SAN FRANCISCO -- It initially strayed way off script, but it held true at the end.
The Pirates had to change starting pitchers when Ross Ohlendorf came up with back spasms, made an emergency recall of Brian Burres from the depths of their Class AAA depth chart, watched their early outfield alignment go awry and ... lost to the San Francisco Giants, 9-3, Monday night at AT&T Park.
That part of the script held true, given that the Pirates, now 3-4, have been outscored, 43-12, in those four losses.
This held true, too: Except for Zach Duke and the back of the bullpen, the pitching has been abysmal, with a team ERA of 7.82 and 31 walks in 61 innings. Only twice has the starter lasted six innings.
How imperative is it to get some quality starts soon?
Manager John Russell laughed softly at the question.
"It's pretty imperative," he replied. "That's three of the last four games where we've really taxed the bullpen. We need to settle down and start being more consistent."
Burres, a 29-year-old left-hander, was the fifth starter at Class AAA Indianapolis, not officially added to the rotation until the past week. He had a 6.08 ERA in parts of four seasons in Major League Baseball, a 14.73 ERA this spring in Bradenton.
• Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 10:15 p.m., AT&T Park, San Francisco.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (0-1, 6.00) vs. RHP Matt Cain (0-0, 4.05).
• Key matchup: None of the Pirates' regulars has fared well vs. Cain: Andy LaRoche is 3 for 13 for a .231 average, and every other player with five or more at-bats against Cain is at less than .200.
• Of note: The only member of the Pirates to hit a ball into McCovey Cove -- or any body of water outside a stadium -- was Adam LaRoche, two years ago off Tim Lincecum.
This looked little different, as he was charged with six runs and eight hits over four innings, with two walks and two plunkings of Aubrey Huff.
"I wasn't hitting my spots when I needed to," Burres said.
Clearly, Burres would not have been management's top choice, but a strange set of circumstances led to it: Under MLB rules, no 40-man roster player can be recalled until Wednesday without another being placed on the disabled list, and the Pirates hope Ohlendorf can return for his next turn. Moreover, Monday was Burres' turn to pitch in Indianapolis.
Was there another answer?
Management felt Jeff Karstens, part of the Pirates' rotation last year, was not stretched out sufficiently after working in relief all spring, but he pitched four scoreless, two-hit innings Monday night for Indianapolis, needing only 47 pitches.
Karstens, like Burres, was not on the 40-man and was eligible for the recall.
Five of Burres' first six batters reached, and San Francisco leaped to a 3-0 lead, but he might not have been wholly responsible: Russell and his staff tried a shift of all three outfielders toward right, even against right-handed batters, and the Giants dropped their first two hits into left before the shift was removed.
Some of that can be blamed on Burres, as he is supposed to pitch to spots that match the defense, and he missed badly. But it also might have been asking a bit much of a fresh recall to add to the burden.
"You try to take away the bigger part of the ballpark," Russell said of the shift. "Those balls are hit right down the left-field line, and they're going to be doubles, anyway."
That was true of later San Francisco hits to left, but not the two during the shift in the first: Aaron Rowand's leadoff double and Mark DeRosa's broken-bat, two-run single fell well within Lastings Milledge's good range, had he been in standard position.
For the game, seven fly balls -- only one of them a liner -- were hit to left with no outs recorded by Milledge, through no fault of his own. He simply could not cover the ground to get to them, whether because of foul luck or flawed advance scouting or positioning.
The Pirates pulled within 3-1 on Ronny Cedeno's two-out RBI single in the second.
Cedeno has been the team's most consistent hitter in the early going, with a .375 average and nine hits out of the No. 9 spot, not the ideal place for numbers like that with no one else as high as .300. Aki Iwamura has been steady, too, but the heart of the order could use much more from cleanup man Garrett Jones, 0 for his past 12, and No. 5 Ryan Doumit, 1 for his past 15.
"I'm just kind of rolling over things right now," Jones said. "I need to start having better at-bats, maybe driving the ball the other way."
"Garrett's started to struggle, and Ryan's struggled for a couple games," Russell said. "Overall, offensively, I've been pretty pleased. We've just been playing catch-up, and that's tough."
The game's lowlight: Iwamura inexplicably begged off a popup 20 feet behind him in the sixth, forcing Jones to run the length of right field before arriving too late. Runners were at the corners, and D.J. Carrasco's ensuing wild pitch gave San Francisco a 7-2 lead.
Perhaps the lone highlight: Joel Hanrahan returned after missing most of the spring to a strained elbow and pitched a scoreless seventh inning. He walked two and hit a batter, but he also regularly hit 95 mph on the gun, with one of those pitches blown upstairs past Edgar Renteria to finish it.
"I was more nervous than my debut," Hanrahan said. "It was a little ugly, but I got a zero and got that first one out of the way."
The Pirates' lack of innings from the starters forced Russell to use setup man Brendan Donnelly in the ninth, and he gave up a two-run home run.
Expect more pitching to arrive today, as Burres is sure to be sent back.