WASHINGTON -- Ian Snell hardly was joking a few days back, when he vowed to "get back to being myself" and throw more heat.
He fired fastball after fastball, an incredible 69 of his 101 pitches.
And, as if determined to show he was not trying to trick anybody, all but five of his 28 batters got one with the first pitch.
Quite a show.
One problem: Those fastballs misfired more often than not, and Snell would be charged with four runs and 10 hits in six-plus innings of the Pirates' 5-2 loss to Washington yesterday at Nationals Park.
All of which left Snell, despite all that heat, a bit cold.
"I came at them with my best, but it's just not going where I want right now," he said. "I don't know if it's my mechanics or what, but my arm feels like it's dragging behind me, and the pitches just aren't going where I want."
Forty percent were balls.
"I just can't find a rhythm," he said. "I'm not lying. It's like a nightmare. I go out and keep the ball down in the zone, it's a ball. I keep it up, and I get smashed."
Snell fanned 10 Florida batters in his second start April 6, showing electric form in a 9-2 rout. In the five starts that followed, though, he fanned a total of 10, prompting him Tuesday in New York to declare he needed to revert to his power-pitching foundation.
The strikeout total yesterday was just two, as his record fell to 2-2 and his ERA rose to 5.09.
"He's still erratic with that fastball, and that's the key," manager John Russell said. "He's missing with it too often, and it's not allowing him to settle in. He's struggling."
- Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (0-2, 4.79) vs. LHP Jonathan Sanchez (2-1, 3.48).
Which makes Snell, really, not much different than the rest of the rotation: The Pirates' starters are a combined 6-13 with a 5.93 ERA that is highest in the National League.
"We're getting some offense," Russell said. "But it's tough to keep asking them to come from behind all the time."
That happened again yesterday.
Washington, seeing 15 fastballs of Snell's first 19 pitches right off the bat, scored twice in the first inning on a hit batsman and three consecutive singles, including RBIs by Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns.
That grew to 3-0 in the fourth on Aaron Boone's solo home run to center, that off a rare Snell slider.
"That pitch isn't working, either," Snell said. "I just can't get it down."
The Nationals' Tim Redding was perfect through three, but the Pirates began to nick away from there and, in the fifth, Adam LaRoche sent a one-ball changeup above the tall wall in right-center for his second home run, his first since April 9.
Otherwise, Redding mostly coasted until getting chased in the seventh by an Xavier Nady single and LaRoche double that put runners at second and third with one out.
A hit to the outfield would have tied it, but Washington summoned Saul Rivera, and he got comebackers out of Jose Bautista and pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz.
"How huge was that?" Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "That was the game right there."
Mientkiewicz, 4 for his past 33, has seen his average dive to .188.
Pressing a little?
"A little," he said. "I just can't get anything to fall for me. I had an 0 for 5 here Friday that was the best 0 for 5 of my career."
Snell's exit came quickly in the bottom half, when Willie Harris doubled, and Felipe Lopez singled him home to hike Washington's lead to 4-1.
John Grabow gave up another on three consecutive hits in the eighth, including Wily Mo Pena's RBI double.
One bright spot was LaRoche's day, especially coming off that exasperating Saturday when he left six runners on base: He went 3 for 4 with two RBIs, including a single in the ninth that followed a Nady double.
"I saw glimmers of Adam coming out of this a couple weeks ago, and he's seeing the ball even better now," Russell said. "There's more confidence with each at-bat."
The Pirates dropped three of four in this series, four of six on the trip. Since popping their heads a game above .500 April 14 in Los Angeles, they have lost 13 of 18 and now are a season-worst seven games under, at 12-19.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published May 5, 2008 4:00 AM