Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Polanco unable to live up to early hype

Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco drives in two runs with a single off Miami Marlins starting pitcher Brian Flynn during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Gene J. Puskar / AP

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/07/4278174/marlins-at-pirates-thu-aug-7-2014.html#storylink=cpy
PITTSBURGH — There was so much hype surrounding Gregory Polanco’s arrival in the major leagues that it seemed he might not be able to live up to it.
He hasn’t. At least, so far.
The Pirates right fielder was struggling so badly in recent weeks that the Pirates optioned him to Class AAA Indianapolis on Monday night before the opener of a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.
Polanco’s slump extended to 1-for-30 over his last nine games Sunday when the 22-year-old went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in a 4-3 loss to the Brewers at Milwaukee. The plan is for Polanco to return to the Pirates next Tuesday, the day after Indianapolis’ season ends.
“The timing is off on his swing, and I don’t think the best way for him to spend the next week is sitting on the bench,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “This is an opportunity for him to get down, get some at bats and get out of the spotlight that has been here for a week and find his way. I believe he will and he will come back and help this ballclub in September in a positive way.”
Polanco hit .241 with six home runs and 12 stolen bases in 64 games after being called up from Indianapolis on June 10. He had been tearing up the International League, batting .347 with seven homers and 15 steals in 62 games.
“He’s not the first player that’s had to go back down for a little more work,” Hurdle said. “It happened to me after I had been up for a year. This is only going to make him better.”
Travis Snider will take over as the starting right fielder and mercurial outfielder Jose Tabata was called up from Indianapolis to provide right-handed hitting off the bench. Snider was hitting .363 in his last 17 games going into Monday night and had an 11-game hitting streak end last Friday.
“Snider is really emerged and he had been outplaying (Polanco),” Hurdle said. “Travis deserves at bats right now.”
Tabata hit .281 in 39 games with Indianapolis after opening the season with the Pirates and batting .289 in 62 games. He has yet to hit a home run this year in a combined 317 plate appearances between the major leagues and minor leagues.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Steelers Troy Polamalu is mad and he should be

By Neal Coolong
August 24, 2014
Steelers Troy Polamalu is mad and he should be
Polamalu is a fiery, emotional player, contrary to popular belief. It appeared he was fed up in the third quarter of the team's recent loss to Philadelphia. That should serve as a wake-up call to players as well as coaches.
Don't let the sign of the cross Steelers safety Troy Polamalu makes before and after - maybe even during - each play throw you. He plays with a reckless, passionate style that sometimes pushes him over the brink of acceptable behavior.
As he told Tribune Review reporter Alan Robinson in Sunday's edition, "I don't think at all, to be honest with you. Probably over the last (12 years), I lead the team in personal fouls."
Without the capability of confirming that estimate, we'd tend to agree. It's obviously slanted, considering only Brett Keisel has been with the Steelers longer, but his point remains valid; Troy gets a lot of personal fouls. He seems particularly amped up this preseason as well.
In the first series against Buffalo, Polamalu's first action of the preseason, he got into a scuffle with aBills offensive lineman. He jumped on Fred Jackson's head and ripped him to the ground on a carry a series later. And of course, the now infamous meltdown on a lax Steelers defensive unit during a blowout loss to Philadelphia.
It's not suggesting Polamalu feels he's above his teammates. Leaders have to resort to such attention-getting blow-ups from time to time. Polamalu played well in the game; certainly better than his teammates did, especially those in the secondary. But the Steelers' defense had their hindparts beaten, wrapped in plastic and mailed back to Pittsburgh in advance of the rest of their bodies.
Polamalu had enough. He felt the need to remind them of what this franchise's defense should represent, and of the simple fact it hasn't been living up to that in a while now. Maybe the build-up has been underway for a while.
The ability level of offensive players and schemes over the last four years has grown tremendously and the Steelers' defense hasn't caught up to that. Whether the widening gap between opposing offenses and the Steelers' defense is attributable toward scheme or personnel or both, the general lack of pressure, the shockingly high amount of penalties and inability to stop the run has been apparent. And it should be considered a concern.
Thursday's tilt against the Panthers isn't likely to see leaps and bounds improvements from a starting group that won't likely see more than a series of play. The hope here is Polamalu's tirade woke up not just the players but the coaches as well. A defense that hasn't provided a sustainable answer to spread offenses, and a nickel package of personnel that hasn't improved despite several modifications and tweaks, need the work, and it needs to wake up.
More from sbnation.com:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alvarez homers twice, Pirates beat Brewers 10-2

By Joe DiGiovanni (AP)
August 23, 2014
Alvarez homers twice, Pirates beat Brewers 10-2
Pedro Alvarez watches his three-run home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Pedro Alvarez made the most of his opportunity to play Saturday night.

