Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sean Rodriguez drives in 4 as Pirates beat Mariners 8-1

By Tim Booth, Associated Press
June 29, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates' Sean Rodriguez doubles in three runs against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 29, 2016, in Seattle.
Pittsburgh Pirates' Sean Rodriguez doubles in three runs against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 29, 2016, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

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SEATTLE -- Clint Hurdle speaks with great appreciation for what Sean Rodriguez brings defensively, playing wherever Pittsburgh needs him to be in the field.
It was his bat, though, that carried the Pirates on Wednesday night.
"He's as good a defender as I've run across wherever you put him. ... He's a gifted defender and he's having one of his better offensive seasons so far this half," Hurdle said.
Rodriguez doubled in consecutive at-bats and drove in four runs, David Freese hit a solo home run and Pittsburgh beat the Seattle Mariners 8-1 to split a two-game interleague series.
Rodriguez was responsible for breaking the game open in the fifth inning with a three-run double into the left-field corner off Seattle reliever Donn Roach. Rodriguez doubled an inning earlier off starter Wade Miley (6-4) to score Starling Marte.
Freese got it all started with a solo home run on the first pitch of the second inning. It was a three-run inning for Pittsburgh, capped by a two-run double from Josh Harrison.
All that offense backed a strong start from rookie right-hander Jameson Taillon, who pitched six innings, giving up just one run and six hits. Making his fifth career start, Taillon (2-1) overcame a shaky first inning and retired 10 straight at one point. He struck out six and didn't allow a walk.
Taillon made some adjustments from his last start against the Dodgers when he was knocked out after four innings and giving up eight hits and four runs. His curveball was sharp, and Taillon relied more on his sinking fastball that had a number of Seattle hitters swinging over the top.
Hurdle thought Taillon's final four pitches to get Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seagerto finish off the sixth inning with two runners on might have been his best.
"Even though the game is 8-1, I don't want to give up those runs," Taillon said. "I wanted to really put the foot on the gas there and set the tone still. I knew I was close to being done so I let them eat and was aggressive with them."
Miley was making his first start since June 12 after a brief stint on the disabled list due to an impingement in his left shoulder. He was lucky to make it through the fourth, leaving pitches up in the strike zone and watching them get hit hard.
"A lot of mistakes up over the plate and he had a hard time getting in rhythm with any of his pitches," Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
Freese's opposite-field home run into the first row down the right-field line was just the start. Rodriguez's double in the fourth gave Pittsburgh a 4-0 lead, and he scored on Jordy Mercer's sharp single. Roach took over in the fifth and was greeted by consecutive one-out singles by Freese and Jung Ho Kang. Marte walked and Rodriguez's hard shot just inside third base bounced into the corner and allowed all three runners to score.
Rodriguez doubled his RBI output for the entire month of June entering the game. Between June 1 and June 23, Rodriguez appeared in 21 games without an RBI.
If the pitching performances from Miley and Roach weren't bad news enough, the Mariners lost catcher Steve Clevenger in the third inning to a broken bone in his right hand after taking a foul ball square on the exposed hand off the bat of Andrew McCutchen. Clevenger fractured the third metacarpal, and Seattle will require a roster move to fill the backup catcher role.
Pirates: RHP Ryan Vogelsong will throw a simulated game this weekend in Oakland after throwing a bullpen session on Tuesday. Vogelsong suffered facial fractures when he was hit in the left eye with a pitch in late May. He's eligible to come off the disabled list on July 23.
Mariners: Seattle placed reliever Nick Vincent on the 15-day disabled list with a back strain to clear a spot for Miley. Vincent said he's been dealing with the discomfort for about two weeks and finally decided rest was the best course. Vincent has made a team-high 35 appearances.
Pirates: After an off day on Thursday, the Pirates open a series on Friday against Oakland with Jeff Locke (7-5) getting the start.
Mariners: Seattle opens a four-game series with Baltimore on Thursday and Taijuan Walker (3-6) on the mound after missing his last start due to a sore ankle.

