Neil Walker on Arrieta, Cole, infield defense

By Bill Brink and Stephen J. Nesbitt about 9 hours ago

Neil Walker addressed reporters during today’s clubhouse availability. Here are some of the highlights.

On Gerrit Cole:

"I like that nobody is talking about him. Let be honest, all we've heard all week is about their starter. We've got a prettty good one."

On Jake Arrieta:

"You've got to assume he's going to be as good as advertised. Having said that, we have to do a good job of taking advantage of situations. We have to be really smart about how we're going about our at-bats, knowing the situations and what he's trying to do. ... He's different with every guy. That's the one thing that makes him good — he doesn't have a ton of patterns. But you do know his best pitch is his slider/cutter. Knowing that, you kind of work off of that. There are some things I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you."

On adjusting to Arrieta vs. sticking with your approach: 

“The more you understand what you do best as an individual and then you kind of see how he’s pitched you over the past starts. You try to kind of take that information, put it all together and try to grab an approach from there.

”It usually doesn’t differ from a lot of pitchers. Guys tend to work away in certain situations and in[side] in certain situations. Their put-away pitches are typically breaking balls and curveballs or sliders. You try not to change too much to go against something you may do well.“

”You got a guy that’s four-pitch mix guy with four plus pitches. You have to be opportunistic when the time comes.“

On batters being able to adjust to different pitchers:

”For this level, to be successful and hang around here, that’s the one thing that you have to be good at is making adjustments on the fly, making adjustments pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat. If you’re not able to do that, you’re kind of weeded out. We know what we’re capable of doing individually and as a group. It’s just a matter of scoring those runs when you have an opportunity.“

On out-of-the-ordinary circumstances in the wild-card game:

”I think more from a pitching standpoint, these starters are not going to come out and pace themselves. They’re going to go as hard as they can and if for some reason something happens, you know you have all hands on deck in the bullpen.“

On how the defense will handle possibly cutting off a run vs. playing for an out:

”That kind of depends on who’s hitting, who’s running. … We expect a tight game tomorrow so we expect every run to be important. You get a situation in the first inning with a man on third and one out, I’m expecting probably both sides to be infield in.

“You understand who’s on the mound, is he a ground-ball guy, is he a fly-ball guy. Is the guy hitting a speed guy, what does he do well?”

On getting to Arrieta early:

“The guys at the top, they have to be stubborn with their approach. If they see he’s being a little erratic, not to get too aggressive in hitter’s counts. Maybe drop a bunt down here or there. You look at our team, we’ve got some guys that can really run at the top of the order. That’s important in every game for us. If we get guys on, we feel like we can wreak some havoc on the starting pitcher or at least make him think we’ll be on the run and on the move and maybe hit and run here and there. When you can get that mentality on the starting pitcher, you can get more fastballs as hitters.”

Arrieta said he is comfortable game-planning against the Pirates, does it go both ways?

“We understand what he’s going to do, we understand what makes him good, we understand where he likes to get his outs, what pitches he likes to use to get his outs, how he likes to get ahead.

”That’s where the stubborn approach kicks in. You know you’re going to get so few chances, you have to be ready when those come.“

Do you wonder how he reacts if he falls behind early?

”I do know that pitchers tend to settle in a little more when they feel like they are more comfortable, if they maybe get through the order with a lot of first pitch swings or a lot of first-pitch outs. That’s the hope, that you can put some runs on the board early and let your guy kind of settle in.“

What have you seen in Cole’s past four starts?

”His stuff has been similar all year. The thing he does well is he reads hitters well. He’s obviously got an upper 90s fastball that gets on guys and then he’s got a wipeout slider. He knows how he wants to attack guys. His control is typically very good to both sides of the plate and he knows how to put guys away.“

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Wild-card media day: Petrina McCutchen to sing national anthem

By Bill Brink about 10 hours ago

Petrina McCutchen, Andrew’s mom, will sing the national anthem for Wednesday’s wild-card game. Bob Walk will throw out the first pitch and Jung Ho Kang will be in the house for pre-game introductions.


Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole had similar thoughts during their press conferences today. Arrieta: “It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest amount of mistakes, on the mound, in the field and on the bases.

Cole: ”A lot of luck involved, you know, but there's a lot of little details that matter. And the team that takes care of those the best comes out on top usually.“

Cole had a very diplomatic answer when asked about Pedro Alvarez’s defense and if it affected him: ”Well, I mean, I like to be pretty athletic off the mound in terms of taking care of my job, which is covering first base, fielding bunts in certain situations, fielding slow rollers to the first base and having to communicate and direct traffic. So there is no game plan. I think Pedro does a fine job over there, and I love having him in the lineup. He tends to hit a lot of home runs when I pitch.“

Clint Hurdle didn’t offer much one way or the other when asked how he weights Alvarez’s defensive issues with the power he provides. ”You drill down to the facts,“ Hurdle said. ” ... It comes down to strengths vs. challenges.“

Cole was excited about facing Arrieta, the same way he was excited for Game 5 of the 2013 NLDS against Adam Wainwright.

”I feel like when you're in these situations you want to face the best,“ Cole said. ”You want to get the best measure and best temperature of the other team because you really want to earn these wins. You work so hard to put yourself in position to have these opportunities, and it doesn't feel any better than going up against the best. On the flip side, I think you can sit here and say he's probably going to go pretty deep and he's probably going to go pretty low. So you're probably going to have to go pretty deep and you're probably going to have to go pretty low too. So you know what you're going to get.“

Said Cole of pitching at home in a wild-card environment: ”t can rattle some people. That's no joke. I think we saw that a couple years ago.“

He was referring to Johnny Cueto, who dropped the ball on the mound as the crowd chanted his name before allowing a home run to Russell Martin.

”Tremendous competitor, really young guy who is pitching beyond his years,“ Arrieta said of Cole. ”I watched him when he was at UCLA and knew that he was going to be a really good one. I knew that it wasn't going to take very long. We've seen him against us a couple times this year, I think. He's been really good. He features plus stuff. Everything he throws is plus.“

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Wild-card media day: McCutchen's latest for The Player's Tribune

By Bill Brink about 12 hours ago

Andrew McCutchen lent his voice to this article, posted today on Derek Jeter’s Web site, The Player’s Tribune, about the wild-card atmosphere

Jake Arrieta addressed the media today and expressed confidence in his ability to pitch against the Pirates despite the fact that they have seen him frequently recently.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s much different,” he said. “It’s the same preparation, it’s a team I am confident analyzing and scouting and pitching against.”

Arrieta talked about the environment he expects and his feelings beforehand.

“It’s a nervous excitement,” he said. “It’s not anxiety. This is why I’ve prepared as hard and as rigorous as I have for the past however many years.”

Arrieta praised Gerrit Cole: “Nineteen wins, a 2.60 ERA, that speaks highly of just about anybody,“ he said.

”Tremendous competitor, really young guy pitching beyond his years. I watched him at UCLA and knew he was going to be a really good one. 

Everything he throws is plus. He’s got a lot of movement.“

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How to get to Jake Arrieta

By Bill Brink 1 day ago

Five times this season, Jake Arrieta allowed four or more runs in a start. He made 33 starts, so that is one of many stats that illustrates how good he was. But let’s look at the outings during which he “struggled’ and see if there are any common threads.

May 2, vs. Brewers, Wrigley Field

Arrieta’s line: 5 IP 7 H 4 R 4 ER 1 BB 6 K

The Brewers got to Arrieta early after Ryan Braun’s two-run homer in the first inning. They scored two more runs in the second, on singles from Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Perhaps he’s vulnerable out of the stretch? Well, hitters are batting .194 against him with men on base, only slightly higher than his season .185 mark. 

Gomez stole second and third before scoring. Arrieta’s caught-stealing percentage on the mound is 18 percent, fifth-worst in the NL. His 27 steals allowed is fourth-worst in the league, behind teammate Jon Lester and A.J. Burnett. Perhaps he can be run on -- but you have to get on base first.

