Pirates' offense falters vs. nine-loss pitcher

Chipper's pinch-hit bloop single in eighth gives Atlanta sweep

ATLANTA -- No matter how you do the math, it will not work. Six Pirates baserunners had no chance of equaling five Atlanta Braves runs. It simply does not compute.

True, this 5-2 loss -- the Pirates' fifth in a row, sixth in seven games on this road trip and ninth in the past 11 games -- was tied heading into the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday afternoon. But the Pirates would not have creeped that close were it not for Jeff Clement's home run to center.


Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (0-3, 5.11) vs. RHP Randy Wells (3-3, 4.79)

Key matchup: The Pirates' recently quiet bats vs. Wells, who pitched Friday but did not record an out. He allowed five runs on six hits while facing six batters. The Pirates chased him on seven runs in two innings May 6 at Wrigley Field.

Of note: Tom Gorzelanny, 2-5 despite a 3.66 ERA, has been moved from the Cubs' rotation to the bullpen to make room for Carlos Zambrano.

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One swing, two runs, tie score.

One swing, though, is not enough.

"Obviously," began manager John Russell, whose hitters had 18 at-bats all series with teammates at second or third, "we're not swinging the bats. We're not scoring enough runs. We're putting a lot of pressure on our pitching staff. That's got to change."

Added Clement: "As a group, everybody's probably pressing a little bit just because we haven't been putting a lot of runs on the board consistently. We believe in ourselves. We believe we can score runs. It's not happening right now. The easiest way to turn that around is to relax. But that's easier said than done, too."

Russell certainly is not sitting on one lineup. Sunday marked his 43rd different card in 51 games.

There was Garrett Jones playing for the first time this season in left field. As a left fielder last season, he batted .323 with a half-dozen homers. There was Aki Iwamura in the No. 8 hole from which he batted .300 for Tampa Bay last season. And there was Delwyn Young in right field. As a right fielder, Young had hit .333 this season.

Then, Young put on a defensive display with two diving catches and another critical, threat-squelching catch.

Still, nothing. One swing, two runs.

Until Clement came along in a 2-2 seventh inning, the Pirates collected a scant three hits off an Atlanta starter, Kenshin Kawakami, who lost nine consecutive decisions and had not won at Turner Field for more than a calendar year. They collected two walks. Toss in Clement's clout, and that's six baserunners in 32 plate appearances, for a .187 on-base percentage. More numbers?

Entering Sunday, they were the second-worst team in the majors in runs scored. They were third worst in total bases, fourth worst in walks, fifth worst in home runs and batting average.

This road trip alone, the Pirates batted .152 with runners in scoring position. They lost five of six games on this road trip while averaging just six men left on base per game.

Add up the numbers, and you got one deep offensive funk.

"Hopefully, we can get it going here soon," said starter Paul Maholm, who wriggled free from bases-loaded jams in consecutive innings and exited with a 2-0 deficit ("he pulled a Houdini," Russell noted). Continued Maholm, "Right now, it's frustrating. And we're looking forward to getting home."

"It would be nice to jump out and be able to score some runs early. It would be nice to go through a game without every pitch meaning something or every situation," Russell said. "You got to make your own destiny sometimes."

An optimist might consider that the game's destiny hinged on the Braves' eighth, when Joel Hanrahan entered a second inning of relief work for the first time in the regular season. After a 1-2-3 seventh, he walked Nate McLouth and pinch-batter Brian McCann before facing, with two out, pinch-batter Chipper Jones. Jones blooped a run-scoring single into short left field, where shortstop Ronny Cedeno just missed catching the fly ball. How close?

"Six, seven inches," Russell estimated.

"A couple," Cedeno offered.

"It's a game of inches, right? Or is that football?" Hanrahan said. "What are you going to do? If I get Chipper to hit that ball 10 times, I'd be happy. It's a situation where you can't really get mad. I'm hacked I walked a guy [McLouth] and let him steal. Both walks. But that [bloop] is baseball right there."

Javier Lopez gave up a Jason Heyward triple that scored Jones, but the damage was done.

The final nine batters were set down in order by the Braves' bullpen.

"It's what we've been saying for a couple of weeks now," Russell said. "Unfortunately, we haven't found that groove to where we can start scoring runs. Until we do, like I said, we're putting a lot of heat on our pitching staff."

Chuck Finder: cfinder@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog . First Published May 31, 2010 4:00 AM


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