Andrew McCutchen isn't letting trade rumors get to him

By Chris Cwik
June 28, 2016
SEATTLE — This is an unusual feeling for Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. When McCutchen normally scrolls through his phone this time of year, he sees articles suggesting he deserves to start the All-Star game. Though it’s June, he usually sees articles making his case for National League MVP. And, of course, he sees trade rumors. Which players should the Pirates try to acquire for their playoff run?
This season, however, he’s seeing his name prominently featured in those rumors.
“I’ve been around long enough now to where my name is being brought up,” McCutchen told Yahoo Sports. “So, for me, it’s something that is new.”
To some, it seems crazy. McCutchen is undoubtedly the face of the Pirates. He came up with the organization as a 22-year-old in 2009, and developed into a superstar. In every way, the perennial MVP candidate represented the future of the organization.
He was the first of a number of promising prospects expected to lead the Pirates out of the cellar and into the playoffs. Despite his performance, the Pirates posted four-straight losing seasons before McCutchen had enough help around him to put together a competitive club.
Now, he’s on the block.
From a logical perspective, this makes sense. The Pirates are currently 37-40, and find themselves in third place in the NL Central. While it’s still possible to make a surge, the club likely won’t catch the Chicago Cubs. That means they’ll have to beat out at least four other teams for a wild card spot. For the first time in a few seasons, the Pirates might be sellers at the deadline.
While the 29-year-old McCutchen hasn’t been his usual self early, stumbling to a .243/.318/.421 slash line over 324 plate appearances, his track record still makes him a valuable asset. Though McCutchen is still under contract with the club through 2018, it’s assumed the Pirates won’t be able to afford him once he hits free agency due to their spending limitations.
On top of all that, his eventual replacement, 21-year-old outfielder Austin Meadows, posted a .311/.365/.611 slash line in 45 games at Double-A, earning himself a promotion to Triple-A on June 18.
Players deal with trade rumors in different ways. Some completely ignore them, some get angry and others allow them to become a distraction. McCutchen, however, isn’t fazed by what he reads. He completely understands.
“I know it’s the business side,” McCutchen says. “It’s people assessing situations. It’s people throwing out numbers and teams and this and this and this and they put it all together.
“I don’t let it get to me because I do also understand the other side of it. It’s not just like, ‘oh well, he’s sucking, so [he] needs to go here.’ It’s not that. I understand that. It’s just that side of the game.”
McCutchen also gets why he would be a valuable trade asset. It’s not just the production on the field, it helps that he has a favorable contract.
“I just know that I’m coming toward the back end of my contract,” he says. “And with the way that contracts are now, I’m sure my contract seems affordable for other teams.”
He’s right. McCutchen is making a little over $13 million this season. He’ll make slightly over $14 million in 2017, and has a $14.5 million option for 2018. If he can get back to his usual ways at the plate, he’s an absolute bargain at that price.
The idea of McCutchen playing for a team other than the Pirates seems crazy, even to him. And while the future is uncertain, especially when his contract is up, he has considered the possibility of staying with one team for his entire career.
“That’s the ultimate goal for most people,” he says. “You sign with a team and your goal as a person is to have that guaranteed-type career. You want a career where you do well and win championships. In that franchise, you become ‘The Guy.’
“Everyone dreams of that. I don’t see how many people go get drafted by a team and then say, ‘dang, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here. I want to go somewhere else.’ You always want to be where you start. And if that happens, that’s awesome. That would be great. And I do think about that.”
For the first time in his career, it looks like McCutchen may not have a choice in the matter. Unless the Pirates can right the ship in the coming weeks, McCutchen may literally find himself in an unusual place to open the second half.

