Trade deadline on horizon, Bucs need to think pitching

PITTSBURGH – You can look in a lot of directions for possible second-half upgrades for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it’s this simple: They need pitching.

It’s not that they don’t need help at other spots, but the most critical need is pitching. The Pirates showed last year that a team can win with spotty offense, as long as the pitching is good enough.

The pitching staff, as presently constituted, is a cause for concern. Temporary success from Jeff Locke, Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton may make it seem like there’s an abundance of starters, but that isn’t the case.

None of those is a proven commodity, and there isn’t much behind them that’s major league-ready at the moment. Opportunities have come because Gerrit Cole is on the disabled list for the second time, and Francisco Liriano is due to come off the DL today. Neither has pitched as well as he did last year.

The old hypothetical question – Who would start if there was one must-win game? – has no clear answer right now.

There are other leaks: Josh Harrison is providing fewer miracles, Gregory Polanco is suddenly waving and missing at a lot of pitches, and first base is a frustrating black hole.

Whether they make their evaluations from a spreadsheet or trained eyes, baseball people will generally agree a team never has enough quality pitching.

The Pirates are no exception to that rule.

Different version

Root Sports occasionally does retrospective specials, and players take full advantage of the opportunity to rewrite history.

There’s one where Bill Madlock describes his success by saying, “I worked hard at it. I would hit, hit, hit, hit. There’s no substitute for swinging the bat.”

The fact is Madlock rarely took batting practice when he was with the Pirates, and he was so good that Chuck Tanner didn’t mind. Madlock’s usual pre-game routine at Three Rivers Stadium was to sit in a recliner watching TV with a bowl of potato chips.

He would hit the field about a half hour before game time, stretch, and usually go 2-for-4.

But the real disconnect came in Root’s special on Tanner where Bert Blyleven says, without irony, “If you couldn’t play for Chuck Tanner, you couldn’t play for anyone.”

Oh really? In 1980, the Pirates were defending World Series champions when Blyleven quit the team in late April because he felt Tanner was taking him out of games too early. Blyleven said he personally liked Tanner, “but I didn’t like the way he handled me. He showed no confidence in me in the late innings of a close game.”

Regrets? He had none. When he returned to the Pirates 10 days later, Blyleven said, “I’m proud of what I did, and I might do it again. Until they trade me, I’ll do what I have to do. I was always looking over my shoulder after the fifth inning. Tanner showed little faith in me. I began to lose my competitiveness. I feel that I can’t produce under Chuck Tanner.”

The Pirates were so mad that they traded Blyleven after the season, exiling him to Cleveland for a four-man bag of nothing. Tanner, who rarely criticized a player in public, referred to his wandering pitcher as “Cry-leven” after the fact.

Just some small details that have been lost with the passage of time.

On the mark

Usually the most memorable home run calls reflect jubilation. But Tim Neverett’s plaintive, “Not again … not again” was just about perfect when the Pirates lost a second consecutive game in St. Louis on a walk off home run.

Mehno can be reached at