Entering the NL Central gauntlet

Sorry for the light posting this week; my primary computer has had some serious issues, and so during they day I'm working with a six-year old Macbook (the plastic one!) with a water damaged screen and an awful keyboard and it's just not really all that useful beyond the most basic stuff. 

In any case, there's one bit of news from this afternoon to mention before talking about tonight's game: Chris Leroux was designated for assignment this afternoon and Bryan Morris was called up from Triple-A to take his spot in the bullpen. For most of Leroux's Pirate career he's been a pitcher that's worked better in theory than in practice, and his awful outing against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday was apparently the last straw. Morris was excellent in the first part of 2012 as Indianapolis's closer and he finished the year with a great line even though his second half wasn't quite as good; he had a 2.67 ERA and 79 strikeouts to go with just 17 walks and eight homers in 81 innings last year. He made five good appearances with the Pirates late in the year last year after being kept down for a confusingly long time while Chad Qualls sucked the life out of things in Pittsburgh. He was all over the place in spring training this year, though, and I think that may have had something to do with his demotion to start the year. Since Wandy Rodriguez is iffy for his start on Sunday, this may be a short stint for Morris. Still, I think the bullpen is probably better with him in it, and he should give Clint Hurdle some better late-game options. 

Anyway, on to the Reds. The Braves and Nationals have gotten plenty of (deserved) hype this spring, but I think the Reds are my pre-season NL favorites. They're just an incredibly deep team with both pitching and bats and the Shin-Soo Choo trade over the winter really felt like a final piece of the puzzle sort of trade to me. For now, at least, this team is the measuring stick for the Pirates in the NL Central. The good news for the Pirates is that they get to open up this series against the Reds' weakest starter (Mike Leake) while they send AJ Burnett out to the mound. Burnett was flat-out excellent against the Reds last year, with a 2.08 ERA and 31 strikeouts in five starts against them. This start in particular, when the Pirates had slowly started sliding but were still very much in contention and seemed like they could be saved, was one of the biggest performances by any Pirate last year. Leake has only made one start this year, but he walked four hitters and gave up two dingers in six innings. The Pirates should score runs against Mike Leake and there aren't really any acceptable excuses not to. 

The first pitch tonight is at 7:05. The Pirates are giving away a ridiculous AJ Burnett t-shirt that the internet has been mocking for a week. Given Jeff Locke's start tomorrow and the uncertainty for Sunday, this seems like a pretty important game to win. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.