May 7, at Cardinals, Busch Stadium

Arrieta’s line: 51/3 IP 9 H 5 R 4 ER 1 BB 7K

The Cardinals got two runs in the second, again getting the leadoff batter on, and took advantage of an error and wild pitch. In the fourth, Arrieta intentionally walked Peter Bourjos to bring pitcher John Lackey to the plate with two outs. Here he was somewhat unlucky: Lackey hit a well-placed ground ball for a double, and Bourjos is fast enough to score from first. Jason Heyward stole second -- the running game again -- to open first base for Bourjos.

After two singles in the sixth, Arrieta was lifted. Arrieta’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .429 May 2, .529 May 7. Arrieta also used his cutter a season-low 19.6 percent of the time, which could explain the balls in play.

May 23, at Diamondbacks, Chase Field

Arrieta’s line: 6 IP 7 H 6 R 3 ER 2 BB 7 K

A double by Mark Trumbo, the second batter Arrieta faced, got things going. After a walk to Paul Goldschmidt and a groundout that moved the runners into scoring position, Yasmany Tomas singled to score two runs.

The Cubs gave Arrieta the lead in the fifth and he gave it right back. Nick Ahmed, leading off the bottom of the sixth, singled. A.J. Pollock reached on an error. A strikeout gave Arrieta two outs, but he walked Goldschmidt again to load the bases. In the Diamondbacks’ lineup, pitching around Goldschmidt, who will finish in the top five in MVP voting, makes sense with two outs. But then David Peralta doubled to clear the bases, with the help of an error.

His swinging strike percentage was 9.8 percent, which dovetailed with his first two ”poor“ starts, when it was 9.4 and 7.8 percent. Those all rank in the lower half of his starts, by swinging strike percentage.

May 29, vs. Royals, Wrigley Field

Arrieta’s line: 7 IP 8 H 4 R 4 ER 0 BB 5 K

Alcides Escobar led off with a home run, and that would be the theme of the day: Arrieta allowed three. Alex Gordon homered in the second and Salvador Perez in the fourth. Eric Hosmer hit an RBI double in the sixth.

After not throwing a changeup for two starts, Arrieta peppered it in during this game. 

June 16, vs. Indians, Wrigley Field

Arrieta’s line: 5 IP 3 H 4 R 4 ER 6 BB 6 K

The six walks say it all, as does the resulting 112 pitches, 66 strikes, in five innings. Without watching the game it’s tough to know if he had poor command, was dealing with a small or inconsistent strike zone, or a combination of both. The Pirates can’t bank on six walks, especially when he walked zero or one batters in 19 of his starts and had a 113/23 K/BB ratio in 1071/3 innings after the All-Star break.

It’s worth pointing out his .205 BABIP after the All-Star break, not to diminish his record-setting second half but to add context, perhaps, to how it was so exceptional. He also stranded 88.2 percent of runners on base. 

The takeaways from the games where he seemed human: Hope his defense makes mistakes, hit homers, hope that for whatever reason (strike zone, command) he’s walking guys, get the leadoff man on base and hope he doesn’t throw his cutter very often. Not exactly a sound formula.

On one hand, getting his pitch count to more than 100 might help, as with any pitcher. He has a .246/.302/.298/.600 line after the 100th pitch of the game. But he allowed more than one run in seven of the 23 starts in which he threw 100 pitches and the .588 OPS allowed in pitches 1-25 isn’t far off. Four of the five teams above got to Arrieta early. His .617 OPS in the first inning is the highest of any inning. He has an .810 OPS allowed in any count without a strike, so perhaps trying to drive up his pitch count with patience isn’t the best option.

In today’s paper: How the elimination aspect of the wild-card game affects roster construction and in-game decisions.

We’ll chat today at 11 a.m.

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Projecting the Pirates' 25-man wild-card roster

By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

RHP Gerrit Cole (USA Today)

It took all 162 games, but it’s finally official: For the third year in a row, the National League wild-card game will be played at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs and their ace Jake Arrieta will square off against the Pirates and their ace Gerrit Cole here Wednesday night.

