Saturday, August 31, 2013

Justin Morneau: From the Twin Cities to the Three Rivers

The Clemente Wall beckons.

First-baseman Justin Morneau has the perfect swing for launching pitches over PNC Park's 21-foot-high Clemente Wall and into the Allegheny River.

With today's trade, Morneau immediately becomes the Pirates' regular first baseman against right-handed pitching. Moreneu, a longtime fixture and fan favorite in the Minnesota, will be a welcome addition to the Pirates' lineup.

Morneau will take at-bats away from Garrett Jones, whose opportunity for a shot at the majors, ironically, was blocked by Morneau while both were in the Minnesota organization.  Until Friday night, Jones had been in a prolonged, serious slump.  Jones broke out of that slump last night, but his home-run, four RBIs and 3-for-4 performance came too late.  The Pirates had to bolster the lineup.

General Manager Neil Huntington went for it aggressively, not only with Morneau, but also with the acquisition of veterans Marlon Byrd and John Buck earlier in the week. Give Huntington credit.

Jones is a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, and his slump has been distressing to watch. Today's edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Byrd offered Jones some sage batting advice, which may have helped last night and, hopefully, will continue to help. After being benched for three straight games, Michael Sanserino reports, "Jones spent his time down watching video, taking swings in the cage and talking to coaches and teammates about all topics baseball and otherwise."

"Marlon Byrd, when he first got up here, he came up to me and said, 'You could be a guy that could hit 30, 40 home runs,' " Jones said. "We started talking about hitting, and just a few things he said to me made a lot of sense."

"Specifically, Jones said Byrd gave him a couple pointers about getting extension on his swing."

Any Pirates' fan would be all for that, and Jones may see playing time in right field against right-handers. Byrd could get some time in left field until Starling Marte returns from the disabled list.

Going to the Twins in exchange for Morneau is outfielder Alex Presley and either cash or a player to be named later -- not likely to be a top-tier prospect. Let's hope that "player to be named later" is not first baseman Nick Kingham or pitcher Tyler Glasnow. 

That's a topic for another day. For now, it's exciting the Pirates have made moves designed to improve the team.

On this, the last day of August, the Pittsburgh Pirates are legitimate contenders in a pennant race. And we haven't been to say that for a very long time.

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