CINCINNATI -- This was the place where Phil Dumatrait's career was to have been buried.
The place where, in his final appearance as a Cincinnati pitcher Sept. 9, 2007, he tied a Major League Baseball record by coughing up home runs to the first three Milwaukee batters he faced, he was booed off the field after failing to retire the next two and, a month later, he was released.
Not just from the Reds' 25-man roster.
From their organizational roster.
That must have been some serious weight he carried to the mound last night at Great American Ball Park. And, as a result, it must have been quite the burden lifted when he sizzled through seven innings -- one unearned run, two singles and nine strikeouts -- in the Pirates' 7-2 rout.
- Box scores
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: Pitching:LHP Zach Duke (2-3, 4.55) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (5-1, 3.36).
- Key matchup: Just about all of the Pirates' regulars have struggled with Wellemeyer. Adam LaRoche is 2 for 12, Freddy Sanchez 2 for 11, Jason Bay 2 for 10, Xavier Nady 2 for 9 ... in fact, no one on the current roster has more than two career hits off him.
- Of note: Who leads the Cardinals in home runs? Not Albert Pujols. Try Ryan Ludwick, whose 13 rank seventh in the National League. That includes five in his past nine starts.
"I was definitely looking forward to it. I can tell you that," Dumatrait said. "Things didn't go as planned here last year. To have this chance ... yeah, this felt good. It really did."
It certainly looked good to manager John Russell, desperate for a quality start after short outings by Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny in the two losses that opened this three-game set.
"Nice to see," Russell said, smiling. "Phil did a great job. He commanded the strike zone, changed speeds, and he did it from the first pitch. Give him credit. It's something our whole team needed."
The Pirates had much else to like, notably chasing Aaron Harang, one of the National League's elite pitchers, after just four innings. They took a 6-1 lead before his exit on six doubles and a two-run home run by Jason Bay in the fourth.
It was Harang's shortest outing of the season, which might have had something to do with pitching four emergency innings Sunday in an 18-inning marathon at San Diego. He looked out of sorts and out of control, with even his patented pinpoint fastball failing him.
"He left some balls over the plate, and that's not something you usually see from him," Russell said. "But our guys had a plan to be aggressive early in counts, and we were. We were taking some good swings."
Even there, though, the Pirates' hitters were crediting Dumatrait for feeling comfortable.
"When you get that starting pitching, then some timely hits, that's everyone's formula for success," Bay said. "You need both, and Phil was great."
Such an assessment of Dumatrait would have seemed unthinkable last summer, when he made six calamitous starts for the Reds: 0-4 with a 15.00 ERA.
And yet, from the time Pirates general manager Neal Huntington claimed him off waivers in late October, there was a palpable sense from front-office types that he would be a pivotal part of the team's future, even though he was a 26-year-old rookie, even though he had major elbow surgery early in his career, even though his results in spring training were nothing special.
Asked last night about that confidence the Pirates showed, Dumatrait paused before answering.
"It means a lot that they believed in me," he said. "I had a good time while I was in Cincinnati, but it didn't really seem like they believed in me, you know? To come to an organization that does ... that definitely makes a difference. It helps you believe in yourself."
"I've been like this ever since spring training. I'm confident. I'm throwing strikes, being aggressive and just pitching like I always knew I could."
Dumatrait's overall numbers remain ordinary: 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA. But, in his six starts, he is 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA and, most important, the team is 5-1 in those games.
The reason for his revival, those in management say, is that he added a changeup in the spring and became less predictable.
"That pitch has made him a legitimate major league starting pitcher," Huntington said.
"It's taken a lot of pressure off his slider and his other pitches," Russell said. "He's turned into a guy who can use all his pitches down in the zone. Honestly, nothing about him has surprised me, except that I'm really impressed with how quickly that changeup has come along."
The unearned run charged to Dumatrait came in the first inning when Freddy Sanchez's double-play relay sailed into the camera well and allowed a runner to score from second. After that, Dumatrait's next 21 batters mustered one single and two walks.
Dusty Baker was not Cincinnati's manager during Dumatrait's time here -- Pete Mackanin was -- but he saw enough last night to debunk some of what he had heard.
"Our reports had him as having good stuff and struggling to get it over the plate," Baker said. "Well, that young man had great stuff, and he was putting it where he wanted to. My hat's off."
Other offensive highlights: Bay's 13th home run tied him for the team lead with Nate McLouth. Xavier Nady hit his ninth, off Jeremy Affeldt, in the fifth. And Jason Michaels had two of those six doubles that were the most by the Pirates in two years.
Shortstop Jack Wilson left after the sixth because of tightness in the left calf that kept him out six weeks, but Russell dismissed it as nothing serious.
If Zach Duke wins tonight in St. Louis, it will mark only the fourth time all season that the Pirates' starters recorded victories in consecutive games.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published May 30, 2008 4:00 AM