Posted March 27, 2013 on
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Jason Grilli is well aware of the history.
After two promising summers turned into painful falls, the new Pittsburgh Pirates closer realizes what's at stake in 2013.
''You know, it's like three strikes and you're out,'' Grilli said. ''I don't think anybody in this clubhouse wants that to happen.''
Not if the group that's helped raise the Pirates to the edge of contention wants to stick together. Though the organization has insisted it is focused on building continuity within a franchise that has endured a record 20 straight losing seasons, very little beyond this spring seems settled outside of the presence of cornerstone center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
The team extended manager Clint Hurdle through 2014 earlier this spring, though owner Bob Nutting stressed he needs to see the Pirates take another step forward from the 79-83 record they posted a year ago.
''The level of expectation has been and needs to be that we're going to win a championship,'' Nutting said. ''We're going to be playing exciting games throughout the summer as we did last year. We're going to play meaningful games in September, we're going to compete for a championship and put ourselves in position for a sixth World Series in Pittsburgh.''
Heady talk for a team that hasn't even managed a winning season since Barry Bonds left town more than 20 years ago. Yet Nutting's words are echoed throughout the organization, from Hurdle to general manager Neal Huntington to the core group led by McCutchen and ace A.J. Burnett, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win.
The 36-year-old is entering the final year of his contract and at $16.5 million a year - a portion of which is still being paid by the New York Yankees - is unlikely to be back. If this is his last ride, he would love nothing more than to help Pittsburgh end what is simply known as ''the Streak'' and usher in another baseball renaissance at a place that once upon a time was one of the game's premier - and blue collar - teams.
''Guys are getting tired of hearing that `we got better this year, we're getting better, we're going in the right direction,''' said Burnett, who will start opening day after a sterling 16-10 record in 2012. ''That's going to get old after a while ... we know it's time to win.''
Though still somewhat limited by the marketplace, the Pirates did sign three-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin to provide some muscle at the plate and some leadership behind it. They also took a flier on left-handed starter Francisco Liriano, who is still recovering from a freak fall during the offseason in which he broke his right (non-throwing) arm.
The bullpen underwent a makeover when Pittsburgh shipped two-time All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan to Boston rather than give him a hefty raise in arbitration. The trade thrust the closer's role into the hands of the 36-year-old Grilli, a journeyman who has flourished since the Pirates plucked him out of the minors and made him a setup man.
The outspoken veteran brushes off talk the Pirates are cursed, that Pittsburgh is relegated to also-ran status for perpetuity. He understands what it's like to be written off. He totally gets the frustration that comes when a team soars to 16 games above .500 - as the Pirates did last summer - only to plummet in the season's final six weeks.
He's just not convinced it means Pittsburgh is doomed once again.
''We had to endure that, and it wasn't fun,'' Grilli said. ''There's nobody that wants to win out there more than we do. People who don't think we have the pieces are going to be surprised.''
The lineup is an interesting mix of promise and question marks. McCutchen enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, finishing third in the National League MVP race after hitting .327 with 31 homers and 96 RBIs. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez finally corralled his considerable power to hit 30 home runs. First baseman Garrett Jones hit 27 homers of his own.
They'll be joined by second-year outfielder Starling Marte, a raw talent who could become the dangerous leadoff hitter Pittsburgh desperately needs. Shortstop Clint Barmes provided a steadying presence on defense but hit just .229. Outfielder Travis Snider and first baseman Gaby Sanchez - acquired in trade deadline deals last summer - believe their anemic play last fall was simply an anomaly.
For the Pirates to break the stranglehold the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds have on the NL Central, it will likely have to be.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP
BEST OF MAXIM
Opening Day is less than a week away, and we’re finally starting to see what the last couple spots on the 25-man roster will look like when the Bucs head to Pittsburgh this weekend. It isn’t pretty. Here’s a breakdown of the situation:
The most important position that needed to be filled during spring training was the back of the rotation. Originally, it appeared...