Ben Roethlisberger ranked among NFL’s best

Garrett Coleman,Cover32
June 28, 2016
Nick Wass/Associated Press

Since coming into the league in 2004, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had an impressive career.
After a Tommy Maddux injury, Ben Roethlisberger was thrust into the fire as a rookie in only the second week of the season against the Baltimore Ravens. Roethlisberger would go on to start the remainder of the 2004 season and win every regular season game.
Roethlisberger would be the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl at 23-years-old in his second season with the Steelers.
It would be one thing if Roethlisberger had these few good years and then fall away into irrelevancy. Roethlisberger has made two more trips to the Super Bowl and winning one.
With two rings under his belt and great statistical seasons in his time playing, why is it that Roethlisberger is hardly in the conversation of the NFL’s top quarterbacks? I see lists every year and Ben Roethlisberger seems to get the honorable mention every time.
I have heard experts talk at length at how Roethlisberger is the best in the game at extending plays and avoiding sacks. Roethlisberger is also known as one of the toughest players in the NFL. With all that in mind, people still leave him off the lists of the NFL’s best.
With Payton Manning retiring, times may be changing. ESPN writers have been having Q&A sessions within each division and this very question was asked to the AFC North writers. Some of the answers are surprising, but they share the same sentiment.
“It would be difficult to argue against Roethlisberger being in the conversation,” wrote Baltimore Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley. “In my mind, he is the third-best quarterback currently, behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Ben Roethlisberger is primed to put up career numbers because of all the weapons around him (Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell) and an offensive line that can protect him.”
“Some will suggest Drew Brees, Cam Newton or Russell Wilson should be in the top-three debate, Hensley continued. “One of the biggest factors in evaluating quarterbacks is how they come through when it matters the most. Roethlisberger ranks third among active quarterbacks with 34-game winning drives, trailing only Brady (48) and Brees (38). Ravens players and coaches have told me for years that they would prefer to face Brady than Roethlisberger in the final minute of a game because he can shake off tackles and beat you with his strong arm. That’s why he should be considered among the best in the NFL.”
That’s a pretty strong argument for Roethlisberger, especially coming from the team’s biggest and most bitter rival.
“Isn’t he already?” penned Coley Harvey, the reporter for the Cincinnati Bengals. “I mean, yes, there’s Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton, but wouldn’t Roethlisberger be considered better than one of the two not named Brady? After all, you’re talking about one of the toughest players in the league, and a man who seems to always invent new ways to win. “
“This question is really intriguing to me, though. I find myself answering it under the assumption we’re weighing the totality of the careers of each of the NFL’s 32 starting signal-callers. That’s why I feel Roethlisberger is up there. Having said that, will he remain among the elite for long? I don’t think so.”
I can’t argue with that logic that Roethlisberger is a fantastic player, but is on the downslope of his career. I think Roethlisberger has three maybe four years left in the tank. Other players will be hitting their prime around that time and will knock Roethlisberger out of elite status.
Lastly, the Browns reporter Pat McManamon had some interesting insights about the native Ohioan Roethlisberger.
“Start with Tom Brady, the best playing right now, McManamon wrote. “Drew Brees is in the conversation. Philip Rivers is a dark horse. Eli Manning has had his moments. Tony Romo is a very good player — when healthy. Cam Newton was outstanding last season and has grown every year he’s been in the league. Russell Wilson wins games for Seattle. And Aaron Rodgers is a great player. “
“For my money, the top two from that group would be Brady and Rodgers. Is Roethlisberger as good as Brees? Yes. Better? Yes. Roethlisberger has a career rating of 94.0 and has thrown for just short of 43,000 yards. Last season he averaged 328 yards per game. Ben Roethlisberger has gotten to the point where he runs the Steelers offense, often from the line of scrimmage; as he goes so goes Pittsburgh. Is Big Ben in the Big Three? Yes, for good reason.”
The interesting thing about all of theses takes is that none of the reporters took in an account of Super Bowl victories. That in itself is what sticks out in people’s mind of who is elite and who is not. Some say Matt Ryan is a great quarterback, but he has yet to win a playoff game. Philip Rivers has a great arm, but has only made the playoffs a handful of times.
Stats are great to have, but having that killer instinct as a quarterback is what gets you in the upper echelon. Roethlisberger has that killer instinct and is the third-best quarterback in the league behind Brady and Rodgers.
The post Ben Roethlisberger ranked among NFL’s best appeared first on Cover32.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Having two No. 1 goalies could equal trouble for Penguins

