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June 11, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Polanco arrival marks wild start to June for Buccos

OPINION — CAN THE REST of June come close to matching the wild events of the first nine days of the month for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Consider:

ä Ace pitcher Gerrit Cole is diagnosed with “shoulder fatigue” and lands on the disabled list.

ä In a breakout all-star season, Neil Walker joins Cole on the disabled list after undergoing an appendectomy.

ä The Pirates score two runs against a horrid San Diego team as Francisco Liriano and the bullpen allow only one hit — a bunt single by Everth Cabrera in the first inning — but lose 3-2.

ä A Pirate fan is charged with interference as Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy’s bloop hits the foul line. Lucroy had stopped but was awarded second base despite the fact that had the fan not touched the ball, Lucroy would have made it only to first. Since he was at second with none out, a long fly ball allowed him to move to third, where he scored on a groundout. It was the only run in the Pirate loss.

ä In the same game, catcher Russell Martin was ejected for throwing his bat and helmet after arguing a strike three call, the fourth or fifth call by the home plate umpire that went against the Pirates. Lucroy said after the game that the pitch was clearly a ball.

ä Earlier in the game, an out call of Walker at the plate was upheld although replay clearly showed that he was safe.

ä Jeff Locke pitched his first good game in a year during the 1-0 loss.

ä Starling Marte and Ike Davis both found themselves riding the pine during 0-for-20 slumps. Marte’s benching included sloppy play in the outfield and a continuation of baserunning blunders.

ä Pirate announcers continued to shill Walker and Andrew McCutchen as deserving starters for this year’s All-Star game. Asking fans to vote for the two Bucs is one thing; but going on ad nauseam, reminding fans that they can vote “25 times a day” perhaps indicates that fans in other cities have more free time than we do.

ä Josh Harrison continued to be the team’s MVP with key hits and circus catches.

ä A season-best eight-run inning against the Brewers led to a season-high 15 runs in a win.

ä Although the Pirates have outscored the Brewers 55-54 in their 13 meetings this year, they are only 3-10 against Milwaukee.

ä Another minor-league pitcher, this time Duke Welker, underwent Tommy John surgery.

ä The organization underwhelmed a consensus of baseball experts with their selections in the 2014 first-year amateur player draft.

ä Seven different starters got decisions in the first eight games: Cole, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Cumpton, and Charlie Morton (2) got victories while Volquez, Liriano, and Locke took the losses.

But mark down June 10 as the date of the wildest event of the month, make that the season. It is the date that super phenom Gregory Polanco finally checked off all of the items on management’s to-do list.

“I understand the fans' desire to see Gregory Polanco,” president Frank Coonelly said earlier this month, echoing the line general manager Neal Huntington reran all spring.

“He could be a five-tool player.” Coonelly said. “We want to make sure we put him in a position where he's ready to go when he comes up here.”

Both men insisted that when Polanco was ready, he’d be called up to help fill PNC Park.

Of course, punishment would have resulted if they had admitted that Polanco’s arrival depended on a possible dreaded Super 2 status for the team and its prized prospect. Translation: $20 million more in salary.

“My job is to do everything in my power to help our people succeed,” Huntington has said with a  straight face. “The guys that we have pushed have had a harder time than the guys with whom we have remained patient,” the GM said. “Our goal is to bring a player up when we believe him to be ready to thrive and not because of need.”

Well, let’s hope he’s ready, because there is a huge need.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.

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