A baseball season is a series of tests, and even with its pitching going gangbusters, Pittsburgh is being tested right now. The Pirates lost catcher and cleanup hitter Ryan Doumit to a broken wrist last week and then disabled shortstop Jack Wilson on Sunday with a sprained left middle finger.
Meantime, outfielder Nate McLouth missed the weekend series in San Diego after suffering a strained right oblique during batting practice Friday.
"We're going to have to really pull it together," manager John Russell says.
The Pirates did so in Sunday's 8-3 win over San Diego. Shortstop Brian Bixler, recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis, punched a two-run double and catcher Robinson Diaz singled home two more runs.
The Pirates can't necessarily plan on that sort of success every day from their role players, and losing Doumit, especially, for what is expected to be eight-to-10 weeks will hurt. But the Pirates do appear built better this year to withstand such injuries with veterans such as Eric Hinske, Craig Monroe and Ramon Vazquez and rookie catcher Jason Jaramillo.
"Neal (Huntington, Pittsburgh general manager) has done a great job," Russell says. "Depth is one thing as an organization we've focused on. Acquiring talent, developing our talent and having good drafts. It was tough to trade Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady last year. But coming out of spring training, there's a lot more depth than last year."
The Pirates especially will lean on Jaramillo, acquired last December for Ronny Paulino, with Doumit out for an extended period.
"It's tough," Pirates pitcher Zach Duke says. "He's our guy. He's our leader. We want him back there. J.J. is a capable catcher. He works his butt off and we're comfortable with him behind the plate. He's stepped in nicely.
"You can ask anybody in here, if he hits .250 and calls a good game and blocks everything, we'll be more than happy."
-- After taking the first two games of their series with the Yankees before heading into battle one more time Sunday night, more good news is on deck for the Red Sox: Shortstop Julio Lugo is through his rehabilitation period and is expected to be in the lineup Monday night in Cleveland. And while Lugo hasn't exactly come close to living up to expectations since he signing with Boston, there is this: Among the 11 American League shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances in 2008, Lugo's .356 on-base percentage was second only to Derek Jeter's .360.
-- We'll never know if there would have been the usual scouts or SAT administrators behind the plate, but we just missed a matchup of Princeton University products over the weekend when Russ Ohlendorf started for Pittsburgh on Sunday while San Diego's Chris Young will go Monday in Colorado. When Pittsburgh played San Diego last September, Young and Ohlendorf missed each other by just a day as well. They are two of only three pitchers in Princeton baseball history to be named Ivy League rookie of the year (Young won in 1999 and Ohlendorf in 2002).
-- Maybe a day off last Wednesday against Detroit helped Los Angeles Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, who homered and had a career-high four RBI in Sunday's 8-0 win over Seattle. Kendrick has been having a miserable time this season and is still hitting just .258 after his 4-for-5 day Sunday. Most noticeable has been his strikeout total -- 14 in just 66, a rate of one per 4.7 at-bats as opposed to the one per 5.9 at-bats last year. Manager Mike Scioscia said it was a combination of mechanical flaws and Kendrick pressing. And what bothered the manager as much as the whiffs were the weak, rollover ground balls Kendrick was sending to the left side of the infield.
-- Update on two disabled Angels starters: John Lackey worked two innings' worth of an extended spring training game in Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday, same as Ervin Santana a day earlier. The duo each will have another extended spring training outing this week, Santana on Wednesday and Lackey on Thursday, and if it's still all systems go, they'll each likely report for rehabilitation assignments at Class A Rancho Cucamonga. The program would put Lackey and Santana back in the Angels' rotatoin sometime around mid-May.
Likes: Glad to see Pittsburgh pitching coach Joe Kerrigan back in the game. ... Watched San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the probably No. 1 pick in this June's draft, on Friday night and the kid is the real deal. Very, very impressive. Column coming on him later this week. ... Somehow managed to miss the entire NFL draft. Aw, shucks ... not. ... Closer Trevor Hoffman activated in Milwaukee. ...
Dislikes: Detroit catcher Matt Treanor about to undergo hip surgery? Say it ain't so! Now he and wife Misti May-Treanor, the Olympic gold medalist, can rehab together. She's still recovering from a ruptured Achilles heel suffered on Dancing with the Stars. Another reason why I don't dance.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Our house is a very, very fine house
"With two cats in the yard
"Life used to be so hard"
-- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Our House