SAN DIEGO -- Friday brought a rare blemish to an otherwise scrub-faced Pirates bullpen. Matt Capps allowed a run in the 11th inning of a 4-3 loss Friday night to San Diego, and it was the first such run in the bullpen's previous 11 innings. It also was the first time in the past eight games that Pirates relievers failed to cling to a tie or lead.
And Capps, who walked Padres pinch-batter Chris Burke and David Eckstein before giving up a two-out, two-strike, winning single to former Pirates slugger Brian Giles, still believed long afterward the hit off that fastball was the rarest of chances.
"If I do it 100 more times, I'm going to be successful 99," said Capps, a perfect 5 for 5 in save chances before the Pirates played San Diego late last night at Petco Park.
The previous time the Pirates' bullpen yielded a run while owning the lead or holding onto a tie was against Houston April 16, a 3-3 game until Sean Burnett yielded three runs in the sixth inning of a 6-3 loss.
Since Atlanta roughed up relievers Craig Hansen and Donnie Veal in an 11-1 rout April 19, the bullpen allowed just six hits and a sole run -- by Tyler Yates in a 3-2 victory against Florida Wednesday -- over their next 132/3 innings. In short, they have been more of an early force than some folks predicted.
"Everybody has done a great job," said Capps, rattling off the relievers who preceded him in five scoreless innings of the loss Friday night. "[Jesse] Chavez, he's stepped up and shown everybody he belongs here. Burnett threw two innings, and [John] Grabow's Grabow, and Tyler ..." Capps also spoke highly of relievers who didn't pitch that night, such as rookie Veal and Hansen, who yesterday was put on the disabled list retroactive to April 20 due to shoulder and neck pain lingering since spring training.
"I don't care who it is, they're reliable," added starter Ian Snell, who left the game Friday when it was 3-3 after five innings. "They come in and do their job. Can't say enough about those guys."
The bullpen entered last night ranked fifth in the major leagues and second in the National League with a 3.02 ERA. Remove Hansen -- who was replaced by Evan Meek, promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis -- and Veal from the equation, and the rest of the bullpen had a 2.29 ERA in 351/3 innings.
"Obviously, it was a big question mark coming out of spring training," manager John Russell said. "We challenged the bullpen when we talked when they made the club: It's time to go. And they've really responded well. These guys, they pull together. I think having Grabow, Tyler and Capps down there really solidify the makeup of our bullpen."
Taking the cautious approach, the Pirates plan to monitor Nate McLouth's strained right oblique muscle so he doesn't injure it further and wind up on the disabled list.
"It's something, if you hurt it bad, you might be sitting there with [Ryan] Doumit," the Pirates' catcher out eight to 10 weeks after wrist surgery Thursday, Russell said.
McLouth felt the muscle strain in a batting-practice swing before the game Friday night. McLouth was receiving treatment and starting a rehabilitative exercise regimen, and Russell didn't want to risk further injury by making him available for pinch-batting duty last night, and possibly today, and possibly tomorrow.
McLouth was "a little better" last night, Russell said. "It's still going to be day to day. Hopefully, we caught it early enough. Got to be real careful with this."
• Hansen, whose right-shoulder injury cropped up inexplicably amid spring training, will be shut down temporarily while the medical staff attempts to stop his pain and build up strength in muscles around it.
• Russell welcomed back Meek, a former Rule 5 selection who was the last cut of spring training before he fashioned a 1.04 ERA in six appearances for Indianapolis.