First Pitch: The Left-Handed Pitchers Competing For the Pirates’ Roster

I’ve got a few thoughts this morning about the left-handed pitchers who are competing for the Pirates roster. As usual, leave your thoughts on this or any other topic in the comments.

**Derek Holland had a good start last night, throwing two shutout innings. Holland is almost certain for a roster spot coming out of Spring Training. The Pirates would be smart to see if they can get any kind of value from him, regardless of whether he’s a starter or reliever. He has more potential value as a starter, and this outing was a good step toward winning that job.

**If Holland wins a starting job, Steven Brault would be in the bullpen. I see Brault as a sixth starter in a good rotation. However, I think an argument can be made that the Pirates are better off seeing what Brault can do, rather than Holland. There were times last year when Brault looked good enough to be a back of the rotation starter.

**I’m going into this season assuming that we might not have seen the best from any of the Pirates pitchers over the last few years. So while I don’t think Brault can go much higher than a back of the rotation guy, I think you could argue that giving him a rotation spot over Holland could have more long-term payoff.

**I also am not sure if any of this matters. Brault wasn’t in the rotation at the start of last year, and still made 19 starts. He’ll get his opportunities. Holland will also get his starts if he’s pitching well, regardless of which role he’s in at the start of the season.

**Speaking of left-handed pitchers, Robbie Erlin also pitched last night, recording two outs. He gave up three runs in an inning his first outing, and one run in one inning his previous outing. Looks like he’s progressing in the right direction. He’s another guy who I think will be on the Opening Day roster if he’s pitching well, just to keep him around as an option.

**I conclude all of this with the disclaimer that I am still, like all of you, making my predictions based on how things were run under Neal Huntington. This camp will give us a good first look at how Cherington might handle similar roster decisions.





By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date including the first player in Major League history to accomplish two very rare feats.

Johnny Ray, second baseman for the 1981-87 Pirates. He was originally a 12th round draft pick of the Astros in 1979, coming to the Pirates in the August 31, 1981 trade that sent Phil Garner to Houston. Ray immediately took over the second base job and played every game during his first full season in the majors in 1982. He led the league in games played and hit .281 with 63 RBIs, 79 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. That led to a second place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Ray led the league with 38 doubles in 1983, winning the Silver Slugger award, then followed that up with his second doubles crown, again hitting 38 while also posting a career high .312 batting average.

During Ray’s five full seasons in Pittsburgh, he played at least 151 games each year, hit 30 or more doubles every season and scored at least 67 runs. In 1986 he topped the .300 batting mark for the second time and drove in 78 runs, his high while with the Pirates. During the 1987 season he was traded to the California Angels late in the season. The Pirates received back Miguel Garcia, a pitched who played briefly in the majors for parts of three seasons with the Pirates. They also got a power hitting minor leaguer named Bill Merrifield, who played just three minor league games after the trade before he was released. Ray would go to California and make his only All-Star appearance, hitting .306 with 83 RBIs in 1988. He played two more years for the Angels before finishing his career in the Japan Central League.

Nick Strincevich, pitcher for the Pirates in 1941-42 and then again from 1944-48. He began his minor league career in 1935 when he was signed by the Yankees and he didn’t make his big league debut until 1940, after the Boston Bees took him in the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates acquired him the following May in an even swap for Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner, who was on the downside of his career. Nick spent most of his first three seasons with the Pirates in the minors, pitching a total of 19 Major League games before getting his big break in 1944. That season he went 14-7, 3.08 in 26 starts and 14 relief appearances. He would win 16 games the following year, setting a career high with 228.1 innings pitched. He still posted a decent 3.58 ERA in 1946, but the Pirates were a bad team and his record suffered, going 10-15 in 176 IP. He would throw three shutouts that season, two more than he threw during the rest of his big league career. Nick was used out of the bullpen in 1947 and 1948, before the Pirates sold him mid-season to the Phillies, where he finished his Major League career later that year. He pitched two more years in the minors before retiring from baseball.

Lefty Webb, pitcher for the 1910 Pirates. He pitched three seasons in the minors prior to being drafted by the Pirates on September 1, 1909 in the Rule 5 draft. The 1910 season was his only year in the majors and he was used sparingly throughout the season. He made three starts and four relief appearances, pitching a total of 27 innings. He had a 2-1, 5.67 record. Webb also pitched ten games in the minors that season and he played another four years in the minors before retiring. Webb won 20 games in 1908 for the Newark Newks of the Ohio State League.

Henry Yaik, catcher/outfielder for the 1888 Alleghenys. He had two seasons of minor league experience before making his Major League debut with Pittsburgh on October 3, 1888. By October 4th his big league career was over. He caught one game, played left field in the other and made three errors in each game. Yaik went 2-for-6 at the plate with a walk and a run batted in. He returned to the minors the next season and played pro ball as late as 1895, although there are no records of him playing in the minors from 1891 until 1894. In 1890, was the catcher for Cy Young during Young’s only season in the minors. Yaik is one of four lefty throwing catchers in Pirates history.

Paul Hines, outfielder for the 1890 Alleghenys. He didn’t have much of a career with Pittsburgh, hitting just .182 in 31 games, but Hines accomplish two feats that are very rare in baseball history and he was the first to accomplish both of them. He began his career in 1872 at the age of 17, playing in the National Association, the first recognized Major League. In 1878, he not only became the first player to ever turn an unassisted triple play but he also became the first Triple Crown winner in baseball history.

The triple play has been disputed due to different stories from the players involved. Hines was playing center field and caught a liner with men on second and third base. The runners were off on the play and Hines, who was playing shallow, continued running in on the play and tagged third base. Under the rules of the time, if the runner from second had passed third already and not retouched it yet returning to second base, the fielder could just tag the base to retire both him and the other runner. Hines threw to second base anyway and that is where the dispute takes place.

Some of the players involved said the runner was on his way back to second base so the throw was necessary, while others claimed Hines got to third base before he came back. It would be hard to imagine that Hines was able to get to third base from center field and he didn’t either pass the runner coming back and tag him, or if he wasn’t able to tag him, he would’ve still had enough time to keep running to third base then turn and make the throw to get the runner going back to second base. Because of the dispute between those involved, some sources list Neal Ball of the Cleveland Naps in 1909 as the first player to turn an unassisted triple play, but based on common sense, Hines seems to be the rightful owner of that distinction.

In 1878 home runs were not a common occurrence and RBIs weren’t even an official stat, so when he won the triple crown in 1878 no one knew about it. There was also a problem with his stats that kept him from ever knowing he won the batting crown that year. The player who finished behind him batting, Abner Dalrymple (first batter in Pirates NL history) was awarded the title because stats accumulated in tie games weren’t counted in the overall stats back then. It wasn’t until many years later that research uncovered the error and Hines was awarded the batting title. Hines also won the 1879 batting title without knowing due to Cap Anson being credited with hits from a few games twice that put his average higher than Hines at the time.

Hines finished his career with a .302 batting average and 2,133 hits in 1,658 games. His career game totals were cut short due to smaller schedules back in the day. He started in the majors at age 17, but his team didn’t play a 100 game schedule until his 13th season in the majors. With a full schedule, he would’ve likely been a Hall of Famer by now had he played the same amount of seasons (20) he ended up playing.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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