Paulino demoted after Pirates nip Astros, 4-3

Maholm goes eight solid innings; Michaels homers

After beating Houston, 4-3, last night, the Pirates optioned catcher Ronny Paulino to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Today, they'll activate catcher Ryan Doumit (fractured left thumb) from the disabled list, and he'll return to duty as their regular catcher.

"He's very anxious to get back," manager John Russell said. "He's a big part of our team."

Doumit, who caught six innings for Class AA Altoona last night, likely will return as the Pirates' cleanup hitter.

Paulino batted .310 as a rookie in 2006, but his offense and defense tailed off last season. Doumit clearly had won the regular job soon after the season began. The fact that backup catcher Raul Chavez has started seven of the past eight games seemed a clear signal to Paulino that he'd be heading for Indianapolis.

  • Box scores
  • Statistics
  • Standings
  • Today
    • Game: Diamondbacks vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
    • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
    • Pitching: RHP Brandon Webb (10-2, 2.69) vs. RHP Ian Snell (2-5, 5.94).
    • Key matchup: Pirates batters vs. Arizona infielders. In six May starts, Webb got 72 outs on ground balls compared to 17 outs on fly balls.
    • Of note: Snell, who rapidly shed his "ace" tag, hasn't won since April 12, going winless in his past nine starts. In his most recent four starts, he has yielded 34 hits and 20 earned runs in just 19 innings. This season, right-handed batters are hitting .368 against him.
    Minor-league report
    Thursday's results

    INDIANAPOLIS (29-33) lost to Lehigh Valley, 9-5. RHP Jason Davis (3-7, 5.14) allowed eight runs and eight hits in five innings. RHP Romulo Sanchez (2.45) pitched two scoreless innings of relief. CF Andrew McCutchen (.294) hit his eighth home run and went 2 for 4. RF Steve Pearce (.259) went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

    ALTOONA (24-33) lost to New Britain, 4-2. LHP Kyle Bloom (0-4, 6.46) allowed four runs and six hits in four innings. C Ryan Doumit (.429), in his third and final rehabilitation game, went 1 for 3 with a single and caught six innings.

    LYNCHBURG (23-37) lost to Potomac, 16-2. LHP Brian Holliday (1-5, 6.12) allowed six runs and 10 hits in four innings. DH Jamie Romak (.290) went 2 for 4.

    HICKORY (28-33) lost at Asheville, 5-4. RHP Rafael Delossantos (2-4, 4.63) allowed five runs and seven hits in five innings. C Andrew Walker (.246) hit his third home run, a two-run shot, and went 3 for 4.

"Those other guys [Doumit and Chavez] did such a great job," he said. "They took care of their opportunities. I think this is an opportunity for me to go there and play every day, work on what they want me to work on, improve myself and try to come back here as soon as possible."

"We're definitely not giving up on him," Russell said. "We want him to go down there and work on things and get back to being the major league catcher he can be."

Russell made his comments moments after Paul Maholm worked eight solid innings to register the first back-to-back wins by Pirates starters since May 10 (Tom Gorzelanny) and May 12 (Zach Duke). Duke got the win in the victory Wednesday against the Astros.

"Our starters are starting to come around," Russell said. "If we can get consistent starting, we have a very good chance to win a lot of games."

The Pirates last night finished a stretch of 22 consecutive games against teams from the National League Central Division. They were 11-11 in those 22.

"I think with the exception of some of the Chicago games, we've played our division very tough," Russell said. "I think the division is pretty close. I don't think there's any one team this year that you look at and think, 'They're really going to scuffle in this division.' Or that one team is hands down better than other teams.

"I think it's a balanced division as far as competition goes, and I think we fit right there."

The Pirates are 3-9 against the Cubs, who lead the division, and 12-9 against the rest of the division.

"The Cubs have been tough against us," left fielder Jason Bay said. "But other than the Cubs, I don't really see any other teams that are head and shoulders better than us. We've hung in with all of them. I guess it's kind of a positive for us knowing we don't have to overcome three or four teams. Right now, the Cubs are out front, but I think we match up pretty well against everybody else.

"The Cubs have had our number, but there's no team that really kind of scares you."

The Astros, who have scored 13 runs in their past eight games, went pretty meekly last night.

They bothered Maholm early on, scoring three runs in the first two innings. Thereafter, he set them down on three hits over his final six innings, getting 12 outs on ground balls. His approach?

"Challenge guys, let them hit the ball on the ground and let the defense work," Maholm said.

The left-hander threw only 86 pitches -- 64 for strikes. Was Russell tempted to send Maholm out for the ninth inning?

"Nope," he said. "We've got a closer down there who's pretty good."

Matt Capps worked out of a mini-jam in the ninth to earn his 13th save in 13 chances.

Jason Michaels, giving Xavier Nady a night off in right field, supplied most of the Pirates' offense with a three-run home run in the first. That followed a leadoff single by Jack Wilson and a two-out walk to Jason Bay, who fell behind 0-2 before working the count full.

Michaels then sent a 2-0 pitch from Brandon Backe over the right-center field wall, giving himself 11 RBIs in his past six games.

"Jason's done a phenomenal job for us," Russell said.

The Pirates broke a 3-3 tie with two outs in the fifth when Nate McLouth scratched out an infield hit on an 0-2 pitch and Bay tripled off the center-field wall -- a drive that barely eluded a diving Jose Cruz Jr.

NOTES -- Right-handed reliever Brian Rogers, 25, acquired by the Pirates from Detroit for Sean Casey July 31, 2006, has been released from Class AAA Indianapolis. Rogers, who also pitched for Class AA Altoona this season, had a 1.26 earned run average in 10 games with Indianapolis. ... Right-hander Bryan Bullington has not pitched for the Pirates since they brought him up from Indianapolis May 29 and could be sent back shortly.

First Published June 6, 2008 4:00 AM


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