PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Frank Coonelly had to be relieved. For the first time since he came to town, the Pirates president could talk about his club sitting over .500 this late in a season.
With the Pirates 39-38 near the end of June, the morale boost in the stands and offices at PNC Park is noticeable.
“There’s no question that when the team’s playing well and people are feeling good about themselves, there’s a lighter step in the office,” said Coonelly in a one-on-one interview with KDKA-TV Sports.
“Not only the games that have been played are we up over 12 percent [in attendance]; but in terms of the games that are coming on, we’re seeing on a daily basis a lot of good pre-sale numbers for those games,” he said.
Now, the trick is to make those late-season games matter.
To this point, the Pirates players have done their job. If they can sustain their strong start for a few more weeks, Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington are prepared to step up with reinforcements.
“No question we owe it to them to continue to give them the tools necessary to give us the best chance to win the National League Central,” said Coonelly. “That’s the objective from day one in spring training, and it’s still the objective. Because of a lot of good play and hard work by these guys, we’re in a position to reach that goal.”
“Neal (Huntington)’s been looking for those external additions, whether it’s to replace someone who’s been injured, or to add a bat where we’ve been challenged offensively,” Coonelly said. “They’re not always easy, and mortgaging the future of this organization is not something that we’re going to do. He’ll continue to look externally, as well as look at who may help us internally.”
One big internal addition would be a healthy, productive Pedro Alvarez. He’s been out of the lineup for weeks with a quadriceps injury.
Alvarez started playing minor league games today and will move to Class A Bradenton Tuesday, but his injury struggles have renewed talk about his conditioning. It was an issue that was first questioned by reporters in spring training.
“The conditioning has been an issue from the outset,” Coonelly says. “Pedro has continued to work extremely hard. Whether the quad injury was related in any way to conditioning issues, I don’t think I can say, but that’s going to be a challenge for Pedro Alvarez. In order for him to be a productive middle of the order bat for us, he’s gotta be a well-conditioned professional athlete. We’re looking to help him get there and stay there for a long time.”
“I think it was overstated in terms of how he came into spring training,” Coonelly continued. “He came into spring training a much stronger young man and had worked very hard this offseason. He needs to stay on top of that work throughout the season as well.”
One of the big trade deadline questions surrounding the pirates will be the future of veteran starting pitcher Paul Maholm. He’s due a club option of $9.75 million next season if he stays with the Pirates. That contract has many people speculating that the Pirates will need to trade Maholm to avoid paying the option, but that speculation doesn’t sit very well with the Pirates management.
“There’s no intent to move Paul at this point,” said Coonelly. “An option is certainly to approach Paul and talk about a longer-term relationship as opposed to the option. So, that’s certainly one of the alternatives that we’re considering. We haven’t approached Paul on that topic yet.
Coonelly spoke with more certainty when it came to closer Joel Hanrahan and early season reports that teams were inquiring about him in trade discussions. Hanrahan will likely be the Pirates All-Star after starting the season 22-for-22 in save situations.
“I also heard people talking about us potentially moving Joel Hanrahan,” said Coonelly. “That’s not happening. Trust me. I enjoy going into the ninth inning knowing that Joel Hanrahan is coming in to try to preserve a lead for us.”