PHILADELPHIA -- Ray Searage has had a hard summer.
And he might not make it through the fall, at least not as the Pirates' pitching coach.
Oh, it's not set in stone. Far from it, in fact, when it's weighed that those currently empowered to make such changes might themselves be part of these changes. That'll depend on the whim of Bob Nutting and absolutely no one else at absolutely any level. That context is critical, and I can't stress it strongly enough.
That said ...
From what I've heard among those currently still in the fold, the approach that's being planned by this front office -- yet again, I'll stress, if they're employed long enough -- is one aimed at changing certain processes and, within that, certain people. I've already heard several names, but the only one that's cited almost universally is that of Searage.
This, of course, would stink of scapegoating. He's held this job since 2010 and, along the way, he's had more than his share of successes in spite of often challenging circumstances, always without complaint. He's repaired veterans' deliveries and raised up minimum-wage reclamation projects. He's fought through the insanely stupid pitch-to-contact philosophy that was rammed down his throat by the front office and, concurrently, has since been unfairly attached only to him. And, worst of all, he's been saddled with the endlessly sad parade of 10-cent arms from Indianapolis, the product of deficient drafting and developing.
Put it this way: There isn't a pitching coach on the planet who could've squeezed more out of a Montana DuRapau fastball.
At the same time, there are fair low marks to give for the regression of Trevor Williams, the continued unpredictability of Joe Musgrove and having needed two full months to figure out Chris Archer should scrap his two-seamer. Those three examples, coupled with the belated blossoming elsewhere of Tyler Glasnow, should be real strikes against Searage.
(Don't lump Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton in with Glasnow, by the way. Cole and Morton were here while the front office was still ramming the pitch-to-contact philosophy. Once those two got to the Astros, who are run by smart people, that nonsense stopped. Searage's hands are clear on both counts.)
Regardless, the goal would be scapegoating, so all of the above might not matter much. Neal Huntington and Kyle Stark aren't about to blame themselves or their drafting and development for this historically horrific pitching performance. Searage makes for a much more visible, convenient target than any of them. He's the guy the fans -- and Nutting -- see trudging to the mound when the pitchers are at their worst. He's the associated visual.
Beyond all that, if Nutting does truly clean house, that'd actually make Searage's return even less likely, since any new baseball operations staff would want to separate from these pitching numbers.
• No one mentions Clint Hurdle's status. No one at all. And I'll tell you this: Unlike Huntington, who's making all kinds of peculiar, panicky-sounding statements of late, the manager's behaving -- authentically, I might add -- as if he'll be back in 2020. -- DK
• Huntington's now regularly making derisive references to the "drumbeat" against him back in 2011 and 2012, when the combination of the 'Hoka Hey' debacle and poor performance had both him and Stark on the precipice of being fired by Nutting. He's doing so in the context of how 2013 marked a turnaround, which it did with the playoff appearance and the Blackout game. But what's omitted is that, at the time, he had ace major-league evaluators in Marc DelPiano, Jim Benedict and others to help him build the 25-man roster through trades and free agency. They're the ones who put in the hard recommendations for A.J. Burnett, Russell Martin, Jason Grilli and others. All those evaluators are gone now. Be sure that part isn't being shared with Nutting, either. -- DK
• Say what one will of Hurdle's game managing -- and everyone in his position leaves himself open to such criticism daily -- but there isn't a trace of dissent or despair in that clubhouse. I keep expecting it, and it keeps not happening. That shouldn't earn anyone a medal, obviously, but I'm just sharing the observation. -- DK
• I'm hearing that there won't be many September callups from Indianapolis next week. Probably just as well. -- DK
• Steven Brault has become a major storyline for these Pirates in 2019. Originally penned for relief duties, Brault became a starter after injuries ravaged the Pirates' rotation. He's now 3-3 with a 4.06 ERA, emerging as one of the most reliable and consistent starting options on the team. So is he looking ahead to 2020 in hopes of making the rotation? "I try to do my best not to [think about it] because I don't know," Brault was telling me. "I don't know what their plan is. For now, I'm just going to try to, I'd say 'cement' myself, but there's no way to do that. I just have no idea what decisions they're going to make, so I do everything I can to put myself in a position where I did everything I could. So we'll see how it goes in the offseason and going into next season." -- Hunter Homistek in Denver
• New cornerback Steven Nelson has been lauded by his teammates for being a consummate pro. "I learned he’s a perfectionist," fellow corner Joe Haden told me. "He works very hard at his craft. He’s a very smart football player. He just loves the game, loves to compete. He fits in perfectly in the room." How much does Nelson love the game? Enough that even though his wife is due to have the couple's second child in two weeks, Nelson isn't planning on missing any game time. The Steelers open the regular season Sept. 8 on the road against the Patriots. "I’m going to play in the game," Nelson told me. "We’ve talked about it. I’ll definitely leave afterward if it happens on game day." -- Dale Lolley in Charlotte, N.C.
