Notes: Mackanin takes job in stride

Notes: Mackanin takes job in stride

PITTSBURGH -- In the two weeks since Pete Mackanin took over as the Pittsburgh Pirates interim manager, the team has gone 7-7, including a four-game winning streaking heading into action Tuesday against the Houston Astros.

Although Mackanin has been considered by some prognosticators as a long shot to take over the team on a permanent basis because of his lack of previous big-league managerial experience, Mackanin has a luxury that the Jim Leylands and Ken Machas of the world do not. He has been given a shot to audition from the manager's office at PNC Park.

"I believe in myself," Mackanin said. "I know that I know what I am doing. I know I am a Major League manager. Whether they decide to keep me is up to them.

"I don't think about it, honestly. That's why I am just trying to have fun with this and enjoy it. There is nothing intimidating about it to me."

"I'm not putting any pressure on myself to win games than for any other reason than that is what I have always done," Mackanin continued. "I manage games to win, and I do what I think is the right thing to do to win games. If somebody thinks that I've done a good job, great. If they don't, then that's somebody's opinion."

Mackanin is known for his quick wit and candid demeanor. It's not surprising that he is handling his first shot at a big-league managerial post with a somewhat relaxed approach.

"Whether or not I'll ever do this again, I don't know," said Mackanin. "But while I've got the chance, I'm going to have fun with it. I'm not going to feel any pressure. I'm going to play the role, be the big-league manager, enjoy it and do what I know how to do."

Gonzalez eyes closer role: Mackanin certainly isn't the only person in a Pirates uniform who is auditioning for a job. Besides Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Zach Duke and Jose Castillo, the young Bucs don't have many locks to be regular contributors in 2006.

Perhaps the most interesting competition of next spring has already begun. Veteran Jose Mesa is out as the closer. Southpaw Mike Gonzalez and right-hander Salomon Torres are both fighting to fill the vacancy.

A case could easily be made for both pitchers. Gonzalez has made seven consecutive scoreless appearances. Torres has allowed two runs in his last 23 outings and he leads all NL relief pitchers with 86 1/3 innings pitched.

"I think both guys are capable," said Mackanin.

Because the Pirates haven't had many save opportunities in the last 10 days, it's tough to gauge which closer candidate has taken an early lead in the competition. The duo's only save came when Gonzalez bailed Torres out of a ninth-inning jam last Wednesday.

"Gonzalez doesn't have the command, right now, that we'd like to see but he certainly has the stuff. But if he does make good pitches he can definitely be an effective closer. Torres has the stuff also. But something changes with these guys in the ninth inning."

The healthy competition between the two friends has spilled over from the field into the clubhouse.

"We've been teasing each other the whole time," said Gonzalez. "He's been on me since the get go. That's Solly and I like that. I like the competition he brings. He's been saying the right words to get me going."

Big growing pains: Brad Eldred's transition from Double-A to the big leagues this season has been wrought with expected inconsistency.

The slugger's power potential has been obvious, as evidenced by his nine home runs in 154 at-bats. But he's also shown a propensity to chase off-speed pitches out of the zone (60 strikeouts).

"He's got to find a way to lay off of the pitches that he can't hit," said Mackanin, who would like Eldred to move closer to the plate and focus on just one side of the strike zone.

Mackanin would also like to see Eldred shore up his defense at first base during his upcoming stops in the Arizona Fall League and winter league.

"You're not going to win unless you have guys who can play both ways," said Mackanin.

"Offense can get you into the big leagues. Defense can run you out."

Restovich gets rare start: Outfielder Restovich was in the starting lineup Tuesday for just the 17th time since joining the team on a May 11, and the first time since Aug. 22.

"It was a suggestion to me," said Mackanin of the decision to start Restovich in left field and move Bay to center field.

"I think he's got potential. But when you don't play and then you get an opportunity every two weeks, I can't imagine anybody really looking good. ... I think if he played on a regular basis you'd see a better player."

Restovich has hit .313 (5-for-16) in his last five starts. He's gone 3-for-21 as a pinch-hitter.

On deck: The Pirates and Astros will continue their four-game series Wednesday night at PNC Park. Houston native Kip Wells (7-16, 4.92 ERA) will take the hill for the Bucs against Astros All-Star Roy Oswalt (17-12, 2.89 ERA).

Ed Eagle is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.