May 30: Astros (19-27) @ Pirates (21-27)

It’s the first of three SkyBlast nights here at PNC Park. In the past, SkyBlast has been three consecutive nights. That has since been changed, and the next two dates come in August and September. Country music’s Zac Brown Band (you might know them for their hit: Chicken Fried) is performing postgame and will be complemented by the usual fireworks show.

***

Speaking of fireworks, manager John Russell is trying to spark something — anything — with his offense by switching around much of his lineup order and stacking it with right-handed bats. It’s safe to say that the ineptitude shown by the offense on Friday certainly encouraged some sort of change.

Getting a night off on Saturday: Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Jason Jaramillo

In the lineup: Eric Hinske, Delwyn Young, Craig Monroe, Robinzon Diaz

Russell’s logic has much to do with the season that opposing starter Wandy Rodriguez is having. Rodriguez (5-3, 1.71 ERA) has limited left-handed hitters to a batting average of .125 this year.

Shuffled up in the lineup is third baseman Andy LaRoche, who will be hitting from the second hole for the first time this season. Little explanation needed here since LaRoche is the only one the has hit consistently through all the ups-and-downs of the offense. He’s reached base safely in 13 straight games, hitting .435 during that span.

“We’ve been swinging hot and cold so I figured we’d get one of our hotter hitters up there and hopefully see it if works,” Russell said.

***


0000009099_20060920160602.jpgMcLouth, a die-hard Red Wings fan, will certainly be in line to receive some jabs should the Pens steal Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals from Detroit later tonight. (McLouth has made it no secret who he is rooting for). But any ridicule he might get because of his hockey allegiance was already matched by the jabs he got earlier this afternoon.

Sporting a new hair cut — much much shorter — McLouth walked up to his clubhouse stall to find a picture of Spencer Pratt of MTV’s The Hills reality show (pictured left) taped on his locker. A bit of a resemblance between the two for sure.

Maybe the laughs can loosen McLouth back up at the plate as well. He has just one hit in his last 25 at-bats and nine strikeouts during that span.

“Nate’s going through a little bit of a struggle,” Russell said. “He’s a guy we’re going to count on tremendously. He’s going to be out there tomorrow to give him a break to regroup mentally. He’s swinging the bat much better. I think he’s getting closer. I think giving him a day off will be good for him.”

***

Spoke with Tyler Yates, who was quite relieved with the results of recent tests on his right elbow. Yates went to see Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., to get a second opinion on his elbow and Andrews confirmed that there is no structural or ligament damage. Just inflammation. Yates said he expects to start long toss again soon and then will progress based on how he feels.

He admitted to also having feared the worst — season-ending surgery — earlier this week.

***

During his pregame session with the media, Russell also gave props to reliever Donnie Veal for the job that he did in relief on Friday. It wasn’t all pretty — two innings, 50 pitches, three hits, one walk, one run — but considering Veal hadn’t pitched in 21 days, it wasn’t all that bad.

“It shows he has an idea of what he’s doing,” Russell said. “I think his mechanics have come a long way and give him a chance to compete. To not pitch in three weeks and do what he did last night, that’s pretty phenomenal.”

Russell also said that he expects Veal to be looked at seriously as a starting pitcher in the organization after the Pirates get him through this season as a Rule 5 pick in the bullpen.

***

Pirates lineup:

  1. Nyjer Morgan (CF)
  2. Andy LaRoche (3B)
  3. Freddy Sanchez (2B)
  4. Craig Monroe (LF)
  5. Eric Hinske (1B)
  6. Delwyn Young (RF)
  7. Robinzon Diaz (C)
  8. Jack Wilson (SS)
  9. Jeff Karstens (RHP)

Astros lineup:

  1. Michael Bourn (CF)
  2. Miguel Tejada (SS)
  3. Lance Berkman (1B)
  4. Carlos Lee (LF)
  5. Hunter Pence (RF)
  6. Ivan Rodriguez (C)
  7. Jeff Keppinger (3B)
  8. Edwin Maysonet (2B)
  9. Wandy Rodriguez (LHP) 

 

 

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