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Madden: Here's 10 ways to improve Pirates

Saturday, May 17, 2003

I often admonish my talk-show callers to suggest ways to make things better instead of merely criticizing. Practicing what I preach, here are 10 things the Pirates could do to improve their fortunes:

1. Hit better.

2. Field better.

3. Give Kris Benson the best lineup possible every time he pitches. Benson started one game this year with Kevin Young in right field, two with Craig Wilson catching. Benson is the unparalleled ace of the staff. He gives the Pirates the best chance to win. So they should give Benson the best chance to win. Not for his sake, but to make sure the team nails down a victory when the odds are best.

4. If a player is failing in his current role, let him try a new one. Scott Sauerbeck, for example, has been getting pounded in middle relief. Why not give him a spot start? Give Brian Boehringer a start, too. Sauerbeck and Boehringer have both been full-time starters during the course of their careers. Point is, there's no reason to maintain the status quo on a team playing as poorly as the Pirates.

5. Whenever the Pirates face a right-handed starter at PNC Park, Matt Stairs should be in the lineup. PNC's short right-field porch was made for the burly left-handed pull hitter. That Stairs hasn't had a more regular opportunity to exploit it is confusing and confounding.

6. Periodically interchange the worst two players on the big-league roster with the best two players in Class AAA. If the Pirates called up pitcher Pat Mahomes (which they did yesterday) and third baseman Mike Gulan from Nashville and sent down ... heck, pick two, any two, it would make players in both places try harder. Well, maybe not Aramis Ramirez. But everybody else. I realize that options, days of service, union regulations, etc., might make this difficult, and, boy, I would hate to accidentally waive, say, Abraham Nunez.

7. Drop Ramirez down in the batting order. He has stunk in the cleanup spot, which means he's doing a poor job protecting Brian Giles at No. 3. Giles drew 16 walks and got just six extra-base hits in his first 77 plate appearances. The Pirates need Giles to walk, but they need him to get good pitches to drive even more. Bat Stairs or Randall Simon fourth against right-handers, Reggie Sanders fourth against left-handers.

8. Bat Jack Wilson second. Jason Kendall is going to produce no matter where you bat him. But Jack Wilson is much more productive when he bats second than when he bats anywhere else.

9. If Ramirez continues to stink, play Kevin Young at third base once in a while. Young used to play third, and what do the Pirates have to lose? (I often criticize the "What-do-we-have-to-lose?" agenda as the siren song of the truly desperate. I stand by that critique. But the Pirates are, indeed, truly desperate.)

10. Manufacture more runs by playing small ball. The Pirates have a great pitching rotation. They shouldn't play for the big inning. In their effort to put up crooked numbers, the Pirates too often put up a zero.

This list is in no way an indictment of Manager Lloyd McClendon, who I think is doing a decent job. Remember, you can't polish manure.

This is by no means meant to be a complete list. If it were, I would write, "That's it! That's the list!" There isn't enough newsprint in North America to list all the things the Pirates should do differently.

If you have any ideas to add, go to PNC Park and yell them out. With the crowds so small and quiet, I have no doubt McClendon will hear them.

The above ideas are for the short term. If the Pirates continue to slide, they should consider moving Kendall to second base. That seems an obvious decision considering the injury to Pokey Reese. Kendall could add years to his career by moving to a position less demanding than catcher.

The Pirates also should consider trading Mike Williams. Williams is an average closer coming off a great year. With Boston, St. Louis and San Francisco all contenders in need of a bullpen hammer, Williams' market value will never be higher.

New hitting coach Gerald Perry hit the nail right on the head when he blamed media negativity for the Pirates' struggles. Whenever I think of the disgraceful parody of a baseball organization the Pirates have maintained over the past decade, one name leaps to mind when it comes to blame: Bob Smizik.

But, since we're handing out blame, how come the Pirates' hitters don't do anything different under Perry than they did under Dave Clark last year? They still don't walk enough, they still get behind in the count, and the pinch-hitters are useless. One change: Simon strikes out now. He didn't used to.

Recently, on the PNC Park scoreboard video screen, Pirates players were quizzed about which of their teammates would look best in lingerie. Giles was the runaway winner. Now that's family entertainment.

Mark Madden is the hosts a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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