Snell's struggles cost Pirates 9-6 loss

Fifth-inning fold vs. Reds has him winless in eight starts

CINCINNATI -- It was difficult to tell who was most frustrated with Ian Snell last night after the Pirates' 9-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

It might have been manager John Russell.

He displayed palpable disappointment -- a rarity for him in public -- that Snell unraveled in the fifth inning by walking three consecutive batters leading up to a sacrifice fly and Adam Dunn's three-run moon shot. That turned a tidy 3-0 lead into a 4-3 deficit and, ultimately, left Snell charged with seven runs and seven walks in five-plus innings.

"I thought he threw well for 4 1/3," Russell said. "Then, he started missing his spots and put the ball over for Dunn. He fell apart, really."

A term such as "fell apart" generally is considered a rough assessment of a starting pitcher, but that is precisely the term Snell used.

So, maybe he was most frustrated.

  • Box score
  • Statistics
  • Standings
  • Today
    • Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
    • TV, Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
    • Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (4-4, 6.31) vs. RHP Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 5.68).
    • Key matchup: Gorzelanny vs. Cincinnati's lefty-laden lineup, which bodes well: He is holding left-handed batters to a .226 average, compared to .282 from the other side. Moreover, he held the Reds to one run and four hits over 6 1/3 innings in a 9-1 victory April 13 at PNC Park.
    • Of note: Nate McLouth has hit safely in all but four of his 25 road games this season, posting a .335 average away from PNC Park.

"I'm not myself right now, not pitching like I should pitch, and it's kind of frustrating," Snell said. "And I know it's frustrating for my teammates. I was going good, and I just fell apart. I can't allow that to happen. I let my teammates down."

Maybe it was those teammates, then.

They had built that 3-0 lead by patiently wearing down Cincinnati's rookie starter, Johnny Cueto, eyeing a bullpen weary from an 18-inning marathon Sunday in San Diego. And it was all going by the plan until ...

"I think Ian was trying to make perfect pitches," catcher Ronny Paulino said. "You can't do that. You just need to throw."

That has been the talking point between Snell and pitching coach Jeff Andrews for weeks now.

How about Andrews?

With Snell, the Pirates' opening-day starter, now at 2-4 with a 5.46 ERA, and the rotation as a whole still bringing up the rear in Major League Baseball at 11-22 with a 5.66 ERA, surely there can be no one more frustrated.

"The thing we've been preaching with the starting pitching is not beating yourself," Andrews said. "It's hard enough to win without giving the other team advantages they haven't earned. And that's where it got tonight. Ian had that game. He was in a nice groove, had a nice lead, had good stuff, was getting swings and misses ... and he just didn't step on the gas. He didn't take the ball and say, 'OK, this is my game. Hey, guys, I've got it.' "

If that sounds more mental than mechanical, consider how this one "fell apart" ...

Snell took his 3-0 lead into the fifth and promptly got Corey Patterson to pop up. Then, he issued consecutive walks -- each on just five pitches -- to Jerry Hairston, Jay Bruce and Ken Griffey Jr. to load the bases.

Andrews visited the mound with a simple message for how to face Brandon Phillips.

"Just get the guy out," Andrews recalled saying.

Which he did. It was a sacrifice fly. No big deal.

But his 1-0 fastball -- 93 mph but right over the meat of the plate -- was launched by the behemoth Dunn to the top of the steep seating section beyond right field for his 14th home run, 10th in the past 20 games.

Total distance: 454 feet.

Often, when Snell's pitching goes awry, he cites an event or comment or gesture that angered him, sometimes in a newspaper, sometimes from the opposing dugout, sometimes real, sometimes manufactured.

Any trigger this time?

"I'm just going to keep that to myself," Snell said. "I'll just let it stay with me. I don't want people out there to think I'm trying to make excuses. And I don't need people to tell me I'm terrible, either. They can keep that to themselves."

Andrews had no clearer explanation.

"I don't know the reason that's in his mind or what happened. I just know that three guys in a row got walks."

Snell opened the season 2-0 through three starts but is winless in eight since April 12. There have been positives, notably his fastball regaining life since Andrews simplified his repertoire by eliminating the sinker, but those have been more than offset by the lack of command and consistency: Only 59 of 106 pitches last night were strikes.

"I'm not really worried about that anymore," Snell said of the fastball. "I need to get back on track and, if I don't, I don't know what's going to happen."

Snell went back out for the sixth and promptly loaded the bases on two hits and a walk, when Russell replaced him with Damaso Marte to try to protect the one-run lead. Three hits and a walk later, it was 8-3.

The Pirates' other lowlight: They stranded 12 runners, including nine while still leading or within a run.

"We had opportunities and couldn't come up with the big hit," Russell said. "But you're not going to win many games when you give up eight runs in the fifth and sixth innings."

The lone highlights: Adam LaRoche hit his seventh home run, a two-run shot in the ninth inning, and had three RBIs. Paulino finally hit his first, also in the ninth. And Jack Wilson, back for the first time since April 3, went 3 for 5.

On the other side, all the buzz was about Bruce, Cincinnati's 21-year-old outfielder rated by some as the best prospect in baseball and making his major league debut. He did not disappoint, reaching base all five times up with an RBI double off Marino Salas in the seventh, two prior singles and two walks.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at . First Published May 28, 2008 4:00 AM


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