By Mark Madden
June 28, 2016
Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray
The Penguins are hoarding goaltenders.
They have Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry under contract. Jarry was a second-round pick in 2013. On Saturday, the Penguins selected Filip Gustavsson in the second round of this year’s NHL draft. Many experts considered the Swede to be the top netminder available.
The Penguins appear to be covered between the pipes for years to come.
But let’s not look too far ahead.
Fleury didn’t get traded at the draft, as was hotly predicted. His primary pursuer, Calgary, swapped for St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott instead.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has said he’d like to keep both Fleury and Murray, although doing that past the 2017 NHL expansion draft seems highly unlikely. But, if this past season’s Stanley Cup triumph taught us anything, it’s that you need two goaltenders who are capable of starting (and winning).
Nonetheless, something has to give with the Penguins’ goaltending situation within the next 51 weeks.
Only one thing is certain: If Fleury and Murray are both with the Penguins for the start of training camp, every day after that will be consumed by a non-stop, full-blown goalie controversy that will burn brightly to the point of unavoidable distraction. The strife will not abate until either Fleury or Murray is no longer a Penguin.
Coach Mike Sullivan likes to characterize such rumpus as “noise.” Sullivan won’t be able to find earplugs big enough.
“This guy should play!” “The other guy should play!” “That was a bad goal!” “The other guy would have made that save!” It will be incessant, and without end or pause.
I like it, and will exacerbate it. I will throw gasoline on the fire. Apply egg beater to troubled waters. I do sports talk radio, and that’s what’s best for business.
The goaltending situation could go either way. That’s what’s most intriguing. If management was certain that Murray, at 22, could perform to a level approximating his playoff best over the long haul of 82 games, Fleury would be long gone.
But young goaltenders can be mercurial.
In 1971, Ken Dryden won the Stanley Cup and was playoff MVP at 23, then went on to a Hall of Fame career. But for every Dryden, there are a bunch of goalies like Jim Carey. Carey won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder in 1996 at age 22, but was out of hockey by 1999.
Murray won the Stanley Cup at 22. But chronologically, he’s still very much in his developmental stage.
At 31, Fleury should be in his prime. Statistically, this past regular season was Fleury’s best.
Murray is younger and cheaper. But, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ window to win more Stanley Cups is the next 3-4 years. It is hardly outrageous to believe Fleury will be the better goalie during that time.
It’s not even outrageous to believe Fleury is the better goalie right now.
Murray got the job done during the playoffs. But Murray got leaky in the postseason’s latter stages, and certain weaknesses (most notably his glove) were evident. The Penguins won’t often block 33 shots in a game during the regular season.
The notion that Fleury and Murray can co-exist is silly. If one gets the bigger workload, the other will be upset. If they split, both will be unhappy.
Fleury is a more proven commodity, but Murray just won a championship. Each would be justified in believing he should be the No. 1 goaltender.
Hockey doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Human beings have feelings. It’s not always “team first.”
It’s impossible to leave the hoi polloi and media out of this.
Fleury was a top scapegoat of the less knowledgeable even before Murray won 15 games this past spring. If Fleury is reinstated as the starter and the Penguins flounder, the “noise” will be more cacophonous than the din after Nick Bonino’s overtime goal that eliminated Washington. If Murray got traded, it would be louder still.
But Murray won’t be traded. That’s the one impossibility in this situation. Sullivan flat-out sees Murray as the better goalie. Dropping Fleury’s $5-million salary-cap hit would benefit the Penguins, too.
The hesitance to part with Fleury is because Murray comes with so many disclaimers, but dealing Fleury nonetheless seems inevitable.
Maybe Fleury fetches decent return when he does depart. From almost every angle, choosing Murray over Fleury makes perfect sense.
Only one problem: It might not work.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Monday, June 27, 2016

Kuhl beats Kershaw in MLB debut, Pirates down Dodgers 4-3

By John Perrotto
June 27, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl delivers in the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 26, 2016. It is Kuhl's major league debut.
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl delivers in the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 26, 2016. It is Kuhl's major league debut. Gene J. Puskar AP Photo

