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Savran: Pirates could see future if they tried

Saturday, September 08, 2001

I understand playing Craig Wilson at first base every day is not going to resurrect this 2001 Pirates ship. You would have a better chance recovering an intact Titanic from the ocean floor.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing to be salvaged from this season.

Lloyd McClendon seems to be wrestling with a self-imposed dilemma concerning playing time -- who gets it and how much.

Here's a bit of unsolicited advice, Mac. Be selfish. Charity begins at home --look out for No 1. Don't treat these remaining three weeks as the end of this disastrous old season.

Rather, look at these remaining games as the beginning of a new one.

Why not play Craig Wilson every game? You say you don't know if he's good enough defensively. You're not going to find out watching him take infield grounders three hours before game time.

Can he hit consistently if exposed to everyday play, allowing opposing pitchers get a more complete book on him? Expose him and let's see. What's the worst that can happen? You might lose another game.

If you think you're better with Kevin Young in the lineup, what does that say about your team, anyway? He appears to be coming out of his slump now, but we already know what Young is capable of doing, even in his best of times.

The same cannot be said of Wilson. And others.

Chad Hermansen is here now. For how long is anybody's guess. A decision must be made on him soon. Like this winter. How can such a decision be made expeditiously and correctly if he gets a only handful of at-bats this month?

The time for protecting him is long gone. Use him or lose him.

Is there any reason to play Pat Meares at any point the rest of this season? The guy can barely grab a bat, so how can he grab a position?

There's a rumbling at the ballpark that the Pirates are trying to get an insurance settlement on his contract, continuing to play him to prove to the insurers that he can't play at an acceptable level because of his hand injury.

If true, how does that jibe with the Pirates' stated desire that they want to field their most competitive team, especially when playing a contender?

Since even a healthy Meares clearly isn't the long-term answer at second base, and there doesn't appear to by anyone in the organization who fits that description, I submit that the Pirates' starting second baseman for the rest of this season should be none other than Jason Kendall. Beginning today.

His move from behind the plate is inevitable. It's just a matter of when and to where.

Many baseball types believe his best noncatching position might be second base. There's only one way to find out. Why not use these remaining games to give him a taste of the position, allowing the team to get a look at him playing there? Why not get a leg up on spring training?

If things don't look terribly promising, you can use this coming off-season to plan accordingly. If Kendall's potential future home is second base, why not adopt a "the future is now" philosophy?

Plus, it would enable them to get a good look at Humberto Cota behind the plate at the same time. He might be your guy next season if Kendall's move becomes permanent.

Again, what have they got to lose? Another game? After 90, who's counting?

Baseball's code of honor mandates that you play your best against the contenders in order to maintain the integrity of the game.

I don't argue with that.

However, are the Pirates necessarily a better team when the lineup is populated with veterans --the same veterans who have been largely responsible for the team losing just about two of every three games played?

Can the younger players do much worse?

And there's a tremendous contradiction at work here as well.

Why is it OK to present a starting pitching rotation which includes three, and sometimes four rookies, but it's not OK to play rookie position players? That doesn't even approach making sense. After all, who has a greater impact on a game than the starting pitcher?

If McClendon continues to hold the belief that playing younger players or players in new positions compromises the team's obligation against contenders, so be it. But there are no games against contenders until Friday, when they play the Cubs.

And by the time they meet up with St. Louis, the Cardinals might be thinking about next season as well.

Even if the Cardinals are still flushed with pennant fever at that point, your first responsibility is to yourself.

As long as, on most days, you present a lineup card that includes Brian Giles, Kendall and Aramis Ramirez, you're doing the best you can do. This season is over. Has been since Memorial Day.

The best thing the Pirates can do is to use this nightmare as a means to dream of better days.

Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat" at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh

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