Dan's Dugout: Beleaguered Bucs Face Long Season • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Beleaguered Bucs Face Long Season


BRADENTON, FL – This sleepy southwest Florida shore town is more awake than usual.

It’s the home of Camp Free Agent, a collection of veteran players too pricey, too greedy, or too old to hold much appeal to anyone but baseball fans who wonder why they haven’t signed for 2018.

It’s also the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a club that shattered its own dreams of postseason glory by trading away high-priced stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

The Pirates are marking their 50th spring training in Bradenton

The Bucs are beloved in Bradenton, where they are celebrating their 50th spring, and in Pittsburgh, where fan-friendly PNC Park might just be the most photogenic in the majors.

But those fans, denied a World Series spot since 1983, may be getting restless.

How long can one team depend so heavily on the legacy of departed stars, from Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell to Dick Groat and Vern Law, heroes of 1960 Pirates team that rode Bill Mazeroski’s homer to World Series glory?

To compete in the National League Central, the 2018 Pirates must hope manager Clint Hurdle find a genie or two in his Aladdin’s lamp.

Starting his eight year at the helm, Hurdle already ranks fifth on Pittsburgh’s lifetime wins list, with 584. But he won’t add much to that total this year, leaving him far behind the likes of Jim Leyland (851) and Chuck Tanner (711), the men immediately ahead of him.

Clint Hurdle is in his eighth year at the Pittsburgh helm

The best of the dozen newcomers on the spring training roster is Corey Dickerson, a free-swinging leftfielder who banged 27 home runs for Tampa Bay but lost his spot in a payroll push.

Relievers Josh Smoker, the ex-Mets lefthander and Joe Musgrove, a swingman for the Astros last year, might have an impact too.

But the Bucs are banking on better play from Starling Marte, suspended for substance abuse half of last season, and versatile Sean Rodriguez, seeking to shed an unwanted tag as a utility man and pinch-hitter.

Both homered in a 7-5 loss to Atlanta at Disney World Monday.

The team’s top power threat is switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell, a 2017 rookie who surprised with 26 home runs and 90 runs batted in. If he outlasts persistent trade rumors, compact second baseman Josh Harrison should also be helpful after hitting 16 homers in 128 games.

Perhaps the Pirates should bring back Neil Walker, a solid second baseman with sock who still remains in free agent limbo. Should Walker return, Harrison could move to third. Or Rodriguez could play there.

Baseball has a rich legacy in Pittsburgh

It’s that kind of spring for Hurdle, who has watched his team lost six of its first nine exhibition games. The manager’s biggest hurdle will be putting together a pitching staff.

Other than ex-Yankee Ivan Nova, the Pirates do not own a pitcher who reached double digits in wins last summer. Look for Venezuelan lefty Felipe Rivero to be called into action often after fanning 88 men in 75.1 innings en route to 21 saves and a 1.67 earned run mark as a rookie.

With so many question-marks, it’s no wonder the Bucs began this week with 32 pitchers – exactly half of the team’s player roster that began this week – in camp.

Kevin Siegrist, a lefthander signed to a minor-league deal late last month, should have no problem jumping to the varsity. But he’ll have to show more than other Pirates have thus far.

The team has yielded at least seven runs in a game four times. While it’s true Grapefruit League games don’t mean anything, a better showing now would mean more sales of tickets and souvenirs later.

Facing the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and revitalized Milwaukee Brewers will make life difficult for the Pirates in the National League Central, where their only assurance is that the Cincinnati Reds are virtually certain to occupy the cellar again.

Pittsburgh’s pilot has to trim his roster to 25 before the end of the month but his task will be easier than the dilemma faced by his dugout colleagues. In Pittsburgh, the manager needs to find 25 bodies who won’t embarrass him when they go north.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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