Every once in a while over the past month, the ball would get away from reliever Joel Hanrahan.
The errant pitches, however, were not too troubling. Since blowing a save May 8, the Pirates closer converted five saves in six outings without allowing a run. But the pitches usually went in the same place: down and away to right-handed batters, which was a byproduct, Hanrahan said, of the unfinished healing process for his sore right hamstring.
"I kind of pitched with a bum leg for about a month there," he said. "It was something that I was kind of dealing with, but it wasn't going to stop me from going out on the field. I feel like I've got two healthy legs [now], so it definitely makes a big difference."
- Game: Pirates vs. Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
- Probable pitchers: RHP Ryan Dempster (0-2, 2.28) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (2-2, 4.78).
- Key matchup: Dempster vs. Casey McGehee, 10 for 27 with two doubles, a triple and a home run against him in his career.
- Hidden stat: The Cubs have lost six of Dempster's seven starts.
Hanrahan has allowed one hit over his past three outings and earned the save in each, striking out four in three innings. His ERA, 4.66 after the blown save, has fallen to 2.87 entering the game tonight against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.
"I have been feeling good," he said. "I've been getting a little more consistent work."
Hanrahan first tweaked his right hamstring in the leg he pushes off the mound with in an April 15 game at San Francisco. He did not pitch the next five days. In the games after his return, he recorded five saves but allowed three runs and four walks in 62/3 innings.
Because the leg still bothered him, he attempted to compensate with his upper body.
"I wasn't pushing off as aggressively, so I was trying to do more with my arm and speed my arm up and try to get the velocity with that, instead of using my fluid mechanics with my legs and everything," he said. "It was probably a sense of overthrowing, trying to do a little too much up there."
Hanrahan and rehabilitation coordinator Erwin Valencia worked often on the hamstring, but eventually he felt he needed to give the muscle a kick in the rear rather than coddle it.
"I finally we got to a point where, you know, I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I need to start running again instead of doing the bike. You try to get some strength in there. I feel like it's not hurting, but I need to strengthen that muscle and strengthen the muscle around it instead of sitting there babying it for the rest of the year."
The path back to where Hanrahan is now -- striking out one and getting two ground-ball outs for a save Monday being the latest step -- wasn't always smooth. He hit a batter and allowed a double May 9 against the Washington Nationals and put two men on in the ninth May 17, again against the Nationals.
"He was all over the joint in one of those outings," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was throwing the ball off the backstop."
Hurdle mentioned that visits to the mound from pitching coach Ray Searage helped -- "That's pretty much why he comes out there, to get me out of whatever zone I'm in and get me in the right zone," Hanrahan said -- and Hanrahan's outings have improved recently.
"He's gotten to a much better place his last couple times out," Hurdle said. "Much more pitch efficient, good velocity, good finish to his pitches and location."
Hanrahan said he threw more fastballs in recent outings and has not used either of his sliders, the harder one he incorporated this season or the slower one he has used in the past, as often.
"I'm kind of getting back into the swing of things that I had last year, where it's mostly fastballs and then, if I get ahead of you or whatnot, I can flip a breaking ball in there," he said. "All my pitches are feeling pretty good."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 25, 2012 4:00 AM