CINCINNATI -- The message was unmistakable.
There was Tom Gorzelanny, looking dazed and disheveled on the mound two-thirds of the way through a most miserable first inning. A half-dozen runs already had crossed, and a home run had just cleared the fence.
Still, the other team's pitcher was due up, bases were empty, and all he needed was one more out for a chance to regroup.
His manager would not let him have it.
John Russell, in his most visible display of dissatisfaction with what has been the worst starting pitching in Major League Baseball, strode onto the field and took the ball from Gorzelanny, too late even at that early stage to change the course of the Pirates' 9-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds last night at Great American Ball Park.
No words were exchanged, and there most assuredly was no pat on the back.
But neither, befitting Russell's demeanor, was there any blistering critique afterward.
- Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Phil Dumatrait (1-2, 4.05) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (2-6, 3.32).
- Key matchup: Everyone vs. the perennially underappreciated Harang. Do not be deceived by his record: He has held opponents to three or fewer runs in nine of his 12 starts, and his 72 strikeouts rank third in the National League.
- Of note: The Pirates are 4-1 when Dumatrait starts a game, though his individual numbers -- 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA -- are not as impressive.
"Just one of those starts, out of 30-something, that aren't going to work," he said. "Hopefully, he'll put it behind him and won't worry about it anymore."
And the explanation for the quick hook?
"It was time," he said.
It is safe to say Gorzelanny was a bit harsher on himself than that, beginning when asked if he could heed Russell's advice and simply discard this one.
"I don't think I can be like that," Gorzelanny said. "For as long as I can remember, I've taken these badly. Actually, I say that, but I've never done this before. ... I don't know what to say. ...I can't believe this. This is embarrassing. I let down my teammates, let down the bullpen ... it's tough."
Pitching coach Jeff Andrews offered a similar reply to the discarding question.
"No," he said. "Too many of these."
That Russell's action took place 24 hours after Ian Snell had another poor start probably was no coincidence.
Some had expected the Pirates' rotation to anchor the team, and that has proven true in an unintended way: The weight of the starters' work -- now a combined 11-23 with a 5.83 ERA -- has taken a good offense and good bullpen and dragged them down into the Central Division cellar, as the Reds overtook them on this night.
Still, there was no start to compare to this one ...
In failing to last a full inning for the first time in his career, Gorzelanny was charged with six runs on two walks, a double, two singles and David Ross' two-run liner into the center-field seats that prompted Russell's hook.
The command was off: Twenty of his 38 pitches were balls, and he fell behind to seven of his eight batters.
His presence was off, too: He virtually ignored baserunners in allowing three steals, including a double-steal, never giving catcher Ronny Paulino a chance.
In all, it marked the third time in Gorzelanny's 10 starts that he failed to achieve three innings, it was the fourth time he gave up six or more runs, and it raised his season ERA to 7.38, highest in the majors among qualified starters.
There had been some small cause for optimism after Gorzelanny's most recent outing last Thursday, when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to two runs over five-plus innings, even if there were eight hits in there.
"That's the thing," Gorzelanny said. "I have one good start, one bad one. It's inconsistent. Out here, I was throwing strikes out in the bullpen and, just like I flipped a switch, I wasn't doing it in the game. I don't know why."
Asked to pinpoint the cause, he replied, "I can't."
He was asked about his health, given that he has had issues with his shoulder and back at different points this year.
"No. Shoulder's fine. Back's fine. I just need to figure it out."
He shook his head.
"I will get over this. I will move on. Tomorrow's another day, and the next start's another start."
As often happens when a starter fails, the rest of the team followed suit: The Pirates finished with only three hits, and Cincinnati also appeared to put the game into cruise-control.
Well, not entirely: Jay Bruce, the Reds' wunderkind prospect, reached base three more times -- double and two walks -- after reaching base all five times up in his major league debut Tuesday.
There was no immediate word on whether he kept the ball from his first out, a crushed lineout to center in the second inning.
Franquelis Osoria followed Gorzelanny with 4 1/3 innings of one-run relief.
"A real staff-saver there," Russell said. "Can't imagine what it would be like if Franky didn't bail us out like that."
The Reds go for the sweep tonight.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com. First Published May 29, 2008 3:15 AM