Pirates evaluating relievers for next season
Members of relief corps auditioning for spot in '11
PITTSBURGH -- The only thing clear about the Pirates' 2011 bullpen is that it will include Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. The rest falls under the to-be-determined category.
The Pirates' decision to finish the year with a 13-member bullpen was partially done to give manager John Russell enough options to get through the grind that the final month presents. However, the addition of so many extra arms is also serving as an evaluation tool.
Pitchers are, in a sense, auditioning for jobs in 2011. It's not to say that what happens in September should be viewed as make-or-break. But it can certainly help or hurt. So far, it appears as if Russell has come to one conclusion.
"I am liking the fact that it doesn't look like we're going to have to bring in a multitude of arms like we have in the past," he said. "I think internally, we have some guys with us now -- [injured pitchers Kevin] Hart and [Jose] Ascanio will be in the mix as well -- that we've got some pretty good options to put together a pretty strong bullpen.
"We've got a lot of good arms. That will be up to us over this offseason period to start piecing that together. The internal options are the ones that we're excited about going into next year because we have not had that these last couple of years."
Excluding Hanrahan and Meek, both of whom are guaranteed spots on next year's team, the reliever who appears to have made the best impression is right-hander Chris Resop. While the Pirates aren't definitively ruling out Resop as a future starting option, indications seem to be that the club likes what he can offer as a middle reliever.
The Pirates also appear stacked with long-relief candidates for 2011. Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Joe Martinez highlight that list of options.
General manager Neal Huntington has succeeded in piecing together bullpens largely through free agency each offseason. And even if the Pirates like a number of their internal options, Huntington is still likely to complement those choices through some winter pickups.
Bowker leaves game with right knee injury
PITTSBURGH -- Right knee soreness forced Pirates outfielder John Bowker to leave Saturday's game against the Astros after the fourth inning.
After the Pirates' 6-4 win over the Astros, manager John Russell said that the soreness was the byproduct of Bowker fouling a ball off that right knee earlier in the week. The knee unexpectedly tightened up as Bowker played through the first few innings of Saturday's contest.
Bowker, who was replaced in right field by Alex Presley, went 0-for-1 and reached on an error against Houston's Bud Norris. He was making his 10th straight start and 14th since being recalled by the Pirates on Sept. 1.
Pinch-hit homer boosts LaRoche's confidence
PITTSBURGH -- It might not have made a difference in the outcome, but it certainly had an effect on Andy LaRoche's morale when he took Brett Myers deep in a sixth-inning, pinch-hit at-bat on Friday.
LaRoche has looked mostly lost since assuming a bench role after losing his starting job to third baseman Pedro Alvarez in June. He's had 34 pinch-hit at-bats since then, but has collected just four hits. His home run actually snapped a 0-for-21 streak.
"I feel bad for Andy," manager John Russell said. "I know he's a good player, but he never really got on track. Then Pedro came and put Andy on the bench. But I would still like I us to maximize Andy at some point. He is a good player. That was frustrating and discouraging for me because I know how hard the kid wants to play and how dedicated he is."
Overall, LaRoche enters the final days of the season fighting to keep his batting average over the Mendoza line. He's hit .207 with eight doubles and four homers in 241 at-bats this season. As a starter last year, LaRoche batted .258 with 12 home runs and 64 RBIs in 524 at-bats.
LaRoche will head to winter ball this offseason to collect some of the at-bats he lost upon Alvarez's arrival. There, he'll also begin getting some work at shortstop, a position the Pirates would like to add to LaRoche's repertoire. If LaRoche has a future in this organization, it will have to be as a utility infield option.
Tabata back in lineup after left knee injury
PITTSBURGH -- Jose Tabata arrived at PNC Park on Saturday with a message for his manager.
"I want to play," Tabata told John Russell.
And after Tabata got the necessary clearance from the team's training staff, Russell obliged the outfielder's request. Irritation under his left knee cap forced Tabata out of Friday's game after three innings. The discomfort appeared to surface as Tabata beat out an infield single, and the outfielder was on the bench at the end of that half inning.
Tabata's injury was diagnosed as day-to-day, but the irritation had calmed down enough by Saturday that Tabata isn't expected to miss any more time. That means the left fielder still has an outside chance at finishing his year with more hits after the All-Star break than any other National League player if he can finish the year out strong.
Tabata entered the weekend ranked second in the NL with 84 second-half hits. Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez tops the current leaderboard with 88.
"It's good to have him back in," Russell said. "We miss him. He's such an energetic player for us and does some great things."
Sunday's ceremonial first pitch will be thrown out by actress Lauren Holly, who is starring in the film "Chasing 3000." The movie, which is based on a true story, documents a road trip two brothers take to Pittsburgh in 1972 to see Roberto Clemente collect his 3,000th hit. ... With his appearance on Friday, reliever Joel Hanrahan tied his career high with 69. He also made 69 apearances in 2008 while with Washington. Hanrahan also entered Saturday's game five strikeouts shy of collecting 100. ... With his start on Saturday, lefty Zach Duke has now made 158 since 2005. Only two National League lefties -- Doug Davis (170) and Wandy Rodriguez (166) -- have made more in that time span. Paul Maholm also has 158 starts during that span.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.