Looking back, ahead and elsewhere

So these are the new and improved Pirates?

Meet the new Pirates, same as the old Pirates.

To be fair, they have a promising young nucleus, but last night reminded us why they haven’t posted a winning record since Manny Sanguillen hung up his shin guards.

Actually, you can see Sanguillen in Bradenton every spring training. And he operates the “Manny’s BBQ” concession at PNC Park. And he actually retired in 1980, so I was exaggerating.

Sanguillen was the only member of the Pirates not to attend Roberto Clemente’s funeral. He chose to dive the waters where Clemente’s plane crashed in a desperate attempt to find his close friend.

And on that cheerful note ...

James McDonald is starting tonight for the Pirates. Quick, tell me everything you know about him in 60 seconds.

Here’s something: He’s the cousin of former Orioles first-round pick Darnell McDonald.

James McDonald was an 11th-round pick of the Dodgers in 2002 who has given up three runs or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts this season. But he’s failed to clear five innings in five outings.

Only two current Orioles have faced McDonald. Derrek Lee is 0-for-4 and Mark Reynolds is 1-for-7 with five strikeouts.

Reynolds singled, walked three times and had a sacrifice fly last night. He may strike out a lot, but he also gets on base a lot and drives in runs.

Jake Arrieta may win a lot of games, but he also throws a lot of pitches.

Nothing new here, but I felt like pointing out again that he needs to get quicker outs and get back in the dugout. The Orioles gave him a big lead last night and he still needed 79 pitches to get through four innings. And he would have hit 80 if catcher Michael McKenry hadn’t grounded out on the first pitch to end the fourth.

The Pirates did Arrieta a huge favor in the fifth by making him throw only eight pitches. Or Arrieta did a good job of disposing of the Pirates on only eight pitches. Depends how you want to look at it.

Manager Buck Showalter still went to his bullpen after the fifth with Arrieta’s pitch count at 87 and his shirt holding enough water to float a cruise ship.

sidebar-jj-hardy-swinging-new.jpgJ.J. Hardy might not be a big tools guy, but he really knows how to play the game. The double play he started in the sixth was classic. He fielded Garrett Jones’ bouncer up the middle, made the quick tag on Andrew McCutchen, who must have been updating his Facebook status, and threw to first.

Hardy could have been distracted by Michael Gonzalez lunging for the ball, or by McCutchen standing in front of him, looking like a lost kid trying to spot his parents at a carnival. But Hardy fielded the ball cleanly, as he always does, and slapped the tag on McCutchen as he tried to get back to the bag. And Hardy didn’t settle for one out on the play.

I’d like to take his instincts and pass them on to at least one of his teammates.

Showalter said he’s never seen a double play like that one.

Hardy is one of the nicest, most likable guys in the clubhouse, but you can tell that he’d rather pull out his toenails with a pair of pliers than be interviewed by reporters. He’s totally fine to sit at his locker and chat, but he gets pretty uncomfortable when the cameras and recorders are rolling.

Nothing wrong with it. Just an observation.

Anyone else disappointed that Albert Pujols won’t be playing at Camden Yards next week?

I know that his absence greatly benefits the Orioles, but I wanted to watch him outside of the Grapefruit League.

For the next fan who suggests that Jim Johnson should join the rotation: He isn’t stretched out enough to do it. You’d be pushing him if you tried to get three innings out of him, unless he’s extremely economical with his pitches. You can’t make him a starter now and expect him to get you into the middle or late innings. It would be a process to convert him.

A name to remember if the Orioles need another starter: Mitch Atkins.

The former Chicago Cub didn’t pitch in spring training because of an oblique injury, but he’s sporting a 3.06 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk after holding Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to two runs and four hits over seven innings last night. The Tides lost, 2-0.

Atkins was one option for Showalter if Jeremy Guthrie’s back hadn’t improved enough for the right-hander to start tonight against the Pirates.

Head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, who will receive the Herb Armstrong Award later this summer as part of the Orioles’ Hall of Fame ceremonies, will fly to New Orleans today so he can accept the Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award from the National Athletic Trainers Association. Bancells will return to the team Friday.

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