Mike Crotta's frustration Sunday rested squarely with one person.
Crotta's inability to throw strikes turned a 5-4 Pirates' lead in the seventh inning into a 6-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
A rookie with the sinker, Crotta had been ultra-effective before entering the game with a one-run lead and two outs and a runner on first in the seventh.
Twenty-one pitches later -- just seven of those strikes -- Crotta did not get an out. He allowed the tying run to score on a single, permitted another hit and walked three batters, including one with the bases loaded for what proved to be the winning run.
"Just didn't execute my pitches," Crotta said. "My job is to come in and get outs. You can't get outs when you walk people."
That's why the performance was so frustrating to Crotta, 26. He made the team out of spring training due, in large part, to his command with that sometimes-devastating sinker and the ground balls it produces.
"There are eight guys out there," Crotta said, alluding to his fielders. "If they put it in play, chances are they will hit it at somebody. When you walk somebody, there's nothing anyone can do to help you."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who watched his team fight back from a 4-0 deficit, saw what everyone else did ... an atypical performance from Crotta. In his four previous appearances, Crotta did not allow a walk while giving up just two hits and striking out two.
"He has had to do a lot of growing up in 10 days," Hurdle said. "I know he didn't see that coming. No one who has followed our club saw that coming."
Maybe no one saw the Pirates battling back into the game after the first inning.
The Rockies jumped on starter James McDonald for four runs in the first. He gave up an RBI single to Seth Smith then a three-run home run to Jose Lopez, while throwing 38 pitches.
From there, the Pirates scrapped back to take the lead. They got a run in the second on a Ronny Cedeno sacrifice fly then constructed a big third inning.
In the third, Andrew McCutchen had an RBI single and Lyle Overbay drove in two runs with a double to right center.
In the fourth, the Pirates went ahead, 5-4, on a Neil Walker groundout that scored McDonald.
But the inability of the bullpen, still in a depleted state from Friday night's 14-inning game, to hold the lead was the difference.
The defeat kept the Pirates from splitting the four-game series with the Rockies but there was a positive.
The way McDonald rebounded after the four-run first was a good sign.
McDonald, who missed much of spring training with a left side injury and lasted just 42/3 innings in his first start last week in St. Louis, allowed just three hits after the first inning. He went 62/3 innings, throwing 103 pitches -- numbers no one probably envisioned he would reach after the rocky beginning.
So, what happened after McDonald spotted the Rockies four runs?
"Just kind of settled down," he said. "Kind of had a talk with myself to just say 'You need to really pick it up and keep your team in the game.'"
He also had a talk with catcher Ryan Doumit.
It was the first time McDonald, who was picked up at the trade deadline from the Dodgers last season, had worked with Doumit.
What did Doumit say to McDonald?
"Told him to pound that two-seam fastball, forget the four-seamer," Doumit said, referring to a sinker over the standard fastball. "He has really good downward action on [the two-seam fastball] and it makes it tough to put it in the air."
McDonald knew what to do with the advice.
"Got to listen to what your catcher tells you," he said. "He's the guy in there seeing what those pitches are doing. Once I made that adjustment after Doumit told me, I was more confident."
More confident and more effective. In the first inning, the Rockies had a home run, two flyouts and two line drive singles. After the first, McDonald got eight outs on ground balls, forced two ground-ball double plays and struck out two when batters missed that sinker.
"A huge step forward," Hurdle said of McDonald. "He did an outstanding job after the first inning."
Colin Dunlap: email@example.com First Published April 11, 2011 4:00 AM