• That the Pittsburgh Pirates have a very young starting rotation shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the Pirates have seemingly been in a rebuilding mode since that October night in 1992 when Sid Bream slid across home plate with the winning run for the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven of the National League Championship Series. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since, and have played important games only once in that span, in 1997 when they contended for the NL Central title into the season’s final week despite a losing record.

    However, the Pirates truly believe that their current front foursome-left-handers Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, and Paul Maholm, and right-hander Ian Snell-can eventually lead them out of the wilderness of non-contention. None are older than 25, and all were drafted and developed by the Pirates. The Pirates are the only major league team with four homegrown starters in their rotation.

    “I know there were a lot of trade rumors floating around in the winter regarding all four of us but I’m so happy they didn’t trade any of us. In fact, I think it’s the best thing the Pirates could have possibly done,” Maholm said. “You win at all levels of baseball with good pitching, (but) especially in the major leagues. We have a good core group of young starting pitchers with talent. I really believe we can compete and win at the major league level and get things turned around in Pittsburgh. By them not trading any of us, that tells me that management believes we’re a big of part of the future.”

    Indeed, they are. “They’re the backbone of our club,” Pirates manger Jim Tracy said. “They’ve young, they’re talented, and they have plenty of upside. How can you not be excited about having a group of pitchers like that? I know this much, a lot of teams around baseball would love to have these guys. What team isn’t looking for pitching? Not many. For us to have this many talented young starting pitchers who have already gained some valuable major-league experience is a tremendous advantage.”

    The most significant advantage for the Pirates is that Duke, Gorzelanny, Maholm, and Snell have yet to accrue the two-plus years of service time necessary for salary arbitration. Thus, the four are making a combined $1.607 million. It’s a remarkable comment on the virtues of home-growing your talent to build a cost-effective rotation at a time when the market for starting pitching of any kind has exploded. “This is what we’ve been trying do for a long time, rebuild the organization with talented young pitchers because the cost is just too high to try to go out and acquire it,” Pirates Chief Executive Officer Kevin McClatchy said.

    So far, the four pitchers have been a mixed bag. The team is at 21-27 and third in the NL Central, 6 ½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. Snell and Gorzelanny have pitched well, while Duke and Maholm have not:

    Pitcher      VORP   ERA   SNLVAR
    Gorzelanny   20.4   2.51  2.1
    Snell        16.4   3.06  1.6
    Maholm       -0.2   5.43  0.1
    Duke         -3.2   5.56  0.4

    If all four pitchers make at least 25 starts, it would be historically notable, because only five teams have had four pitchers 25 or younger reach that level in the same season since divisional play began in 1969:

    1969 California Angels (Rudy May, Jim McGlothlin, Andy Messersmith, Tom Murphy)
    1969 Kansas City Royals (Wally Bunker, Bill Butler, Dick Drago, Roger Nelson)
    1974 San Diego Padres (Dave Freisleben, Bill Greif, Randy Jones, Dan Spillner)
    1975 San Diego Padres (Freisleben, Jones, Joe McIntosh, Spillner)
    1989 Atlanta Braves (Tom Glavine, Derek Lilliquist, Pete Smith, John Smoltz)

  • What if somebody set a major-league record and nobody acknowledged it? That was the case on May 15, when the Minnesota Twins‘ Luis Castillo broke Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg‘s record of 123 consecutive errorless games by a second baseman on May 15. No one noticed until six days later, when Texas Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel brought it to the attention of the Twins’ media relations department. The Twins called the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball’s official statistician, and the record was belatedly confirmed. Castillo’s streak now stands at 135 games, covering 614 chances. Castillo won three National League Gold Gloves while playing for the Florida Marlins, and set the single-season record last year when he did not make an error in the final 99 games.

    “I didn’t know I had the record. Now that I know, I feel great,” Castillo told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It’s important to me whenever I’m on the field. I try to make all the routing plays I try to play good defensive. I take pride in that. Ryne Sandberg is a guy I’ve been following since I was a little kid. He’s a great second baseman. I feel proud because of that.”