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - Chad Kuhl seemingly didn't stand much of a chance in his major league debut against a three-time National League Cy Young Award winner on a nine-game winning streak.
Yet Kuhl pitched five effective innings and David Freese hit a three-run double that sent the Pittsburgh Pirates past Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 on Sunday night.
"That's one of the beautiful things about sport," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You can't write that story before the game. You wouldn't have that in there anywhere and it plays itself out on the national stage."
Kuhl (1-0) allowed three runs and four hits in five innings after getting called up from Triple-A Indianapolis before the game. The 23-year-old righty struck out five and walked four after going 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 14 minor league starts.
"It's something really special, I have a lot of respect for that guy," Kuhl said of beating Kershaw. "That's something to dream about, my debut was against Kershaw, so that was incredible."
Kershaw (11-2) took his second loss of the season exactly two months after he was beaten by Miami on April 26. He gave up four runs and nine hits in six innings, striking out four and walking two.
"Sometimes I think we all forget that he's not perfect, but he's not perfect," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He is going to lose a game now and again."
Freese's big hit capped a four-run second. Pittsburgh rookie Adam Frazier drove in the first run with a single after entering in top of the inning when shortstop Jordy Mercer was injured.
"What it comes down to is a couple of misfires and not being able to minimize the damage," Kershaw said. "I misfired on a pitch to Frazier and one to Freese that really hurt. I tried to the get a fastball inside on Freese and obviously didn't get it in nearly far enough."
The Pirates have won three in a row against the Dodgers after losing 13 of 15 overall and can sweep the four-game series Monday. Los Angeles arrived on a six-game winning streak.
Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth for his 22nd save in 23 opportunities, combining with Juan Nicasio and A.J. Schugel for four scoreless innings of relief.
Justin Turner drove in all three Dodgers runs and had two of their four hits. He hit a two-run homer, his 11th, off Kuhl in the third and pulled Los Angeles to 4-3 with a double in the fifth.
Turner attempted to score the tying run on an errant pitch by Kuhl. However, the ball caromed back to catcher Chris Stewart and he threw to Kuhl, who tagged out Turner at home plate to end the inning.
"That's Stewart's play," Kuhl said. "It was unbelievable to get back there and he put the ball right on my chest."
Frazier and Stewart both had two hits for the Pirates. Mercer extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single before getting injured.
Pirates: Mercer left with head and right ear discomfort but said he felt "much better" after the game. He was injured when he slid into second base and got tangled with Dodgers 2B Chase Utley while successfully breaking up an attempted double play on Freese's grounder to shortstop. ... RHP Gerrit Cole (strained triceps) threw off a mound for the first time since leaving his June 10 start against St. Louis, but there is no timetable for his return. ... RF Gregory Polanco (left leg discomfort) did not start for a third straight game. He struck out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning.
Dodgers 1B Adrian Gonzalez did not start. He grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and stayed in the game. Gonzalez will be out of the lineup again Monday as he is being given a "mental break" by Roberts. Gonzalez, a five-time All-Star, is hitting .181 in 23 games this month.
Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen was ejected by home plate umpire Chris Conroy for arguing a called third strike to end the seventh inning. McCutchen turned around and pointed toward Conroy's face and also threw his bat.
Pirates LHP Kyle Lobstein was optioned to Indianapolis to open a roster spot for Kuhl. RHP Curtis Partch, who was pitching at Indianapolis, was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
Dodgers: LHP Scott Kazmir (5-3, 4.52 ERA) is 2-0 over his last six starts and will be making his first appearance in Pittsburgh since June 27, 2008, with Tampa Bay.
Pirates: LHP Francisco Liriano (4-7, 5.17 ERA) is on a four-game losing streak but has a 4-0 career record against the Dodgers with a 2.73 ERA in five starts.

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Frazier was ready and took advantage of his chance

By Bill Allmann
June 26, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates' Adam Frazier, right, celebrates with teammate Chris Stewart (19) after both scored on a three-run double by Pirates' David Freese off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw in the second inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 26, 2016.
Pittsburgh Pirates' Adam Frazier, right, celebrates with teammate Chris Stewart (19) after both scored on a three-run double by Pirates' David Freese off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw in the second inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 26, 2016. Gene J. Puskar AP Photo

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PITTSBURGH -- With Pirates manager Clint Hurdle using an exclusively right-handed hitting lineup against Dodgers lefty ace Clayton Kershaw, rookie Adam Frazier knew he’d be waiting for his chance.
He just didn’t know he’d have such a short wait.
“You always want to be in the lineup," said the left-handed hitting Frazier before the game. “To face the best would be pretty cool, but I’ll be ready.”
Frazier’s attitude proved to be prophetic as he entered the game after just one inning when Jordy Mercer collided with Chase Utley at second base and left the game with head and right ear discomfort.
Frazier, who was in the International League as its leading hitter just two days ago, went in to play right field and Sean Rodriguez moved to shortstop.
In the bottom of the second, Frazier got his chance to face Kershaw, with the bases loaded and two outs no less. The first left-handed batter Kershaw faced, Frazier laced a one ball-two strike pitch to left field to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. He then scored the fourth run on David Freese’s double.
“I was just trying to stay within myself,” said Frazier after the game. “He got ahead early and I just tried to drive it through the middle. The pitch may have been a little up.”
Although Frazier’s performance may have seemed like a storybook script -- especially when he got another hit his next time up against Kershaw -- it wasn’t the least likely part of the scenario.
Frazier was drafted in the sixth round in 2013 as a shortstop from Mississippi State and he entered for his most extended play in right field and someone else moved to shortstop. He showed his comfort level at the new position with a diving catch on Trayce Thompson in the seventh inning. He then moved to left field after Andrew McCutchen was ejected.
“I hadn’t played the outfield at all until I got my feet wet last year,” said Frazier, who is now listed as an outfielder on the roster after being listed as an infielder in spring training. “I played the majority of time out there this year but the more positions you can play, the more valuable you can be to the team.
“This is everything I’ve been dreaming of since I started playing at four or five years old but nothing has really been surprising so far. I’ve been preparing pretty well for this all through the minor leagues and in spring training.”
After finishing the game with a pair of singles off Kershaw and barely missing a third hit when Dodgers left fielder Howie Kendrick made a diving catch, it looks like Frazier won’t he returning to Indianapolis right away. That’s fine with him, even though his travel schedule has been intense.
“I was coming off an eight-game trip road when I was called up,” Frazier said. “I’ve had to get clean clothes and now I’ll be scrambling to get them here before the plan leaves Monday.
“I’ve never even been to Seattle or Oakland. I was an Atlanta Braves fan, growing up about an hour from there so Chipper Jones and all those guys, I idolized them. About all I knew about Seattle growing up was Ken Griffey Jr.”
Now he’ll get to learn about Seattle. That can’t be any tougher than getting two hits off Clayton Kershaw and learning new positions.

