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The Other Side: Jesse Chavez Still Worth ‘Pounding Table’



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a recurring series that spotlights Pittsburgh Pirates-oriented news and notes from their opponents.

John Russell might have been the quietest manager in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He rarely raised his voice or lost his temper during his three-year stint from 2008-10. The Pirates didn’t win much under Russell as he had a 186-299 record before being replaced by Clint Hurdle.

However, at least one small vestige of Russell’s time with the Pirates remains in the major leagues. That is Atlanta Braves ageless reliever Jesse Chavez.

Chavez made his major-league debut in 2008 with the Pirates but did not impress. He had a 6.60 ERA in 14 appearances.

However, Chavez made the opening-day roster the following spring training mainly because of Russell’s insistence. At the time, Russell told me he “pounded the table” for Chavez during organizational meetings that spring.

Russell saw something in Chavez. At 40, Chavez is still pitching in the major leagues and performing well with a sparkling 1.52 ERA in 18 games.

“I’ll always appreciate the Pirates giving me my first chance,” Chavez said when the Braves visited PNC Park last weekend.

The Pirates acquired Chavez from the Texas Rangers at the 2006 trade deadline for Kip Wells. Chavez was a lightly regarded prospect who had been a 42nd-round draft pick.

Chavez is in his 17th season and has pitched in 625 big-league games.

The Pirates did not keep Chavez for long, though. After he had a 4.01 ERA in a career-high 73 games in 2009, Chavez was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Later that offseason, the Rays dealt Chavez to the Braves.

“Getting traded twice in two months was kind of hard to wrap my head around,” Chavez said. “I didn’t know what to think.”

However, it was a turning point for Chavez as he became teammates with seven-time All-Star closer Billy Wagner in Atlanta.

“He became a mentor to me,” Chavez said. “He taught me how to be a professional and how to take care of my body. I probably wouldn’t still be playing today if I hadn’t met Billy. So, getting traded by the Pirates worked out well for me.”

The Mort Report

Charlie Morton was also a member of the 2008 and 2009 Pirates pitching staff. Like Chavez, Morton is also 40 and pitching for the Braves.

Morton is 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA in 10 starts.

“He’s still a quality major-league starting pitcher,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He just keeps going.”

Morton has talked about retirement for many years. Morton and his wife have four children and live in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., near the Pirates’ spring training facility in Bradenton.

“I still feel like I have good stuff and can compete,” Morton said. “It gets tougher and tougher being away from home, though. That’s why I’m literally just taking things one season at a time. I don’t know how much longer I’ll play.”

El Toro Proud

Two Gold Glove-winning third basemen have a vested interest in Pirates rookie pitcher Paul Skenes.

The San Francisco Giants’ Matt Chapman and St. Louis Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado are both El Toro High School graduates in Lake Forest, Calif. That is also Skenes’ alma mater.

Skenes was never teammates with either third baseman as Arenado graduated in 2009 and Chapman was two years behind him. Skenes was in the Class of 2020.

Chapman had a chance to face Skenes when the Giants came to Pittsburgh last week and came away impressed,

“I think the future’s bright for that guy,” Chapman said. “And it’s exciting to see somebody from the same high school go out there and have success as quickly as he has.”


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