Last year, the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t finish with a record below .500 for the first time since 1992. With a new manager in Jim Tracy, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope it’s their turn for their first non-losing season since that year when they open the season against the Brewers for the second straight time Monday.
Tracy was hired by Pittsburgh after agreeing at the end of last season to a mutual parting of the ways with the Los Angeles Dodgers, whom he managed for five seasons. Tracy, replacing the fired Lloyd McClendon, led the Dodgers to a 422-371 record.
Pittsburgh’s new manager will have four starting pitchers in his rotation under 25, and Oliver Perez will take the ball in the opener. The 24-year-old left-hander pitched for Mexico during the World Baseball Classic and beat Roger Clemens 2-1 to eliminate the United States in the semifinals.
Perez, who went 7-5 with a 5.85 ERA last season, will be counted on by Tracy to lead the Pirates’ young pitching staff.
“Oliver has been in the big leagues long enough to understand it’s time for him to step up and be a guy for this ballclub,” Tracy said.
Perez will be making his second straight opening day start for Pittsburgh, losing 9-2 at home to Milwaukee on April 4, when he allowed six runs in five innings. Perez, though, showed signs of maturing as a pitcher last season, when his strikeout totals dropped from 239 in 196 innings in 2004, to 97 in 103 innings in ’05.
“The most important thing in the game is to throw as many innings as you can,” said Perez, who made only 20 starts last year because of a broken left big toe. “You don’t try to strike out (everyone). You just have to throw the most innings you can. If you strike out 15 or strike out two, it’s no problem.”
The Pirates will have four new position players in the lineup as they try to avoid a 14th straight losing season. First baseman Sean Casey, third baseman Joe Randa and right fielder Jeromy Burnitz give Pittsburgh more of a veteran presence, while catcher Ryan Doumit, who turns 25 on Monday, will get a chance to solidify the position in his second season after getting 231 at-bats last year.
While the Brewers managed to avoid another losing record in 2005, they dropped their final two games to the Pirates at home to finish 81-81 and third in the NL Central. That ended their three-season run as the last-place finisher in the division.
The Overbay trade allows Prince Fielder, the Brewers’ 2002 first-round pick and former slugger Cecil Fielder’s son, to become the everyday first baseman. Fielder had two home runs and 10 RBIs in 59 at-bats for the Brewers last season.
Koskie, dealt for minor league pitcher Brian Wolfe, played in only 97 games because of a fractured right thumb last year, hitting .249 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. The Overbay trade brought back right-hander Dave Bush, who was 5-11 with a 4.49 ERA.
With ace Ben Sheets suffering with a strained back muscle, his streak of opening day starts for Milwaukee will end at four. Veteran left-hander Doug Davis will make the start Monday after going 11-11 with a 3.84 ERA in 35 starts last season.