CINCINNATI -- John Russell certainly is getting some rigorous on-the-job training in his first season as a major league manager.
Not only has he had to adjust to the Pirates losing starting pitchers Phil Dumatrait and Ian Snell to the disabled list in the past two weeks, but yesterday he also had to adjust to losing closer Matt Capps for eight weeks because of right shoulder trouble.
"It's been difficult," Russell said. "We'll see what we're made of."
Russell had to love how his team -- especially the bullpen -- responded on the first day without Capps, who went on the disabled list.
The bullpen didn't register a save, but it provided 20 outs of scoreless relief to nail down the Pirates' 9-5 victory against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.
"Going in, everybody knew the situation with Matt," Russell said. "Matt's a big guy in our bullpen and a big leader. Everybody really stepped up."
Russell also has had to watch two of the three fill-in starters for Dumatrait and Snell pitch briefly and ineffectively. Only Ty Taubenheim performed capably Saturday.
Jimmy Barthmaier on Friday and John Van Benschoten last night each lasted just 2 1/3 innings.
Van Benschoten, the Pirates' No. 1 draft pick in 2001 who grew up in a Cincinnati suburb, continues to be an enigma. He has had little trouble winning at Class AAA Indianapolis the past two seasons but hasn't come close to pitching effectively as a starter in the big leagues.
Armed with a 4-0 lead last night before he took the mound, he threw only 45 pitches, including 30 strikes. However, the Reds knocked him around for five hits, including three home runs, and five runs. Russell pulled the right-hander after Brandon Phillips doubled in the third.
"He was over the plate too much," Russell said. "His fastball was leaking back toward the middle too much, and he didn't really have a sharp breaking ball."
Van Benschoten, who received a no-decision, remains 1-10 in 16 major league starts, but his lifetime earned run average as a starter rose to 8.82 based on 66 earned runs in 67 1/3 innings. One has to wonder if he will get another chance to start for the Pirates.
What is clear is that every relief pitcher with the Pirates could have a chance to close a game in Capps' absence. "You don't like to lose your closer, but we have some guys who are very capable of doing it," said Russell, who bristled when the phrase "closer by committee" was suggested.
"I hate that term. We'll use who we have [who's] fresh. And then we'll use somebody else the next day."
All hands were on deck last night except left-hander Damaso Marte, whom Russell wanted to have a game off. "It will probably be a situation where we have more multi-inning saves rather than one [inning]," Russell said.
"We have no problem going with Marte. We have no problem going with [Tyler] Yates. We have no problem going with [John] Grabow. The guys we have are very valuable from the seventh inning on."
Romulo Sanchez, who worked a shaky 11th inning and recorded his first big league save Tuesday night, probably will get opportunities to pad that total.
After Van Benschoten's early exit, newcomer Denny Bautista went 3 1/3 impressive innings. Russell summoned Sean Burnett to retire left-handed batting Joey Votto to end the sixth inning, then brought in Grabow for the seventh and eighth. Grabow was superb in getting the Pirates past Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn and leaving the bottom of the Cincinnati lineup for Yates to finish off in the ninth.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Bautista," Russell said. "He really saved us."
Grabow came up large, too.
"Losing Matt is a hit to our bullpen," Grabow said. "But we can't dwell on it. We have to keep going. Your bullpen can only do what we did [last night] so often, but this was huge. It gave everybody a shot of confidence."
The Pirates opened the game as if the hitters knew they'd have to step up because of the bullpen situation. Nate McLouth doubled on the first pitch. Luis Rivas doubled him in. Jason Bay singled in Rivas. Singles by Ryan Doumit and Xavier Nady loaded the bases. Run-producing ground balls by Adam LaRoche and Jose Bautista gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead.
After the Reds went ahead, 5-4, in the second, Nady hit home runs in the third and fifth, the latter a two-run shot that broke a 5-5 tie and was the winner.
First Published July 3, 2008 4:00 AM