Pirates pay attention to pitch counts

PITTSBURGH — That hit down the third base line on Sunday probably saved Clint Hurdle from hundreds of hateful e-mails.

The single by Paul DeJong came with two outs in the seventh inning and provided the St. Louis Cardinals with their first base runner of the game against the Pirates’ Nick Kingham.

What a major league debut it was for Kingham, who came within an out of seven perfect innings.

How long would he have gone had the perfect game continued?

Probably no more than one inning. If that. Kingham’s pitch count was already at 94, and Hurdle was using his mental calculator to determine how many more he’d let him throw.

Yes, he would have taken him out with a perfect game intact.

Sorry, but that’s the way baseball is managed these days.

Pitch counts matter, especially for young pitchers. Organizations are committed to protecting arms, even if that means sacrificing a run at baseball history.

Hurdle didn’t have to make that decision. Kingham finished the inning, the bullpen held the lead and the Pirates completed their weekend sweep of the Cardinals on a chilly day at PNC Park.

If the situation arises again, it will be handled the same way. Get used to it.

By the way, it was a great day for Kingham. He not only won his first start, he got a chance instead for at least one more. Instead of getting a ticket back to the minor leagues, he’ll start for the Pirates Friday night in Milwaukee.

Possible comeback?

Ron Francis was cut loose by the Carolina Hurricanes the other day.

Francis had been the team’s general manager, but was kicked sideways to a new position during the season.

Now he’s out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he wound up in the Penguins front office.

Francis helped the Penguins win their first Stanley Cup in 1990 when he came over from Hartford in a deadline-day trade that helped transform the team. He stayed with the Penguins through 1998 and had some of the best years in his Hall of Fame career.

Francis was a smart player who always provided maximum effort and represented the organization well. He was mentored for the front office in Carolina by Jim Rutherford, the Penguins’ current GM.

Between his relationship with Rutherford and the respect co-owner Mario Lemieux has for Francis, it would be natural for the Penguins to have an interest in bringing him aboard.

Rutherford is 69 and will retire to a more relaxing life one of these years.

New voice

Remember Tim Neverett, who was one of the Pirates’ broadcasters from 2009 to 2015? He’s moved on to the Boston Red Sox radio crew.

His eldest son, Matt, is calling games for the Pirates’ Class A affiliate in Bradenton. That’s a low rung in the minor leagues and a good place for a young broadcaster to gain experience.

Maybe someday he’ll crack the major leagues.

As Joe Buck, Kenny Albert and Chip Caray have shown, it never hurts to have a father who also happens to be in the sports broadcasting business.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com