Pitching Details

The slumping slugger homered twice to break out of a 5-for-34 slide, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat theMilwaukee Brewers 10-2.
''Anytime you can do something like that, especially when you help your team win a ballgame, is huge and it feels good,'' said Alvarez, who started for only the eighth time this month.
Alvarez, making his second career start at first base, went 2 for 3 with four RBIs, a walk and his seventh stolen base. He said it is difficult to hit well when not playing regularly, but he approaches each game as though he is starting.
''You have no other choice, it's what you have to do,'' he said. ''It's easier said than done sometimes, but the at-bats you do get every once in a while, you have to try to take advantage of them and create an environment where it feels like you're playing every day. Treat every at- bat with the same intensity, same focus.''
Alvarez hit a three-run shot in the fourth inning and a solo drive in the fifth against starter Wily Peralta (15-8). Russell Martin also connected for a three-run homer off the right-hander, who held the Pirates hitless for 3 2-3 innings but quickly fell apart and exited after five.
Pittsburgh starter Edinson Volquez (11-7) pitched out of trouble almost every inning to improve to 3-0 in five August starts. The right-hander allowed 11 hits and two walks in 5 2-3 innings, but Milwaukee managed only two runs off him.
''You got to the point, once those bases were loaded, he was able to put a foot down and just stop it with quality pitches in quality locations,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Third-place Pittsburgh won its third consecutive game to pull within four of the NL Central-leading Brewers.
Each team had 12 hits, but Pittsburgh took advantage of its chances while Milwaukee squandered its opportunities.
''Our big boys were up when we needed them up, but they got the big hits when we didn't,'' Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.
Martin was 2 for 4 with four RBIs, a double and a walk. Neil Walker went 3 for 4 with a double, a walk and three RBIs.
Scooter Gennett hit his ninth homer in the second for Milwaukee.
After Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead in the fourth, the Brewers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom half. Volquez got Ryan Braun to pop out and then struck out Aramis Ramirez to end the threat. ''I stayed with the scouting report, basically with the fastball inside,'' Volquez said.
The Pirates have won the first two games of the series but still are only 39-77 at Miller Park. ''This place has been a lot of a Rubik's Cube when we come in here and play. But we always turn the page,'' Hurdle said.
Pirates rookie Gregory Polanco, in a 1-for-27 slump, was on the bench for the fourth consecutive game.
With the Brewers down 9-2 in the sixth, Carlos Gomez was thrown out by a step trying to advance from first to third on a sharp single to left. Starling Marte's throw to Josh Harrison easily beat Gomez for the second out of the inning.
Pirates: INF Clint Barmes has gone 3 for 15 in four rehab games with Triple-A Indianapolis. He's been on the disabled list since July 6 with a left groin injury. ... RHP Stolmy Pimentel (mild right ankle sprain) pitched a scoreless inning Thursday night to begin his rehab assignment with Double-A Altoona.
Brewers: RHP Matt Garza will throw a bullpen session Sunday. He's been on the DL with a left oblique strain since Aug. 5, retroactive to Aug. 4.
Pirates RHP Vance Worley (5-3) looks to bounce back from his worst start of the season when the teams conclude a three-game series Sunday. Worley allowed a season-high six runs in six innings Monday during a 7-3 loss to Atlanta.
Mike Fiers (3-1) will make his fourth start since replacing Garza in the rotation. Fiers has won all three of his previous starts and has a 0.86 ERA in those games.