  • The Rangers’ starting rotation is off to a historically bad start, as its 6.26 ERA is easily last amont the 30 teams in the major leagues. Only six teams in major-league history have had a rotation go an entire season with an ERA above 6.00. The Rangers can claim the privilege of fielding two of those, as the 2003 rotation had a 6.24 mark, while the 2001 starters were right at 6.00. The worst mark ever was the 6.64 turned in by the 1996 Detroit Tigers. Individually, the best of the lot this season for the Rangers has been Robinson Tejeda with a 5.52 ERA, followed by Vicente Padilla (5.77), Brandon McCarthy (6.35), Kameron Loe (6.38), and Kevin Millwood (6.62). John Koronka, Mike Wood, and Jamey Wright have combined for an 8.18 ERA in five starts.

    “It’s not good when you are a part of that, because a lot of it reflects on you,” McCarthy told the Dallas Morning News. “It’s a knock against us, but what we have to do is keep getting better and more consistent. There are a couple of outings all of us would like to have back, but if we keep working towards getting consistent-it’s still only May-that number will come down.”

  • San Diego right-hander Chris Young is a Princeton graduate, so it stands to reason that he would understand the value of a stolen base-or its relative lack of value. Thus, Young wasn’t too concerned when the MarinersIchiro Suzuki stole six bases against the Padres last weekend. Young also isn’t bothered by the fact that opponents have been successful on all 15 steal attempts while he has been on the mound this season. “Statistically, you are off getting the batter,” Young told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Occasionally, you are going to get burned, but you are better off focusing on making the good pitch than the runner. Greg Maddux and I talked about it this spring. Less than 20 percent of steals lead to runs that wouldn’t have otherwise scored.”

From the rumor mill: Troy Percival last pitched in a major league game on July 9, 2005 (for the Tigers), and officially retired on Opening Day after missing last season with a forearm injury. That’s understandable-Percival had 324 saves in his 11-year career. However, he resigned from his job as a roving pitching instructor for the Angels this past week, and is beginning a comeback. Detroit, Florida, and Philadelphia all reportedly have strong interest, and Cleveland is also said to be considering making a bid. … Keith Foulke is also considering making a comeback next season after retiring from Cleveland the day before spring training officially began this past spring. Foulke is contemplating having arthroscopic elbow surgery that would enable him to pitch next season. … On the subject of closers, Ryan Dempster remains in that job for the Chicago Cubs for now, but is likely to start losing the job to one of two hard-throwing right-handers, either Angel Guzman or Carlos Marmol, at some point in the next few weeks. The Cubs might also pursue a trade for Washington closer Chad Cordero, as they are reportedly willing to give up outfielders Jacque Jones and/or Matt Murton in the right deal. Dempster would then return to starting, which he hasn’t done on a full-time basis since 2003. Many are interpreting the eventual move of Dempster back to the rotation as a sign that the Cubs are having second thoughts about re-signing right-hander Carlos Zambrano, who can become a free agent at the end of the season. The Cubs could instead decide to pursue New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez as a free agent, or target such center fielders as Suzuki, Minnesota’s Torii Hunter, or Atlanta’s Andruw Jones on the open market. Two Japanese players who reportedly interest the Cubs as potential free agents are right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and center fielder Kosuke Fukodome. … Texas General Manager Jon Daniels says the Rangers won’t consider making any major changes until at least the All-Star break. If the Rangers decide to break up their team, the player they will likely market the most is first baseman Mark Teixeira, who seems headed for free agency when eligible after the 2008 season. … Detroit first baseman Sean Casey is hitting just .267/.323/.327 in 164 plate appearances with no home runs, but Tigers skipper Jim Leyland says his team is not looking for an upgrade at that position. … Designated hitter Mark Sweeney‘s five-year, $55-million contract with Kansas City runs out at the end of the season. In an effort to become more marketable, Sweeney wants to return to catching, at least on a part-time basis. Sweeney was a catcher when he came to the major leagues in 1995, but hasn’t seen action behind the plate since 1999. … Minnesota is getting closer to releasing right-hander Ramon Ortiz, now 3-4 with a 5.75 ERA in 10 starts this season after winning his first three outings. The Twins have two replacements ready at Triple-A Rochester in right-handers Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey.

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