HICKORY – Pitching often is the key to success in any level of baseball.
It can carry a team to victory and perhaps even a championship.
That is why two of the most important pitchers in the history of Pirates’ baseball think believe the pitching staff is high-caliber, deep and poised to help Pittsburgh to its first winning season and postseason berth since 1992 despite its offensive struggles.
Both Steve Blass, standout starting pitcher for the 1971 World Series champion Pirates, and Kent Tekulve, ace reliever for the 1979 World Series champions Pirates, think the 2013 Pirates have the necessary pitching to help the club return to the playoffs. Until the offense perks up, however, neither Blass or Tekulve is ready to brand the team championship caliber.
“The pitching is championship caliber,” said Blass, one of the team’s broadcast commentators. “But we’re a little one dimensional right now. There is no rule against pitching helping a team run the table.
“The Pirates have wonderful pitching depth. But as a (Pirates) fan, I have to see it to believe it will end in a championship.”
Tekulve, a post-game analyst on Root Sports Pittsburgh, doesn’t discount the Pirates as playoff contenders. But he said the offense needs more production and consistency. The lack of offensive prowess won’t allow him to brand Pittsburgh as a championship-level team just yet.
“They are getting closer to that distinction,” Tekulve said. “But they’ll let us know if they are capable of winning a championship. We will see how they finish up. Right now, the Pirates have to pitch their way to wins.”
The former Pirates pitchers were speakers at the Hickory Lions Club Sports Dinner held Thursday night at the Hickory Fire Hall. They were there to honor veteran broadcaster Bill Hillgrove, who received the Myron Cope Legend in Sports Award.
Blass began his talk by asking the crowd: “How about those Buccos?”
While Blass is a lifetime Pirate – as a player, broadcaster and ambassador – and as enthusiastic about the franchise as anyone, he is reserving judgment on the final outcome of 2013.
“We have one of the best pitching staffs any ballclub can have,” he said. “The pitching is so good, it can’t collapse. It’s depth. But you can’t continue to win if you’re not going to hit.”
The obvious answer is for the team, which concluded a 10-game road trip Sunday with a 3-2 loss to Miami, to trade for a hitter, maybe two.
Blass and Tekulve said the Pirates should not act out of desperation or overpay for a hitter. But adding an offensive talent would help.
“Sure you’d like to add a bat,” Blass said. “But only if the price is right. I don’t want to see them sell the farm to try and win in one year. The price could be dear. To get one, you’d probably have to pony up.
“It’s not a desperate situation. Sellers know how and what buyers need and what they can extract.”
Tekulve said the Pirates don’t need to make a move but if they do, he wants substance added to the lineup.
“If we do make a deal, I want a deal that makes people and myself go ‘Wow,’” Tekulve said. “Essentially, we are talking about bringing someone in to replace the guys we acquired (at the trade deadline) last year. If you go get someone make it an impact player, just not a player.
“Give me someone who can make a difference, not just somebody different. Wow me.”