Dodgers fold an ace high, fall on a Clayton Kershaw day

Doug PadillaESPN Staff Writer 27, 2016
Justin Berl/Getty Images
PITTSBURGH -- First annoyed by the Pittsburgh Pirates' mascot, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was further perturbed by the Pirates themselves in his second-worst outing of the season.
The National League Cy Young Award favorite at nearly the season's halfway point, Kershaw was felled by one bad inning Sunday, just as he was in a start April 26 against the Miami Marlins.
Kershaw gave up all four of his runs Sunday in the second inning of a 4-3 Dodgers defeat. On April 26, it was a five-run sixth inning that did him in. For the record, that means nine of the 24 earned runs Kershaw has allowed this season have come in two of his 121 innings.
It was an all-around flies-at-the-barbecue kind of day for Kershaw. He was first seen stretching in the PNC Park outfield while shooing away the Pirates' mascot, who buzzed the Dodgers' ace pitcher with a remote control car as he stretched on the turf.
The real nuisance, though, came from an unexpected source in the second inning. Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl worked an eight-pitch at-bat before striking out in his first career trip to the plate. Fellow rookie Adam Frazier singled in a run, and veteran David Freese crushed a three-run double to right-center.
Kershaw has set the bar so high for himself that anything less than total dominance looks troubling. The silly reasons include the heat, the humidity, an inability to get comfortable, the night game on a Sunday and whatever else could be used to explain what was akin to a UFO sighting.
"I don't know, you really don't think of being comfortable out there," Kershaw said. "Really, what it comes down to is limited damage. Some of those hits in that inning, you miss some spots, and they really don't hit it that hard. But the Freese hit is what killed you tonight, killed me tonight.
"I missed my spot bad, and he made me pay. He's a good hitter, and he's had some success against me. He's always been a tough out. You have to get the guy ahead of him out, obviously. But yeah, that's pretty much the name of the game tonight."
It was pretty much game-set-match at that point, with the Dodgers getting RBIs from only one player -- Justin Turner -- all night. The three runs the Dodgers scored off Kuhl in his first career start came on a Turner home run in the third inning and a Turner double in the fifth. The Dodgers had just four hits off the first-timer. Against the Pirates' bullpen, they had none.
Although the story always seems to revolve around Kershaw on the days he pitches, regardless of the result, what the Dodgers are really dealing with is a continued offensive problem. Kershaw can't deliver a three-hit shutout every night.
"I don't know how many hits we had -- maybe four hits tonight," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said when the subject of the elephant in the room was broached. "We hit some balls hard. ... I think, yeah, throughout the lineup we've got to have some more production."
Indeed, the Dodgers hit more balls hard than the Pirates -- if only that were the name of the game.

