For inning after extra inning, Kris Johnson pitched shutout baseball in his major league debut.
His offense made his efforts in vain.
The Pirates offense fell woefully flat over a 13-inning stretch of a 4-2, 16-inning loss Sunday to the Diamondbacks, spoiling Johnson's debut and extending the team's recent stretch of disappointing play.
After scoring two runs in the first three innings, the Pirates (72-51) managed just six hits in the final 13 at PNC Park as the Diamondbacks (64-58) scored their 36th comeback win of the season.
"We had balls to hit," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We weren't able to hit them. I think sometimes we got out of ourselves with some big swings. Maybe you take one and try and jump a ball and drive it in the gap. Then after that, you need to put your foot down, battle and make contact."
It was the Pirates' longest game of the season, by innings, and their third extra-innings loss in the past week. They have lost seven of their past nine.
First baseman Garrett Jones, who entered the game in the ninth and went 0 for 3, said the Diamondbacks made good pitches but the Pirates were too aggressive at the plate.
"You want to get that big hit to win the ballgame," he said. "Sometimes you try a little harder and usually when you try harder, you get less effect."
He said the Pirates could learn a lesson from the way the Diamondbacks won the game, their MLB-best 27th victory of the year after their final inning at the plate.
A single, a walk and a groundout put runners on second and third with two outs in the 16th and gave the Diamondbacks a better offensive chance than the Pirates had in all the extra innings. Adam Eaton hit a two-run double with a low-flying line drive that just grazed Andrew McCutchen's glove as the center fielder slid to try to rob a hit.
"I wish I could have done a little bit more, maybe make a little better pitch at the end of that inning," said Johnson, who allowed two earned runs on five hits in six innings of relief. "Maybe he doesn't score the two runs."
Johnson, whom the Pirates activated earlier in the afternoon because of the high volume of innings the relievers have carried recently, entered the game in the 11th and proceeded to shut down the Diamondbacks offense. He struck out five and pitched five consecutive scoreless innings leading into the 16th.
"To go out there and give us that kind of length when we absolutely had to have it, to throw up the zeros that he threw up ... a fantastic job by Kris," Hurdle said.
It was a big step in a long career turnaround for Johnson, 28, a former first-round draft pick who was released by the Red Sox in 2011 and spent the rest of the season pitching in the Independent League. The Pirates signed Johnson to minor league deals in 2012 and 2013.
"I went to independent ball and found that fun in the game again," Johnson said. "Something clicked, and the Pirates took a flier on me. I just want to repay them for taking a flier on me."
He almost earned his first big league win. Instead, he was saddled with a loss.
The Pirates now lead the St. Louis Cardinals by one game for first place in the National League Central Division.
They squandered an opportunity to put the game away in the eighth. After Starling Marte led off the inning with a bunt single, the Pirates quickly wasted three outs.
Jordy Mercer's sacrifice bunt moved Marte to second. After Andrew McCutchen intentionally walked, Russell Martin struck out and Marte was caught stealing to end the inning.
The Pirates also had an opportunity in the ninth, with runners on first and second, but pinch-hitter Tony Sanchez watched strikes one, two and three zip by to end the inning.
While the offensive difficulties spoiled Johnson's debut, they also soured a strong start from Charlie Morton, who allowed two earned runs on seven hits in seven innings, the second-longest outing for a Pirates starter since Aug. 7. He struck out six and walked three on 97 pitches, 63 of them strikes.
"There was progress," Morton said. "I just feel better. I've had more physical challenges than anything else."
He cruised through the first five innings when he threw 61 pitches, allowed three hits, struck out five and faced three over the minimum.
He gave up two runs in the sixth as the Diamondbacks tied the score.
Morton's counterpart, Wade Miley, allowed two earned runs on seven hits in eight innings. He walked two and struck out eight.
The Pirates tagged Miley for those two earned runs early with RBI doubles from Martin in the first and Mercer in the third.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 18, 2013 10:30 PM