If it seemed Ian Snell's season could only go upward, that apparently was a mistaken impression.
After yet another poor start, this of four runs in as many innings in the Pirates' 8-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday at PNC Park, management disclosed that Snell had irritation in his right elbow and will need to be examined today.
Yes, an injury on top of all the insults, as he was booed repeatedly by the crowd of 22,983.
"Lousy day," as Snell put it.
It remains to be seen if he will have his first career stint on the disabled list, though the general leaning yesterday was optimistic if only because he never previously experienced elbow pain.
"Hopefully, it's nothing major," manager John Russell said. "Just on the side of caution, we want to find out what it is."
Snell will go to Allegheny General Hospital this afternoon for an arthrogram, a procedure in which dye is injected into the elbow to help scan for ligament damage. The procedure alone prevents a pitcher from throwing for 48 hours, but Snell could, if deemed fully healthy, make his next turn Friday or Saturday.
Given the discomfort he described yesterday, though, that appeared unlikely.
Asked how often the elbow hurt, Snell replied, "Just about every pitch. To tell you the truth, I thought it was dead arm. I was wrong. I tried to fight through it. But, obviously, the velocity wasn't there. Nothing's there. Something's got to be wrong."
- Game: Pirates vs. New York Yankees, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (5-6, 6.59) vs. RHP Darrell Rasner (4-4, 3.64).
Something, indeed: Snell was limited to a second consecutive four-inning line, giving up eight hits and four walks. He is 3-7 with a 5.99 ERA and has won once in his past 13 starts.
The most glaring sign that Snell has lost his zip came with Adam Lind's home run to lead off the Toronto fourth, as Lind fouled off five full-count pitches before lining a fastball into the center-field seats. Snell seldom topped 91 mph and struck out only two, this after striking out no one from the White Sox last week in Chicago.
One thing Snell has not lost, though, is his edginess, as was evident again yesterday ...
On his season: "There are probably 100 pitchers in the big leagues not doing well that people expected to do well. It [stinks], but it's fact. You're going to have bad years before you have great ones. Right now, I'm having a bad one. Big deal."
On having a down year right after signing that five-year, $24.6 million extension this spring: "It has nothing to do with the contract."
On why he tried to pitch through pain: "It doesn't matter if you're sore or not. I wanted to show my team that I wanted to be out there. Obviously, I didn't have it, and I was still trying to be out there."
Upon saying the latter, he raised his voice slightly.
"I never give up. I don't care if people boo me, tell me I [stink], whatever. You're not going to take my manhood from me or my competitiveness from me. Nobody will ever do that! Ever! Until the day I die? Then you take it from me."
Snell's shaky status, coupled with fellow starter Phil Dumatrait being placed on the 15-day disabled list yesterday because of rotator cuff tendinitis, leaves the Pirates' rotation in a mess.
Dumatrait's next start was to come Wednesday against the New York Yankees. Zach Duke will be bumped up a day to make that start, and Paul Maholm will be bumped up for the series finale.
"We might need starters for Friday and Saturday," general manager Neal Huntington said last night. "We have options internally, and we're also going to be aggressive in looking externally to see what we can find."
That would mean a trade or waiver-wire acquisition.
Internally, the "No. 1 candidate" is John Van Benschoten, Huntington said. But his status is shaky, too, because his right shoulder stiffened after his start Thursday for Class AAA Indianapolis. Still, he has pitched a clean side session since then and could be cleared soon. Jimmy Barthmaier and Ty Taubenheim also could be in the mix.
The Pirates trailed, 4-1, after Snell's four innings, but five consecutive singles off Toronto starter Dustin McGowan in the bottom of the fourth tied the score.
There could have been more, too, but Freddy Sanchez, pinch-hitting for Snell, was ordered by Russell to bunt and failed. He popped up twice, the second time into catcher Gregg Zaun's mitt. Two quick outs later, the inning was over.
That might have raised two questions:
1. Why have anyone bunt for Snell, one of the National League's best in that area?
2. Why not let the 2006 batting champion swing away rather than hand a struggling starter an out?
To the first point, Russell already had decided to remove Snell because of the discomfort.
To the second ...
"We had an opportunity to go up two runs, and we had a guy up there we felt could bunt," Russell said. "With the top of the order coming up, we felt pretty good about that."
With the score 4-4, newcomer T.J. Beam relieved and pitched a scoreless fifth before giving up a walk and sacrifice bunt to open the sixth. It was there that Russell replaced Beam with Franquelis Osoria despite Beam not being on a pitch limit, despite Osoria's monster struggles of late.
Osoria, again playing the role of gasoline for the fire, promptly gave up Alex Rios' single and, one out later, Lyle Overbay's two-run double and Scott Rolen's two-run home run to put the Blue Jays ahead, 8-4.
Osoria's ERA is 5.84, and opponents are batting .332 with seven home runs. That includes 15 runs in his past 10 appearances, a span of 16 innings.
He also has pitched 48 2/3 innings, most of any reliever in Major League Baseball.
"I don't know if it's over-use," Russell said. "He's up in the zone, and we've got to keep emphasizing to keep the sinker down and the slider off the plate."
The Pirates squandered a chance at a three-game sweep of Toronto, and the Blue Jays ended a seven-game losing streak.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 23, 2008 4:00 AM