"We feel like it doesn't matter who's out there, we owe every guy our best effort every night," Turner said when asked if there is a sense that the offense owes Kershaw a night to be a little off. "We just fell a little short tonight."
Kershaw is used to the sky-is-falling routine when he doesn't win a game, even if it was just the Dodgers' second defeat in the 16 times he has been on the mound this season.
"I wish I had an excuse for you," he said. "I just didn't pitch well enough to win tonight."
He was even asked about his struggles with a journeyman catcher in Chris Stewart, who collected two more hits off him. Stewart, a career .235 hitter who entered the game batting .195, is now 9-for-17 against one of the best pitchers the game has ever seen.
"Yeah, he's had some hits," Kershaw said. "You go back and look at some of them. He has hit a few hard. I'm just behind in a lot of counts to him. He does a good job when he's ahead of the count, for sure."
When you're the best, the dissection gets a little closer to the bone. It might not have if the offense delivered just a bit more. The Dodgers have won a few games in which the opponent scored four times. Sunday was not one. Kershaw was stand-up enough, though, to put it all on his shoulders.
Even though Yasmani Grandal was the catcher behind the plate for both Kershaw's bad innings and both of his defeats, he wasn't going to let either of his backstops take the fall.
"Yeah, Yas and I are getting on the same page and doing a good job," Kershaw said. "They don't get the credit when we pitch well, and so they don't deserve the blame when we pitch bad. And that's the way it works."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Draft proves a team effort as Penguins' Rutherford sways from plan

June 26, 2016

Filip Gustavsson reacts after being selected in the second round by the Penguins during the NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, N.Y. (Getty Images)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jim Rutherford, just days removed from being named NHL General Manager of the Year, sat at the head of the Penguins' table at the NHL Entry Draft on Saturday at First Niagara Center but trusted the men who flanked him with tough calls about the organization's future.
Years must pass before anyone will know whether Rutherford's decision to defer to his scouts on the Penguins' first two picks and delay the acquisition of defensemen — the position he identified as the priority heading into the draft — proved wise.
Rather than bolster the organization's blue-line depth with their second-round selections, the Penguins chose Swedish goalie Filip Gustavsson at No. 55 and Finnish forward Kasper Bjorkqvist at No. 61. When they finally began to collect defensemen, they strayed from the scoring-oriented, puck-moving style that served them so well this season and embraced players with some “edge,” as Penguins director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton put it.
“Their puck skills are sufficient to play the way we want to play,” Sexton said of fourth-round pick Ryan Jones and third-rounder Connor Hall. “And they bring a certain dimension that we currently don't have, particularly if we're not able to get (unrestricted free agent) Ben Lovejoy re-signed. ... They bring a physical edge and a dimension that we don't have enough of in our depth chart right now.”
Less than 24 hours before Rutherford stepped on the stage and announced Gustavsson — and minutes later, Bjorkqvist — as draft picks, he made it clear to media members he wanted defensemen.
That desire apparently never waned. He just allowed Sexton and the Penguins' other scouts to talk him into the promise of what they considered the best goalie available in the draft — the NHL's Central Scouting department ranked Gustavsson as the top European goalie prospect.
“Surprised he was still there at our pick, so we really couldn't pass on him,” Rutherford said of Gustavsson.
And of Bjorkqvist: “Our European scouts, they were close, and they followed him, and they loved this player. As I said earlier, I was leaning more towards defensemen, but they felt so adamant about him, and he's just a really good all-around center.”
Gustavsson said he left the predraft interview with the Penguins pleased with the encounter. “Pretty easy questions” was how he described the chat.
Bjorkqvist, who did not attend the draft, impressed the Penguins staff with his pride in his feisty two-way play, head European scout Patrik Allvin said.
“He's a super competitive player,” Allvin said. “We view him as more of a third-line player who comes to work every day.
“He has a really strong low game. He's strong on the puck. Goes to the net. He's hard to play against. He can play the net front on the power play. He can kill penalties. I'd say his game is suited for a (North American) ice surface.”
The Penguins scouts snagged the players they considered too good to pass up. Rutherford still hauled in four defensemen, including a pair of more offense-first options in Finland native Niclas Almari and Joseph Masonius in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively.
“We are absolutely thrilled that Gustavsson fell to us,” Sexton said. “I think when our fans and particularly Jimmy has a chance to see him next week at development camp, he's going to be pretty happy. He's a technically very strong goalie, and he has tremendous rebound control and tremendous poise and mental toughness.
“Jim is incredibly supportive (of the scouts' recommendations). We walked him through our whole list, and we laid out where we thought we could get some D-men. We talked about trading up, but in our opinion, the D-men that were available to trade up (for) were marginally better than the guys we thought we could get, and we just didn't think it was worth losing a pick or two to get somebody we thought was marginally better. And he supported us in that.”
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@BWest_Trib.