So, here’s a stab at how the Pirates’ wild-card roster will shake out — it’ll officially be announced Wednesday morning. Scroll past the names for an explainer.

The ace, and the bullpen ...

1. Gerrit Cole — starting pitcher

2. Francisco Liriano — emergency starter

3. Joe Blanton — long reliever

4. Antonio Bastardo — lefty middle reliever

5. Arquimedes Caminero — righty middle reliever

6. Jared Hughes — righty middle reliever

7. Joakim Soria — righty late reliever

8. Tony Watson — lefty late reliever

9. Mark Melancon — closer

On the field ...

10. Francisco Cervelli — starting catcher

11. Pedro Alvarez — starting first baseman

12. Neil Walker — starting second baseman

13. Aramis Ramirez — starting third baseman

14. Jordy Mercer — starting shortstop

15. Starling Marte — starting left fielder

16. Andrew McCutchen — starting center fielder

17. Gregory Polanco — starting right fielder

Off the bench ...

18. Josh Harrison — backup IF/OF

19. Sean Rodriguez — backup 1B/OF

20. Michael Morse — backup first baseman

21. Travis Snider — backup outfielder

22. Chris Stewart — backup catcher

23. Elias Diaz — third-string catcher

24. Pedro Florimon — pinch-runner

25. Keon Broxton — pinch-runner

Who is eligible? Anybody who was on the 40-man roster as of Aug. 31. Otherwise, a player can be added later as an injury replacement. If I’m not mistaken, all players currently on the Pirates would be eligible, since the few that were not on the 40-man on Aug. 31 could be injury replacements for Casey Sadler, Deolis Guerra and Jung Ho Kang, all of whom went on the 60-day disabled list this month.

Pitching staff construction: The past two seasons, the Pirates have dressed nine pitchers for the wild-card game. In 2013, Liriano started and Cole was the emergency backup. In 2014, Edinson Volquez started and starters Jeff Locke and Vance Worley both dressed as backups — both potential long-relief options, and Locke in particular because the San Francisco Giants had a lefty-heavy lineup. Since Liriano would be on regular rest Wednesday, the Pirates could have him ready in case something disastrous happens to Cole. The emergency starter is the least likely player to play in this game. Well, he or the third-string catcher.

Pitchers left out: Locke, Worley and Bobby LaFromboise. LaFromboise was on the wild-card roster last season and could realistically be on it again should the Pirates decide to drop a pinch-runner and add a 10th pitcher. Why? Because the Cubs have two left-handed sluggers in Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Still, I’m not sure you need a third lefty reliever out of the ‘pen here.

Rest of roster construction: We can argue over the lineup later. What’s important here is the makeup of the bench — the guys Clint Hurdle can go to as bench bats, gloves or wheels late in a close game. Hurdle has dressed three catchers for the past two wild-cards, and he indicated the other day that this season likely will be no different. Harrison, Rodriguez and Morse are locks. Snider has plenty of big-league experience, can play two outfield positions and is a left-handed bat off the bench. Florimon and Broxton are this team’s burners. Maybe you get only one of them. That brings us to …

The 25th man: Right now, Broxton is the 25th man on the roster. He’s probably faster than Florimon, but he’s only been in the bigs for about a week and a half. If just one pinch-runner makes the wild-card roster, it’ll be Florimon. But here’s why I’d field two burners: In a game against Arrieta, the hottest pitcher in the majors, runs will be at a premium. Anything the Pirates can do to move a runner into scoring position is worth a shot. If Broxton could swipe a bag in the seventh, or score on a shallow sac fly, he’s been a bigger help to this team, in my opinion, that the other options for the 25th and final spot. Those other options? LaFromboise, perhaps, or bench bats like Jaff Decker and Travis Ishikawa, both lefties. Ishikawa has good postseason experience, but he’s barely played the past month and isn’t likely to be a factor in a do-or-die wild-card game.

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