22-Andrew McCutchen (R-R): 5-10, 188 — Pirates

44-Alex Presley (L-L): 5-9, 188 — Altoona, Indianapolis, Pirates

31-Jose Tabata (R-R): 5-11, 219 — Indianapolis, Pirates

x-injury rehab

Non-roster invitees


71-Brian Burres (L-L): 6-2, 185 — Indianapolis, Pirates

43-Sean Gallagher (R-R): 6-2, 220 — Padres, x-Portland, Pirates

38-Fernando Nieve (R-R): 6-0, 219 — Mets, Buffalo

73-Rudy Owens (L-L): 6-3, 225 — Altoona

65-Justin Thomas (L-L): 6-3, 218 — Indianapolis, Pirates

75-Cesar Valdez (R-R): 6-2, 200 — Reno, Diamondbacks

72-Donnie Veal (L-L): 6-4, 239 — Indianapolis

48-Jose Veras (R-R): 6-6, 235 — New Orleans, Marlins

74-Justin Wilson (L-L): 6-2, 221 — Altoona

39-Tyler Yates (R-R): 6-4, 254 — Injured, did not play


68-Dusty Brown (R-R): 6-0, 215 — Pawtucket, x-GCL Red Sox, x-Lowell, Red Sox

80-Eric Fryer (R-R): 6-2, 215 — Bradenton, x-GCL Pirates

82-Tony Sanchez (R-R): 6-0, 213 — Bradenton

78-Wyatt Toregas (R-R): 5-11, 210 — Akron, x-Mahoning Valley, Columbus


10-Garrett Atkins (R-R): 6-3, 215 — Orioles

79-Chase d'Arnaud (R-R): 6-1, 200 — Altoona

17-Josh Fields (R-R): 6-1, 236 — x-Ariz. Royals, x-NW Arkansas, Royals

77-Brian Friday (R-R): 5-11, 190 — Indianapolis, x-GCL Pirates, x-Bradenton

12-Andy Marte (R-R): 6-1, 205 — Indians, x-Lake County


81-Andrew Lambo (L-L): 6-3, 210 — Chattanooga, Altoona

76-Corey Wimberley (S-R): 5-8, 170 — Sacramento

x-injury rehab

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