Notes: Squad impressed by Coonelly
New president's meeting with players not an unnoticed gesture
HOUSTON -- They say first impressions make all the difference. If so, count that as success No. 1 for the Pirates' new president, Frank Coonelly, who was officially named to the post on Thursday.
Shortly after Coonelly was formally introduced to members of the local media, he hopped on the team bus, which was preparing to leave for the Pittsburgh airport on Thursday afternoon, to introduce himself to the team.
"He came on the bus and said hi before he left and wanted to show his face and meet everybody," outfielder Jason Bay said. "He said that he was going to be around more early on, to feel his way around."
Though he wasn't on the team bus on Thursday to meet Coonelly, reliever Salomon Torres didn't need to shake his hand to approve of the hire and get excited about the vision that Coonelly has for the direction of the Pirates.
"I read that his goal in coming to the Pirates is to connect to the players. With that, he got me at hello," Torres said. "That is big, and I think that could be the key here. When an organization commits to its Minor League system, that's going to translate into a strong individual commitment when they come up. I think that's a good strategy."
An integral part of Coonelly's floor plan is to not only instill a commitment in the organization's players from the Minor League systems up, but to approach them and offer them an opportunity to offer suggestions on what resources they believe are necessary for the club to succeed in moving forward.
Coonelly expressed this objective in his short meeting with the players on the bus, which had the players not only encouraged, but also beginning to brainstorm among each other.
Torres, with his arms nearly fully extended, joked on Friday, saying: "My list is this long."
Regardless the specifics on the list, a renewed commitment moving forward seemed to resonate well with everyone.
Similarly, even though Coonelly's hire doesn't signal a great increase in the team's payroll, his intent on stocking the organization's Minor League rungs with bright talent has many of the current Pirates players still believing that the team can be competitive in the future.
"The one thing as players that we've talked about is that we can't compete with the free agent market, which is true," Bay said. "But when you develop guys, and have guys here who like being here, I think it's a lot easier to convince those guys to stay. He's making the commitment to some of those guys who could be mainstays and getting them while they're here instead of luring someone else away."
Rotation matters: Despite Tony Armas' strong six-inning win on Monday, his rotation spot the next time around will go to right-hander John Van Benschoten, a decision dictated by the arrival of the team's new president.
"Obviously there are some things that have taken place, management-wise," manager Jim Tracy said. "The opportunity to see him, and see him as a starting pitcher, is very important."
With the Pirates not expected to pick up the option on Armas' contract after the season, this will allow management to instead evaluate Van Benschoten. Armas will now be available out of the bullpen.
Van Benschoten's only appearance since rejoining the team as a September callup came out of the bullpen and lasted a brief 1 1/3 innings, in which he allowed five earned runs. He went 0-5 with a 9.76 ERA in seven starts for the club earlier this year.
How that fifth spot in the rotation will be filled following Van Benschoten's start remains unknown. If Zach Duke has a successful bullpen outing or two, he would appear to be in line to make the start the next time that spot comes up, which will be on Sept. 22.
Management rumor mill: A Major League source confirmed that Blue Jays assistant Tony LaCava has interviewed for the Pirates' general manager position. LaCava has been referred to by numerous people inside of MLB as a top GM candidate. The Pittsburgh native still makes his home outside the city and sources say that the opportunity to work with the Pirates organization is something that LaCava has desired for a while.
Also, another name surfaced on Friday as a possible candidate to replace Dave Littlefield as the team's GM. John Hart, a special assistant to Rangers GM Jon Daniels, may draw some interest. The former GM has not expressed interest in returning to a GM position, though a source close to the Rangers said that Hart may be intrigued by the Pittsburgh opening.
Sources tell MLB.com that Sylvia Lind, Major League Baseball's Minor League coordinator, is among those being considered for a front-office position in Pittsburgh, possibly as an assistant general manager.
Injury roundup: Though Bay and Xavier Nady were both cleared to return to the field prior to Friday's game, neither was in the lineup. However, assuming there are no unforeseen setbacks in the next 24 hours, expect both outfielders to return to the lineup on Saturday night.
An MRI earlier in the week diagnosed Bay with tendinitis in his right knee. While it's something that will linger for the rest of the season, Bay will play through the discomfort and is not expected to miss substantial time.
"We have to be careful with him not to pound this thing until the point where it could get really sore, and he would walk in and not be able to go," Tracy said. "Rather than have him run the risk of him walking in here [on Saturday] and saying it's too sore to go. With the history he has with [Saturday's starter] Wandy Rodriguez, I definitely want him ready."
In 19 at-bats against Rodriguez, Bay has 10 hits -- six for extra bases -- and 11 RBIs.
On deck: Right-hander Matt Morris (9-9, 4.59 ERA) will take the mound on Saturday to face the Astros at 7:05 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park. Morris will be opposed by Rodriguez (8-13, 4.65).
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.