Wandy Rodriguez has identified the issue that plagued him in his past two starts -- a small problem with big consequences.
One pitch that missed its location turned his start Thursday, just like it did in his previous outing. That pitch Thursday against Wil Nieves resulted in a home run that gave the Arizona Diamondbacks the lead and sent the Pirates to a 6-3 loss at PNC Park.
"I don't know what's going on with me," Rodriguez said. "I've lost two games, it's only been one pitch."
With the Pirates leading, 3-2, in the sixth and a man on first with two outs, Rodriguez hung a breaking ball to Nieves, who the Diamondbacks claimed off waivers Monday from the Colorado Rockies. Nieves turned on the high breaking ball and hit his second home run of the season, pushing the Diamondbacks ahead.
"That home run for me is very bad because the pitcher's [spot in the order is] next," Rodriguez said. "I tried to throw a good breaking ball but I missed my spot. He hit the ball pretty well."
Rodriguez allowed a two-run home run on a first-pitch fastball to Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mat Latos in his previous outing, a 3-0 loss Friday at Great American Ball Park.
Rodriguez allowed four runs in six innings, walking two and striking out two. He allowed a first-inning home run to Jason Kubel, one of two Kubel hit in the game.
Rodriguez (7-11) has allowed 10 earned runs and seven walks in 19 innings in the three starts since the Pirates acquired him from the Houston Astros.
The Pirates generally have gotten the better of opponents in the home run category this season. They allowed 102 homers entering the game, the eighth-best mark in the major leagues, and hit 126, which was tied for ninth in the majors.
Aaron Hill doubled in the first before Kubel hit his first home run, giving the Diamondbacks an early 2-0 lead.
The Pirates took the lead in the second, but Diamondbacks starter Joe Saunders shut them down after that.
"He was just able to locate his fastball," Gaby Sanchez, who went 3 for 4, said of Saunders. "He had some good movement on it. I felt like we did hit some balls good."
In the second, the Pirates had three consecutive singles to score their first run, with Michael McKenry driving in Sanchez, who singled to lead off the inning.
"That's really what you want to do when you get up there, is try to get on base, try to get something started," Sanchez said. "When you're up first, you're just trying to get on base and get things rolling.
"We were able to capitalize and get some runs that inning."
After Jordy Mercer drove in Neil Walker with a sacrifice fly, Rodriguez hit a ball that ricocheted off Saunders' foot and was fielded by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Saunders ran to cover first and took the throw, but first-base umpire Brian O'Nora ruled that Saunders' foot was off the bag and Rodriguez was safe.
That kept the inning live for Starling Marte, who singled to right to score McKenry and give the Pirates a 3-2 lead. Rodriguez pitched three scoreless innings after that.
"I tried to hold the score because I know my teammates, we can win the game," Rodriguez said.
After the second, Saunders (6-8) allowed just three more hits. At one point, he retired 14 batters in a row. He gave up three runs, two earned, in seven innings without walking a batter.
Hill singled off Jared Hughes in the seventh before Kubel homered again, his 25th of the season.
Hughes has allowed six earned runs and seven hits in his past three outings, a span of 3 2/3 innings.
"The consistency of the sinker isn't where it was earlier," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You saw him pitch the first two batters [Thursday], very good sinker. ... Then you see the ball that's left up.
"He's a big reason that we are in the position that we are in right now. As we talk through all our guys through this stretch, I'm sure we'll have some conversations in his area as well."
The Pirates remain 15 games over .500 and send James McDonald and A.J. Burnett to the mound in the first two games of their next series against the San Diego Padres, which begins today at PNC Park.