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Old 04-20-2008, 08:51 AM   #9
Hogan11
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On the Pirates: The most frequent fliers
Once again, inexplicably, they are singled out for most Western trips
Sunday, April 20, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LOS ANGELES -- Perhaps someday, when the Pirates become contenders again, Major League Baseball will treat them as an equal when it comes to arranging its travel schedule.

Until then ...

Last year, the Pirates were the only non-West Division team that made four separate trips to face their four National League opponents in the Pacific time zone.

This year, the same.

The Pirates were in Los Angeles last week and will be in Arizona Aug. 4-6, San Francisco Sept. 5-7 and San Diego to end the season Sept. 26-28.

Moreover, their only trip to the Mountain time zone, in Colorado July 17-20, also will come independent of the above. That means that all five series in the nation's two Western time zones will come on separate trips.

Want to know how the other 10 teams in the Central and East Divisions live?

Consider that Washington will play all four of its Pacific time zone series in two trips. Or that eight other teams play in Los Angeles on the same swing as San Diego. Or that the New York Mets, who play six games in the Pacific and Mountain time zones because of interleague games, get all of that done in three trips.

The schedule is pieced together mostly by a computer, and interleague games have done away with the old days of one catch-all trip to California. Still, the inequity where the Pirates are concerned is glaring and could be addressed with human intervention, as teams have a right to complain.

Frank Coonelly worked as MLB's chief legal counsel before becoming the Pirates' president, but he took his current job after the 2008 schedule had been compiled. Shortly after taking the job, he pledged to fight for the Pirates' rights, something that likely had not taken place in recent years.

A small price to pay
For all the money the Pirates are pouring into their new Dominican facility, as well as all that they have invested through a 50 percent increase in the scouting budget, the bottom line for finding the best Latin American talent still can look awfully low.

Consider that Cincinnati recently upgraded in both areas, too, but the Reds' biggest payoff came as the result of $3,500 for a skinny 16-year-old kid named Johnny Cueto.

As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Johnny Almaraz, the Reds' former director of international operations, was trying to fill out his Dominican Summer League roster in March 2004 when a friend asked him to look at Cueto. Almaraz had a flight to catch early the next day, so he told the friend if he could get a game going at 7 a.m., he would watch.

That was that.

From there, the Reds fed Cueto to add 20 pounds to his frame, as well as a little beef to his fastball. Former pitching star Mario Soto taught him the curve, and he was on his way.

It is an isolated case, to be sure, but one that bolsters the long-held view of Rene Gayo, the Pirates' international scouting director, that signing bonuses are overrated.

"You have to see the talent, and you have to make a connection with him and his family," Gayo said. "Those are the two most important things. From there, you have to help him grow as a player and person, and that's what our new facility will help us do."

Grand theft reliever
ESPN's Jayson Stark reported the following quote from a scout doubting Atlanta's decision to trade reliever Tyler Yates to the Pirates, if only because of the loss to the Braves.

"I think their bullpen is going to have trouble," the scout said. "I love Rafael Soriano as a setup man but, as a closer, I think he's just middle of the pack. Peter Moylan is tough on right-handers, but I don't think he can get left-handers out. Guys like Blaine Boyer and Chris Resop have great arms, but they walk too many people and are up in the zone a lot. Manny Acosta's the same way. ... So, for me, you take that whole setup crew, and Tyler Yates is better than all of them."

Yates was acquired March 26 for Class AA starter Todd Redmond, who was coming off a backward-step 2007. The Braves acknowledged they were moving Yates only because they felt there was no room on their 12-man staff and he would have been placed on waivers.

The Pirates are not about to boast about trades publicly, but be sure they are quite content with how this one unfolded.

"We're not surprised with how Yates has done for us," manager John Russell said. "We are a little surprised that we were able to get someone like that, though, especially late in spring training. But that's how it played out. We're very happy with him."

Defense done right
None of the Pirates' top three prospects -- Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce or Neil Walker -- is off to a terribly hot start, each batting below .270 with little pop. But there has been plenty to like with Class AAA Indianapolis, not the least of which is its 11-6 start.

For one, the bullpen has been nothing shy of dominant. Sean Burnett, Marino Salas, Jesse Chavez and Jonah Bayliss each has an ERA of 2.50 or lower. And Salas, the prospect acquired in the Salomon Torres trade, has given up no runs in six appearances while striking out 11 and walking one.

For another, the defense, unlike that of the parent club, has been just as good with only five errors through 17 games, making for the best fielding percentage in the International League.

"I've been pleased with the defense," Indianapolis manager Trent Jewett said. "The most refreshing statistic is we've only allowed one unearned run this season."

The Pirates have committed 21 errors and allowed 11 unearned runs.
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