Keisel happy to be back with Steelers

Brett Keisel (99) looks at the scoreboard during the third quarter of a game against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field last year. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Newly re-signed defensive end Brett Keisel turns 36 next month.
But the wily veteran doesn’t think he is slowing down, despite entering his 13th season with Steelers and being the oldest player on the team.
“I’m 26 at heart,” Keisel said, smiling. “I don’t feel old. My body feels good. I feel like I still have a lot of good football left and I think they do, too.
“I know the age is always looked at in the NFL, and it’s a big thing, and this team is getting younger — we have a lot of great young prospects.
“I look forward to getting in there and restoring things. I look forward to helping those men and getting out there and bleeding with those guys.”
Keisel, 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, said he didn’t agree to a two-year, $3 million contract Wednesday to rejoin the Steelers just to be a cheerleader on the sideline or a seldom-used backup.
“I want to play my best ball and if that’s good enough to be a starter, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Keisel, one of 12 players on the Steelers’ roster who is 30 or older. “I want to play. I really don’t think they brought me back just to teach these guys everything and try to teach them the little things that make you a good defensive lineman.
“I think they brought me back to help and to help lead. I look forward to doing that.”
Keisel, an unrestricted free agent, had been the starter at right end for the Steelers the past eight seasons, but they elected not to re-sign him after the 2013 season.
He continued to hold out hope the Steelers would offer him another contract, even after training camp ended earlier this month and they did.
Keisel suited up for the ugly 31-21 preseason loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia three nights ago, but he did not play. He is expected to make his debut Thursday in the Steelers’ final preseason game against the Panthers at Heinz Field.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he’s still not sure what Keisel’s role will be in the team’s defensive line rotation.
“Obviously, Brett is a capable NFL lineman and we’ve been in continual communication with him,” Tomlin said. “I’m glad to have him back in the fold. We’ll hammer (his role) out as we get him up to speed in terms of game readiness. He’s in great shape. We’ll see what the football looks like.”
Cam Heyward moved to right end in Keisel’s absence. Offseason acquisition Cam Thomas started at left end against the Eagles Thursday, who bullied the Steelers’ first-team defense to the tune of 372 yards overall, including 182 rushing, and 31 points in three quarters.
Heyward could shift back to left end once Keisel gets up to speed on the right side.
“I’m very happy he’s back,” Heyward said. “He’s a great team leader, provides more depth for us. He’s going to give advice to me and all the other guys.
“It never hurts to have another guy of his stature in the locker room.”
Keisel flew to Arizona Tuesday to meet with the Cardinals and coach Bruce Arians, a former Steelers assistant. He promised Keisel a starting job, but once the Steelers called, he promptly returned to Pittsburgh.
He credited his family with a big assist in his decision to re-sign with the Steelers.
“It really was my wife and kids,” said Keisel, a seventh-round draft pick from Brigham Young in 2002 who has played in three Super Bowls with the Steelers and earned two rings. “They took me to the airport (to fly to Arizona) and my kids were looking at me with little doe eyes and wondering what’s going on and where are you going and how long are you going to be gone.
“Going to the airport with them really put things into perspective for me. I’m just grateful that Mr. (Dan) Rooney, (general manager) Kevin (Colbert) and coach Tomlin all helped work something out to finish where I started.
“I’m really excited to finish what I started here with the Steelers.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Observation Deck: Philadelphia Eagles 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

By Scott Brown
August 21, 2014

Heath Miller catches a 27-yard touchdown pass (Steelers.com)

PHILADELPHA -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suddenly has a lot more to worry about than his top two running backs facing citations for marijuana possession. 

The Steelers' third preseason game turned out about as well as the infamous car ride that landed Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in trouble and in unflattering headlines a day earlier. 

The Steelers struggled in every aspect Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were dominated when it mattered most in a 31-21 loss to thePhiladelphia Eagles

The Eagles, crisper and more physical than their in-state rivals, raced to a 17-0 halftime lead when starters from both teams were in the game, and it could have been worse for the Steelers. 

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles just missed on a few throws that would have netted big gains, but he still completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night. 

Ben Roethlisberger played two series in the second half, and he salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable night by leading a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. 

Roethlisberger, who struggled with his accuracy and threw a bad interception in the first half, capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller

That march wasn't nearly enough to offset the ineptitude that the Steelers showed at times in all three phases of the game. 

Some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
  • Blount's play, ironically enough, was among the few positives that the Steelers could take away from the thorough beating they received from the Eagles. Blount, who alternated with Bell, rushed for 32 yards on seven carries and showed the nifty footwork that is unique for such a big back. Bell started the game and Blount also played on the first series.
  • If the preseason is any indication, the Steelers still haven't fixed a run defense that yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. The Eagles repeatedly gashed the Steelers in the running game even though LeSean McCoy played just two series because of a thumb injury. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Tomlin won't be happy with how they pushed around the Steelers. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers on Wednesday but didn't play against the Eagles, should help the defensive line. Improvement must be made across the board.
  • Wide receiver Justin Brown has faded and his hold on a roster spot should be tenuous after he failed to catch a pass despite getting extended work with the first-team offense as the No. 3 wide receiver. Brown, playing in place of Lance Moore, drew Roethlisberger's ire early when he ran a comeback route and had a pass sail over his head. The 2013 sixth-round pick was later flagged for offensive holding. In three preseason games Brown has three catches for 15 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
  • The Steelers didn't sustain a lot of injuries, but the two that were announced are worth watching. Linebacker Sean Spence left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and outside linebacker Jason Worilds didn't play again after hurting his right knee in the same quarter. Worilds may have been the Steelers' best defensive player before getting hurt. Of course that's not saying much considering that the Steelers gave up just under 500 yards of total offense.
  • There has to be some concern over Shaun Suisham, who has already missed two field goals in the preseason, the same number he missed all of last season. The 10th-year veteran has also missed a 33-yard extra point in preseason play.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pirates rally to beat Braves 3-2

