February 23, 2007

WE'RE NOT SETTLING FOR .500:

Pitching offers promise for Bucs (Justice B. Hill, 2/23/07, MLB.com)

Manager Jim Tracy can look at the second half of 2006 and see plenty of promise for what might be ahead for his Pirates in '07.

In that second half of last season, the Pirates played above .500 ball, which was a stark contrast to the 30-60 record his young club posted during the first half. Tracy views that second-half success as a strong foundation for optimism. [...]

Much of that consistency was simply the byproduct of a young pitching staff maturing, he said. Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny have a combined 134 starts in the big leagues, a total offseason pickup Tony Armas Jr. (155) has logged alone.

Tracy said that any of the team's young arms should know he can step into a start and put a tourniquet on the wound. That knowledge will, he said, better help the Pirates play baseball at above .500 rather than below it.


MORE:
Kolb seeks more than spot: Former All-Star closer eyes pivotal role in bullpen (Dejan Kovacevic, 2/24/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Above all, the team is of the mind that Kolb does have, as he put it, a chance to reclaim his outstanding form of 2003-04 with the Milwaukee Brewers, when he nailed 60 of 67 saves with a 2.55 ERA and pitched in the All-Star Game.

This despite the two lackluster years that followed: He had a 5.93 ERA with the Atlanta Braves in 2005 and lost the closer's job, then a 4.84 ERA back in Milwaukee last season.

"I've seen this guy in a couple different locations, and the one thing I can tell you is that there's nothing wrong with that arm," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "Somewhere between the first stint in Milwaukee and his time in Atlanta, command became an issue. Now, the key for us is to figure out why."

To that end, pitching coach Jim Colborn and bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar are spending extra time with Kolb to solidify his mechanics.

"He seems to be very receptive, too," Tracy said. "I'll tell you: This could be one of those diamond-in-the-rough types that really pays dividends for you."

Kolb is no less optimistic, mostly because he rediscovered some consistency in the second half of last season: His ERA after the All-Star break was 2.75 in 19 2/3 innings, and that included a run of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances in July and August.

He credited Brewers manager Ned Yost for returning him to late-inning usage.

"More opportunities, better situations," Kolb said. "Early in the year, I was being used anywhere. I think I got into the third inning a couple of times. But, by the end of the year, I was back toward the end of the game again. That's where my adrenaline is. That's where my feel for the game is."

And his feel by season's end?

"I feel like I got a little bit of my '04 season back. Now, I'm just looking to continue what happened in those couple of months."

Even if Kolb makes the Pirates' roster, it apparently would take some doing to get back to the late innings. Salomon Torres is the closer, and management has made clear that Matt Capps and John Grabow -- unquestioned pieces of the team's future -- will get first crack at setup duty.

"I just want to pitch toward the end of the game, whether that's as a setup guy or closer or whatever," Kolb said. "Obviously, they've got Torres here to close. I've pitched against him for a long time now, and I know he's got the stuff to do it. And I'll help him out with anything he needs. I'll be there for him. I'm here to help these guys out and get back to the form I used to have."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2007 10:19 PM
Comments

Armas, Jr. is not the answer.

Posted by: Bartman at February 24, 2007 9:26 AM
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