Collier: Is pitching a lost cause for Pirates?

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Among the 1,000-or-so things ailing the Pirates as they tear the house apart looking for that lost wild-card invitation -- the one with the engraved date of exactly one month from today -- is this ever-expanding injury list.

They couldn't complete one inning Tuesday night without Travis Snider retiring backstage with a discomforted hamstring, which somehow could not withstand the rigors of rounding second and heading for third.

That he still managed to hobble home on Andrew McCutchen's double was the temporarily tangible upside of what's becoming a damaging trend.

The offense has certainly felt the impact of Starling Marte's tweaked oblique, to say nothing of a back injury to Neil Walker that no one expected on Aug. 27 would keep him out of the lineup for most of two weeks, except that it will.

The good news is that Walker has been cleared for "baseball activities," and you'd expect that once the balance of the roster acquires some similar clearance, wins will come at a somewhat brisker pace.

But there's a larger point at work currently.

The baseball activity at which the Pirates have been poorest at executing, not just in the fresh memory but over the past 25 games, is pitching, which, depending on which orthodoxy you observe, is 50 percent of the game, or 75 percent of the game, or 90 percent of the game.

In Pittsburgh though, it's a much smaller portion of what has been presented in the past month, and that's the biggest reason for that lost invitation.

Well it's not in the junk drawer! The junk drawer is overflowing with pitching!

Before Wandy Rodriguez took his arrhythmic act to the mound to see if he could keep the Pirates from being the first team to lose back-to-back home games to the Astros all summer long, I asked manager Clint Hurdle if he saw any commonalities in the way his pitchers have gone from very strong to somewhat strong to something no one would even confuse with any synonym of strength.

Is it a fateful dip in the quality of "stuff," a chronic imprecision with "command," a generic is less-than-excusable lack of concentration?

"That's what we've tried to put our fingertip on," Hurdle said. "Actually, during the course of a season you expect a starter to go on hiatus at one or two particular points in time just because of the volume of starts. When you're talking 35 starts there are going to be some soft spots. And what you look for in the soft spots is decreased velocity, whether it's arm fatigue, and when you don't see that you wonder if it's just erosion of location and if it's not that, then, is it focus?

"I can't put my finger on it, but there's a component of this game that is just trust. Trust your skill set. I think as athletes we're wired in that when we go out there and things don't feel the way we expect or if that first at bat isn't what we wanted, then we start to manipulate things to try and recapture that comfort zone.

"Trust is an element that's at work in this game, and sometimes you've got to trust yourself to do what you can do, not trying to pick somebody else up, not trying to be great because sometimes when you're trying to be great you're not even good anymore."

Pirates pitching was darned near great for most of April and May, and perfectly capable through June and July. It was a result of that pitching, more than anything else, that the Pirates ascended to 16 games over. 500 on four occasions through Aug. 8.

But from that point to this, the staff earned run average is 4.79. The August ERA was 4.39. In September, it was 6.84 as of game time last night. No wonder they're 8-17 over the past 25 games. It's a wonder they won eight of 'em. They had to average six runs to do it.

Hurdle sent Rodriguez in search of some stability Tuesday night, the same Rodriguez who had gone 3-9 since June 15, most of that with the Astros. Fortunately for Wandy, the Astros were running out Jordan Lyles, who was 3-10. Lyles has won five games as the youngest starter in the majors. And he's already lost 18.

Kevin Correia (9-8), banished to Hurdle's bullpen early this season but recalled when parts of the rotation started flying off like doomed auto parts, will work the final game of the series tonight against Houston's Fernando Abad (0-2).

That looks like an opportunity to establish some pitching momentum, which is merely critical. As the manager said, you just have to trust that it's a matter of trust.


Gene Collier:


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