• As I mentioned in last week's Insider, Kameron Kelly was told by Mike Tomlin -- quite loudly -- in practice last week that the coaching staff wanted to see the young safety deliver some big hits in last Sunday's preseason game against the Titans. How did Kelly do? "I heard him," Kelly said of Tomlin's prodding. "That’s why I tried to go out there and smack somebody in the last game. I felt like I had a couple of good hits. They told me that’s what they were waiting to see. That was a good feeling, to be about to hear that." -- Lolley
• While the battle cry among many Steelers fans -- at least since the team's loss to the Patriots in the 2016 AFC Championship -- has been for the team to play more man defense, the team would be hard-pressed to do so. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Steelers played man 51.5 percent of the time in 2018. That ranked as the fifth-highest percentage in the league. The addition of Nelson should only help that. Nelson's former team, the Chiefs, played man 55.1 percent of the time, the third-highest amount in the league behind the Patriots (60.4 percent) and Broncos (58.5). Nelson's teammates like what they've seen from him in that regard. "He’s another corner who can play bump-and-run coverage," defensive end Cam Heyward told me. "He attacks the ball. I think he’s going to be pretty opportunistic and he’s not afraid to help on run support. I look for him to do a lot." -- Lolley
• A week from today, a squad of Penguins' draft choices and prospects, probably fleshed out with some free agents, will get the preseason started by participating in an annual tournament in Buffalo. (It moved there after previously being staged in Kitchener, Oshawa and London, Ontario.) During Ray Shero's tenure as general manager, the Penguins considered playing host to a similar event in Wilkes-Barre, but that plan never came to fruition. And while there are no immediate plans to breathe new life into that idea, Jim Rutherford noted that the Penguins' practice facility in Cranberry would be a perfect venue for such an event. "The way (the area) has built up around the facility, you couldn't find a better place for any kind of tournament, whether it's a youth tournament or whether it's a rookie tournament for an NHL team," he said. "It's a great set-up." Trouble is, prospect tournaments have become pretty popular, and most clubs appear to be committed to ones they like, which means the Penguins likely would have trouble attracting enough of them to make a tournament viable. "The problem we have is that teams that are hosting them now, they want to continue to host them and they're kind of locked in with the teams that are going," Rutherford said. "I would suspect that if we would move forward on it, it would be hard to get enough teams to make it work." -- Dave Molinari
• If no news truly were good news, the Penguins' contract negotiations with restricted free-agent defenseman Marcus Pettersson would continue to be awash in glad tidings. As of Thursday afternoon, they had not made any progress toward freeing up the salary-cap space that would be required to sign Pettersson to the kind of long-term deal that both sides want. Consequently, there has been no significant movement in the contract talks with Pettersson's agent, Peter Wallen. It's entirely possible, though, that the parameters of a contract already have been worked out, with any lingering details to be addressed when the Penguins have cleared the necessary cap space. -- Molinari
• A Penguins executive confirmed Thursday that Bill Guerin, named GM in Minnesota last week, has not sought permission from his old club to speak with staffers there about joining him with the Wild, and a source familiar with Guerin's thinking reiterated a point made seven days earlier, that "It's a little late to do that." It remains entirely possible, though, that Guerin, who had been an assistant GM with the Penguins for several years before taking the Minnesota job, will try to acquire some of the players or prospects he liked while working here. "I would expect so," Rutherford said. "He's very familiar with (Penguins) players. There are players that he likes here. That could be a (trading) partner at some point, to accomplish what we want and accomplish what he wants." -- Molinari
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