CHICAGO -- It was difficult to discern which was most depressing about Ian Snell's line in the Pirates' 16-5 utter annihilation by the Chicago White Sox last night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Was it the seven runs charged in four-plus innings?
Or the nine hits, five for extra bases, one over the fence?
Or the six walks?
Or the balk?
How about zero strikeouts for just the second time in 85 career starts?
The most accurate answer, actually, might have been what Snell's latest implosion wrought ...
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago White Sox, 8:11 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (5-5, 6.65) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (3-6, 4.47).
- Key matchup: Everyone vs. Buehrle, who produced identical numbers in his past two starts -- eight innings, one run, seven hits, one walk -- against the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers.
- Of note: The Pirates' .280 average with runners in scoring position ranks fourth in Major League Baseball. Chicago's .282 ranks second. The leader is Minnesota, at .307.
A promising offensive outburst was wasted, including an early 4-2 lead and a 5-5 tie, those disintegrating into the ninth occasion this season in which the Pirates lost when scoring five or more runs, a remarkable figure. That includes all three losses in these first four interleague games.
Moreover, the bullpen, which has yet to offer anything resembling quality long relief all summer, was rocked for eight more runs. The 16 runs and 19 hits allowed each marked a season high, and the 16 runs marked just the sixth time this decade the Pirates' opponent scored that many. Most recent before this was Sept. 6 of last year, a 16-4 loss in St. Louis.
Small wonder, then, that Snell offered this pointed -- and pinpoint -- assessment of his evening ...
"I stunk, basically," he said. "And it hurt everybody."
No one disagreed.
Asked if Snell is showing any progress, manager John Russell replied, "Obviously, he didn't tonight. We jump out and get the lead, and he gives it back. We tie it, and he just couldn't get anything going. He's been showing that he's trying to turn the corner. Hopefully, tonight's not a huge setback for him."
And what is the solution?
"Just keep going out there," Russell said. "He's going to have to get his confidence to attack down in the zone, and he'll be fine. We'll continue to work with him and get him back on track."
That was a strong indication that Snell's status in the rotation is not in jeopardy, but it does little to diminish the numbing numbers to this point: His record fell to 3-7, and his ERA swelled to 5.84. Among qualified starters in the National League, the only two pitchers with a higher ERA are Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants and Brad Penny of the Los Angeles Dodgers, each just a hair above at 5.88.
So, if the solution is unknown, what might be the problem?
To the naked eye, it would appear Snell might benefit more from pitching inside to right-handed batters. The entire White sox lineup sat comfortably on pitches over the outer half and had little difficulty pulverizing those over the middle.
But neither management nor Snell sees that as an issue, at least not a primary one, and Snell offered one hard-to-dispute explanation for that ...
"I'm not locating my fastball right now," he said. "This isn't about pitching inside or not. I threw some pitches inside here. The important thing is locating the fastball, and everything else will come from that. I just have to rethink the way I pitch."
What does that mean?
"I wasn't effective with my fastball at all, and I'll admit to that. I just felt like I couldn't get anything on the ball. And it really didn't seem to matter, anyway, because everything you threw over the plate, they hit. That's a good hitting team over there. They might have swung at three pitches off the plate all night."
Chicago's output off Snell was highlighted by Jermaine Dye's two-run double in the first and solo home run in the third. The White Sox also got big overall days from Jim Thome and Orlando Cabrera, each with a home run, double and three RBIs.
Russell's lineup card was missing left fielder Jason Bay, scratched because of a stomach virus, and Xavier Nady because of the bruised shoulder. But it still looked good enough to beat Javier Vazquez if it had a little support.
After Chicago took a 2-0 lead, the Pirates forced Vazquez to sweat through 39 pitches in the second inning and scored four times: Ryan Doumit drew a 10-pitch walk, Adam LaRoche doubled on the seventh pitch to advance Doumit, and Jason Michaels did likewise for two runs to tie the score. Doug Mientkiewicz's single and Nate McLouth's sacrifice fly brought two more.
The White Sox leaped back ahead, 5-4 in the third, but Jose Bautista's sixth home run in the next inning tied the score.
It did not matter, as Snell would not get an out in the fifth: Nick Swisher walked, Joe Crede doubled him home when Michaels misjudged his liner to left, and Alexei Ramirez's RBI single brought Russell out of the dugout.
Franquelis Osoria gave up three in the sixth, Marino Salas five in the seventh, Sean Burnett one in the eighth.
Bautista qualified as the lone bright spot, and not just because he singled and walked in addition to the home run: He also made two timely visits to Snell, once in the first just before an inning-ending double play, again in the second just before another timely out that left bases loaded.
"We were joking that maybe I should go talk to him for every batter," Bautista said.
Overall, though, it is no laughing matter to the Pirates that Snell has become so unpredictable, not with contention still seeming a pipe dream and the toughest part of the schedule ahead.
"Ian's a huge part of our team," Bautista said. "That's our ace coming out of spring training, and we need him to do well. I believe he will. He's proven what he could do in the past and, just like a hitter, he's in a slump. He'll get it figured it out."
"But he has to do it soon. We need him now."
First Published June 18, 2008 4:00 AM