Ian Snell found one good way to escape the "negativity:" Strike 'em all out.
In a superb return to Class AAA Indianapolis yesterday, he fanned 17 batters over seven innings, including his first 13 outs of a 2-1 victory against visiting Toledo.
Snell opened with a walk before the 13 consecutive strikeouts. He finished with a line of one unearned run, two hits and the walk, throwing 70 of 108 pitches for strikes.
This came four days after requesting a demotion from the Pirates -- one that management already had been discussing -- because of what he described as "too much negativity" in Pittsburgh.
"The guys made me feel welcome here," Snell said yesterday. "It was just fun to see this relaxed, fun atmosphere. Nothing against the guys up there, you know. They work hard. I just have a lot of thoughts going through my head, and I wanted to get my thoughts together. I felt awesome, and they made me feel awesome."
He credited catcher Erik Kratz, whom he got to know during spring training.
"Kratz did a tremendous job of setting up. You know, he didn't set up too early where they can see where I'm going. He mixed the pitches real well."
Major League Baseball's record for consecutive strikeouts is 10, set by Tom Seaver April 22, 1970.
Snell's total of 17 set a Victory Field record. Steve Parris had 16 April 28, 1998.
General manager Neal Huntington conceded, with typical candor, that the Pirates erred in signing Snell to a multiyear contract extension in March of last year.
"As we stand here today, it certainly feels like a mistake on our part," Huntington said yesterday. "On paper, you had a sub-4.00 ERA, a 200-inning starter, we didn't guarantee a fourth or fifth year, and we got a year of free agency. On paper, removing the human element, it made all the sense in the world."
The extension, worked out between Huntington and Snell's agent, Joe Sroba, guaranteed Snell $8.6 million, including $3 million this year, $4.2 million next year and club options for 2011 and 2012 that now have virtually no chance of being exercised.
"It has to be the right contract, the right player, the right time," Huntington said. "We had the right contract, the right time, but you could argue very easily that we missed on the player. When I came here, I was determined to learn from mistakes I'd seen elsewhere, where teams don't take advantage of knowledge of their own players. At the time, we felt it would be a minimal risk. It's certainly not a $50 million mistake. It's not a $20 million mistake. Standing here today, it still feels like a mistake."
Huntington acknowledged, too, that he had been trying to trade Snell for "several months" but that he sought a legitimate baseball return "and not just a salary dump." That approach, given the latest development, is sure to soften.
"Our focus now is to salvage something from this situation," Huntington said, "whether that's a trade, or Ian comes back -- maybe that's in the bullpen -- we'll see."
• Catcher Ryan Doumit's tentative target for a return -- the first set by the Pirates -- is July 17, first game after the All-Star break, according to Huntington.
• Part of what had slowed Paul Maholm in recent starts, though he elected not to complain publicly, was a mildly strained groin.
• Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates' top prospect, exited Class AA Altoona's game after two plate appearances last night because of minor soreness in a knee. He is day to day.
• Huntington described the Pirates as "very close" to signing third-round draft pick Evan Chambers, a center fielder, and fifth-rounder Nate Baker, a pitcher. Most of the rest of the top 10 will be "tough," he said.
• Update on two injured pitchers in Bradenton, Fla.: Tyler Yates will resume throwing today. Phil Dumatrait threw a side session Saturday and will have another of 50 pitches tomorrow. There is no timetable for either to begin a rehabilitation assignment.