Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 2

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Pirates stretch.jpgI made my way down to the field as the Pirates came out to do their morning workouts, batting practice and the like.  Weirdest thing:  the team does all their stretching in a big circle with a couple of players leading the drills in the middle. Maybe other teams do this on some back field somewhere, but I have never seen such a thing.  Especially weird: when they were done they all gathered together in a big “whoop! whoop!” circle like they were a high school football team or something.  Odd.

At this point my basic observations of what happens before the game would be somewhat repetitive — news flash: managers think their teams have “a good chance to be competitive this year; players “feel good” — so let’s take a brief photo tour:

Russell Fungoes.jpg More hands-on managing. If I become a billionaire and buy a team I’m going to make hitting fungoes an essential requirement for my managers. Sure, La Russa, Cox and Torre may get fair results, but there’s something really cool about the skipper handling infield drills. When your team loses it’s 100th game this year, Pirates fans, at least remember that your manager cares.

Raynor net.jpgJohn Raynor was a Rule 5 pick of the Pirates. He’s got a great glove, is super fast, and stands to break camp with the Pirates as a backup outfielder. His bat, however, is most charitably described as a work in progress.  Here he was working to make some progress.  This is one of my favorite drills to watch. They’re pros and I’m sure they know what they’re doing, but I kept wondering whether the coach wasn’t worried about taking one off his forehead. In fact, as I moved in to snap this picture, I kept wondering whether I would take one off the forehead.
Milledge waits.jpgI walked to from the parking lot to the field alongside a guy from ESPN the Magazine, and as we passed the player’s parking lot and noted a much smaller number of high end vehicles than you normally see, we talked about just how anonymous the 2010 Pirates really are. One of the few names that non-Pirates fans are likely to know is Lastings Milledge, late of Washington and New York.  Milledge is an interesting case. Miscast as a centerfielder, he took a lot of heat last spring and his status as a top prospect more or less evaporated.  Still, he turns 25 next month and for the first time in his career he starts a season with a more or less set position. Pittsburgh doesn’t look anywhere close to contending, but I at least like that they’re giving guys with upside like Milledge a chance.  For what it’s worth: Milledge was running, doing extra work in the field and took extra long batting practice before the game.  It’s hard to judge these things, but he seemed serious. Focused. I’m kinda rooting for him this year.

Morris bullpen.jpgBryan Morris in the pen.  Morris was the Dodgers 1st round pick in 2006 and came over to the Pirates as part of the Jason Bay trade.  He’s had Tommy John surgery. He’s struggled since he came back from it. He got suspended by the Pirates due to “professionalism” issues after he blew up and berated an umpire in a single A game last August.  Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was watching his bullpen session very, very closely, and was almost whispering words of encouragement after every pitch. “Nice plant . . . good form; batter can’t see your release point at all . . .”  There was a zen vibe to the whole thing that I found fairly mesmerizing. If they haven’t already, someone probably needs to write the definitive book on pitching coaches.  I get the sense that dealing with pitchers is the closest thing to magic and voodoo that happens on a baseball field.

My morning rounds out of the way, I headed back up to the booth for what would be, bar none, the worst baseball game I ever saw.  Come back in about an hour to hear the gory details.

Indians could benefit from long rest before the World Series

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 09: Danny Salazar #31 of the Cleveland Indians delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on September 9, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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If any team can turn a six-day rest period into an advantage, it’s the Indians. The club polished off their pennant race with another injured starter and an overtaxed bullpen, as Trevor Bauer exited in Game 3 of the ALCS with a laceration on his right pinky finger, leaving the bullpen to shoulder 16 innings through the last three games of the series. On Friday,’s Jordan Bastian reported that injured starter Danny Salazar could rejoin the rotation in the World Series, though he’ll need at least one more simulated game before Terry Francona determines whether or not he’s fit to return for the team’s last postseason push.

Bauer, who has been under the close watch of hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham, told the press that he feels confident that he’ll be ready for a World Series start when the final showdown commences on Tuesday. Keeping the wound bandaged is not an option during games, and Bauer said that Dr. Graham decided against additional stitches to keep the laceration from re-opening. Instead, they’re banking on extra days of rest to heal the cut naturally. Should Francona pencil the right-hander into the lineup for Game 3 or 4, he’ll have had 10-11 days to rest his finger between starts — just a hair under the seven games Bauer said he was prepared to pitch.

Salazar, too, has been preparing for a World Series showdown. He’s scheduled to pitch three innings of a simulated game this weekend, and if it goes well, it could land him a spot in the starting rotation alongside Bauer, Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, and newcomer Ryan Merritt. Salazar has been sidelined since September 9 with a right forearm strain, and even after undergoing a rigorous throwing program over the last several weeks, any kind of comeback is expected to be curbed by a strict innings limit. Francona has been understandably tight-lipped about his World Series roster, but he hasn’t yet nixed the idea of utilizing Salazar out of the rotation, provided the right-hander remains healthy for another week or so.

The Indians have had to remain flexible throughout their seven-game playoff run after weathering injuries to Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, pushing their rotation through several games on short rest and relying heavily on Andrew Miller and Cody Allen‘s one-two punch in the ‘pen to clinch more than a few postseason victories. While history doesn’t always favor the first team to secure their league’s pennant race, an extra week of rest should only benefit Cleveland’s beleaguered pitching staff.

Lloyd McClendon will return as Tigers’ hitting coach in 2017

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 05:  Manager Lloyd McClendon #21 of the Seattle Mariners looks on from the dugout against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the six inning at Coliseum on July 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The Tigers will promoted Triple-A manager Lloyd McClendon to hitting coach for the 2017 season, according to a statement released by the team on Friday afternoon.

McClendon’s history with the Tigers is long and storied. After serving five seasons as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hitting coach and manager, he got his start with Detroit in 2006 as a bullpen coach, then transitioned to hitting coach from 2007 through 2013. When the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus to replace former manager Jim Leyland, McClendon took the opportunity to break from the team and pursue another managerial position of his own with the Seattle Mariners, whom he guided to a 163-161 record between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Following his departure from Seattle during the 2015 offseason, McClendon took a spot as skipper of the Tigers’ Triple-A club, managing the Toledo Mud Hens to a 68-76 finish in 2016. His return to the big league stage is accompanied by the hiring of assistant hitting coach Leon Durham, who previously served as the long-tenured hitting coach for Triple-A Toledo.