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Cory Giger, Altoona Mirror – On Pirates, Penn State

October 14, 2011

Cory Giger, Altoona Mirror (August 8, 2011)

First, the Pirates were fielding a patchwork team with so many players out with injury. Which of these players can come back soon and start helping this offense – and will they return in time?

It is remarkable the Pirates were able to hang around in the division race as long as they did playing so many backups, including going seven deep at catcher with Eric Fryer.

The losses of Alex Presley in particular and also Chase d’Arnaud were big because those guys brought speed and a spark to the top of the order. Will they return in time? No.

The swift and utter collapse of the pitching staff has killed the team’s chances. They allowed 8.2 runs per game during the 10-game losing streak, which makes it virtually impossible to win. Everyone knew the pitching would come back to reality at some point after being so good for this long, but it has to be maddening to Pirates fans to see all of the starters fall apart like they have at the same time.

How frustrating was it for the players knowing that as good as they’ve been, they could have been so much better with those injured players in the lineup? Have those injuries served as a rallying cry/furthering of the underdog role for this team?

No doubt everyone is frustrated about the team’s potential had there not been all the injuries, but let’s face it: They were still right near the top of the standings before this collapse by the pitching staff.

The club probably would have won a few more games up until the Phillies series had the offense been better, but with the way the pitching has fallen apart, it wouldn’t have mattered because the wheels still would have fallen off like they are now.

How excited were you about the Pirates’ recent acquisitions of Lee and Ludwick? Can these two realistically help this offense in a significant way?

They were decent moves. I gave Neal Huntington a B- for the deadline because everyone knew he needed a couple of bats, and he got a couple of veterans without having to give up much.

The acquisitions really haven’t had much of a chance to be difference makers because, again, the pitching has been so bad. It’s incredible how baseball works sometimes. The pitching carried the team all season, and just when some moves are made to bolster the offense, the offense really doesn’t have much of a chance because the pitchers suddenly fall apart.

In your opinion, did the front office over-rate their own prospects as they dealt with possible trades? What trades did they turn down to retain prospects?

I don’t think so. There was no reason to trade a Jameson Taillon or Stetson Allie or Starling Marte unless the return was tremendous, and there didn’t appear to be any deals like that out there.

Maybe they could have gone hard after Hunter Pence, but it probably would have taken Taillon and Marte for that, and given that the club was already starting to fall back in the race, that wouldn’t have been a good move.

Alvarez is still struggling at the plate. What’s the issue there and can this get resolved this season?

Pedro is overmatched right now at the major league level. That’s obvious to everyone.

The organization needs to tread very carefully with him right now. As long as he can at least stay afloat to some degree, then it’s best to keep him in the majors for at-bats so he can get the experience.

However, if he keeps flailing at pitches and striking out a ton and drops into the .170 range, it can do a lot of damage to his confidence. We’re getting closer and closer to September, so I’m not sure what good it would do to send him to Triple-A for a week or two and then call him back up. I can see, though, platooning him so he doesn’t have to face lefties or pitchers with pinpoint control who can eat him up on the inner part
of the plate.

Marte seems to be a player without a position when it comes to the Pirates, as a centerfielder, as he’ll always be stuck behind McCutchen. Should they consider trading him for other positional talent?

Marte is a very good player with a lot of skills who looks like he can be a solid everyday big leaguer.

But he probably will never be as good as Andrew McCutchen, so the Pirates have a very big decision on their hands at some point. I think McCutchen will be moved to a corner spot as his power continues to develop, which can save his body some wear and tear, and that would open up a spot for Marte in center.

But Marte also is behind both Alex Presley and Jose Tabata, so those will be tough decisions dividing up playing time. I would expect one of the three to be traded at some point.

In order, I’d keep Marte, then Presley and then Tabata. I’ve long questioned how effective Tabata can be as a corner outfielder until he develops some kind of power, plus he’s not as good of a pure hitter as Presley.

How have the pitching phenoms looked – Taillon, Allie and Heredia so far? Any cause for heightened optimism or concern yet?

There should be major concern for Allie, even though it’s just his first year.

People I trust have told me he doesn’t know where the ball was going when it left his hand for the State College Spikes, and he doesn’t have a long history of being a pitcher to fall back on to give him confidence.

The Pirates fell in love with his power arm and gave him a big contract, and that is highly suspect given that he had not pitched much as an amateur. Just because a guy throws 100 mph doesn’t mean he can do anything as a pitcher. It’s way, way too early to give up on Allie, and he will be given every opportunity to improve his command for several years.

As for Heredia, he’s so young and it’s so early in his career that he still has a ton to learn about being a pitcher and facing professional hitters. Stats don’t mean anything for him at this point given that he only turned 17 on Aug. 10.

Looking at this team next season, what does this team look like to you? What changes can you see that can help this team further improve, and who will be ready to contribute from the minor leagues next season?

The easy answer is that the team will be better, based on improvements from this year.

But I don’t think it’s that simple.

Can Kevin Correia match what he did the first half of this year? Can Jeff Karstens or Charlie Morton?

I doubt Paul Maholm will be around because the Pirates should not spend $9.75 million on his option.

The point is, there’s no telling what will happen to the pitching staff next year or if all of this we saw this season was a one-time blip that provides false hope. Now, the offense should be better, and it’s unlikely there will be as many injuries as there have been this season. So the younger players will still be developing and coming into their own. Also, Pedro Alvarez simply can’t be any worse than he’s been this year, so that’s somewhat of a positive.

As far as minor leaguers being ready to help, I’d say Brad Lincoln will have to be given a shot in the rotation, and maybe Rudy Owens can make a push, although he hasn’t been as good as everyone hoped this season in Triple-A.

Changing gears a bit, you’ve also written a book – “They Know Joe: Behind-The-Scenes Paterno Stories From Those Who Watched His Legend Grow”” – what inspired you to write the book and how can readers purchase it?

I co-authored the book with my colleague at the Altoona Mirror, Neil Rudel, and we had a blast.

It’s a collection of personal stories from all kinds of sports figures about Joe Paterno. We reached out to people from across the sports world who have known Joe for a long time and got them to share their favorite memories and personal anecdotes about the Penn State coach.

We have forewords from President George H.W. Bush and Bobby Bowden, plus chapters on people such as Dan Rooney, Lou Holtz, Kerry Collins, John Clayton, Johnny Majors, Vince Dooley, Beano Cook, Chris Fowler and many, many others.

The book is available at AltoonaMirror.com and by calling 1-800-222-1962.

What surprised you most about Paterno as you researched and (co) wrote the book?

It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but everyone — and I mean everyone — has a story they enjoy telling about Joe.

The man has been a legend for so long and has touched so many people that they all appreciate the opportunity to share their memories. It was fun contacting big-name people around the country and have them be willing to take part in our book.

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