By Nate Barnes
August 21, 2014
Pirates rally to beat Braves 3-2
Pittsburgh Pirates' Gaby Sanchez, center, is greeted by teammates Neil Walker, left, and Pedro Alvarez, right, after driving in the game winning run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning of the baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won 3-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates were looking for a way to break their seven-game losing skid.

Pitching Details

They got a little help when Justin Upton dropped a routine fly ball to left-centerfield in the ninth which set the stage for Gaby Sanchez's game-winning sacrifice fly that capped a late-inning comeback as the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-2 on Wednesday night.
''We try to pride ourselves on not being surprised by success,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''To get the two to tie it up then some help and to win, yeah, it's a real nice shot in the arm.''
David Carpenter (4-4) took the loss after allowing an unearned run to cross. Jordy Mercer led off with a single and Starling Marte's fly ball to left-center advanced him to third, where Mercer tagged up on Sanchez's flyout.
''We make that play 99 1-2 out of 100 times,'' Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said about the outfield error.
The Pirates now have 32 comeback wins in 2014, accounting for nearly half of their 65 wins overall.
''We don't ever feel like we're down.'' Sanchez said. ''It doesn't matter if we're down by four or five. We can still come back and win a ball game.''
Pittsburgh's victory ended Atlanta's five-game winning streak.
Upton drove in a run with a single in the first inning after Jason Heyward walked and Freddie Freeman singled. Upton's single extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
After allowing a double to Evan Gattis leading off the second, Pittsburgh right-hander Gerrit Coleretired the next 12 batters he faced before Heyward singled in the sixth.
Heyward scored again on a RBI single by Chris Johnson for a 2-0 Atlanta lead, and finished 1 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored.
Josh Harrison led off the first with a double, but was picked off by Atlanta left-hander Alex Wood. He was ruled out on a replay-review that overturned a safe call on Alex Wood's throw over.
Pittsburgh didn't place another man in scoring position until the eighth inning when Wood issued a walk to Sanchez and Travis Snider doubled before Wood recorded an out.
Jordan Walden entered and allowed each of his inherited runners to score. Chris Stewart brought Sanchez home with a RBI groundout to first base and Snider scored on a wild pitch as Walden walked Neil Walker.
Snider was the only player with a multi-hit game, going 2 for 3 and extending his hitting streak to 11 games.
Cole lasted through seven and gave up two runs, five hits and four walks and struck out six in his first start since July 4.
''The location certainly got better as the game went on,'' Cole said. ''We were just able to put our foot down when we needed to and to come back and grab a couple runs at the end was big.''
Wood threw seven-plus and allowed two runs, four hits and a walk.
Mark Melancon (2-3) worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn a win.
Braves: SS Andrelton Simmons (hip) started for the Braves after he was removed from Tuesday's game. ... RHP Shae Simmons (right shoulder soreness) is shut down for the near future after he felt soreness following his second rehab outing with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Pirates: RHP Charlie Morton (hip) says his injury is a sports hernia. He was placed on the disabled list Monday, retroactive to Aug. 16, with what the team called right hip inflammation. Hurdle said the plan is to ''try to calm the hip down.'' Morton will likely see a doctor soon and a return-to-pitch program for this season is still a possibility.
Braves: Atlanta continues its road trip with a three-game series at Great American Ballpark against the Cincinnati Reds. RHP Julio Teheran (11-9, 3.06 ERA looks for his first career win against the Reds and LHP David Holmberg (0-0, 16.88 ERA)
Pirates: Pittsburgh receives an off-day Thursday as the Pirates travel to Milwaukee for a three-game set over the weekend with their division-rival Brewers. LHP Jeff Locke (4-3, 3.73 ERA) matches up with RHP Yovani Gallardo (8-6, 3.32 ERA) Friday night, who Locke previously lost a decision to June 8 at PNC Park when the Brewers won 1-0.