The Pirates finished up their final cuts to minor league camp along with designating Clint Robinson and Hunter Strickland for assignment and have set their Opening Day roster. It will look like this:
SP A.J. Burnett
SP Wandy Rodriguez
SP James McDonald
SP Jonathan Sanchez
SP Jeff Locke
RP Jeanmar Gomez
RP Chris Leroux
RP Jared Hughes
RP Mark Melancon
RP Tony Watson
RP Justin Wilson...
The Opening Day roster is all but set. The Pirates cut nine players this morning, leaving 26 active players in camp. The only question mark remaining is whether Brandon Inge will start the season on the disabled list, which would put Josh Harrison on the bench. At this point it looks likely that Inge will start on the DL.
Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington met with the media...
With Opening Day less than a week away and Spring Training coming to a close in Florida, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at what the Pirates will put on the field next Monday when the Cubs visit PNC Park.
The idea is to do one of these each day. I’ll break down the outfield, starting rotation, bullpen, bench and infield (today’s installment) individually. These...
Michael Sanserino is tweeting out a bunch of news today, but the most important points are here: Jonathan Sanchez has made the Pirates' rotation and Brandon Inge will make the Pirates' roster, though he may open the season on the disabled list. I've talked quite a bit about Sanchez already, particularly in yesterday's post about the rotation. There's some room...
The Pittsburgh Pirates told left-hander Jonathan Sanchez and third baseman Brandon Inge they will make the team's opening day roster.
The pair, signed to minor league contracts as free agents, would have been able to opt out of their deals if they hadn't been told by Tuesday they will be added to the 40-man roster.
Sanchez, a left-hander, will move into the No. 4 spot in...
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett, told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that he is considering retirement after the 5-year $82 million dollar contract he signed with the New York Yankees runs out.
Burnett, 36, made his Major League debut in 1999 with the Florida Marlins, followed by stops in Toronto and New York and has a win-loss record of 137-121 coming...
Wandy Rodriguez and Tony Watson will be over from major league camp today, as the Triple-A and Double-A teams take on the Phillies farm system. We’ll have bonus coverage tonight. Jessica Quiroli is in Clearwater, and will be providing some notes from the A-ball games on the road.
The Pirates made what appears to be their final cuts today. A lot of the moves are starting to impact...
The Bucs have trimmed their roster down much like I predicted they would yesterday, and here’s what it looks like:
Rotation: A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke
Projected starters: Russell Martin, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, Pedro Alvarez, Travis Snider, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte
Bench: Michael McKenry, Jose Tabata...
I’m just going to combine the last two Roster Watch articles. I called Justin Wilson making this team waaaaaaaaay back when I did the Kyle McPherson article. Everyone knew that Tony Watson was going to make the roster, he has had two pretty good seasons in the bigs and has carved out a role in…
The seventh weekend of the college season is about to get under way, with some teams starting their schedule a day earlier due to Easter Sunday. The Pirates have the #9 and #14 picks in the upcoming June amateur draft. Throughout the college/HS season, leading up to the draft, we will cover the interesting players that are being discussed in the Pirates draft range. There will also...
Just as I feared, Brandon Inge has made the team. Not that I’m surprised. His signing led me to write this post about how all these “Just a Minor League Deals” shouldn’t be written off. This is probably the nail in the coffin for Jordy Mercer and possibly Josh Harrison. With the addition of John…
When word leaked out yesterday that the Brewers had come to a three-year/$33 million agreement with Kyle Lohse, a lot of Pirate fans immediately started wondering why the Pirates didn't make more of a push for Lohse given their current rotation woes. There are a lot of fairly straightforward answers to this question: Lohse is due for some regression and is much more likely to...
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- A.J. Burnett loosened up for his opening day start with three innings Wednesday in the Pittsburgh Pirates' 7-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Burnett allowed two runs and four hits and struck out two. He'll next pitch on Monday when the Pirates host the Chicago Cubs.
Vance Worley went five innings for the Twins, giving up two runs and seven hits while...