DENVER -- Leave it to the Pirates to find a fresh low a mile above sea level.
Their 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies tonight at Coors Field, the second big blah following the All-Star break, dropped their record to 44-52, a season-low eight games under .500.
Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe homered off Ian Snell, and Seth Smith hit an inside-the-parker off Tyler Yates. But no, it was not the pitching, the usual culprit, at fault.
Remarkably, it has been the offense, which has singularly kept the Pirates pecking away all summer, that has looked lifeless, even lost at times in losing these first two games to a 41-57 opponent decimated by injury.
"We're just not getting a lot of guys on base, and that's not how it's been for us most of the season," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "We've got to get back to generating a little heat. We've put zero pressure on their pitchers."
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 8:05 p.m., Coors Field.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Yoslan Herrera (0-0, 12.46) vs. LHP Jorge De La Rosa (3-5, 7.26).
- Key matchup: Herrera vs. Ryan Doumit. Herrera shook off his catcher's repeated calls for fastballs in his debut last week, and St. Louis wound up crushing the slow stuff.
- Of note: The Pirates' pinch-hitters are batting .254 with 20 RBIs, each ranking third in the National League. The Philadelphia Phillies lead in each category.
That began Thursday, the first game after the All-Star break, when Ubaldo Jimenez was allowed to wriggle out of early trouble to turn in seven solid innings. Colorado won, 5-3.
And it most assuredly continued last night, when Glendon Rusch, who entered with a 6.25 ERA, coasted through 52/3 innings -- two runs, five hits -- before three relievers pitched 31/3 innings of no-hit ball. They finished with six hits and no walks.
Two-game total: Five runs, 11 hits, three walks.
Or pretty much what they routinely have generated in a handful of innings.
"Offensively, we're not doing much right now," manager John Russell said.
Asked if that had something to do with the opponent's pitching, he hesitated, then replied, "We'd like to think so. Our guys have battled offensively all year, and we think we should get out of this one."
The lack of walks would suggest that the patient approach that has served the Pirates might have momentarily deserted them.
"I think our approach is fine," Russell said. "It's the same approach we've had all along. We just need to get back to swinging like we can."
It surely will help that Xavier Nady is expected to return tonight, after missing these two games because of the birth of his first son. But let this raise a red flag, perhaps, at what the Pirates' offense might look like if Nady, as expected, gets traded by the July 31 deadline. He is their leading hitter with a .321 average and has 56 RBIs, second on the team to Nate McLouth.
Snell fell to 3-8 with his ERA falling slightly to 5.83. He struck out five and gave up six hits in his six innings, and he might have stayed another inning or so if not lifted for a pinch-hitter.
Maybe in two important ways:
1. Snell pitched into the sixth for the first time in six starts. That is a baby step, for sure, but he finished with a pitch count of 96 despite throwing 24 in the first inning, one in which he gave up Holliday's two-run shot for Colorado's 2-0 lead.
Russell and pitching coach Jeff Andrews had stressed efficiency before this one, and they had to be somewhat satisfied.
"I thought he was throwing the ball very well," Russell said. "If he keeps throwing like that, he'll be fine."
"Just throw fastballs," Snell said of his plan. "Make them get themselves out."
2. Snell displayed his best command of that pitch in recent memory, at least without removing any zip. He still was touching 94 mph in the sixth.
"Best I've thrown the fastball since last year," Snell said.
What about that 10-strikeout game April 6 in Miami?
"No, this was better. In that Florida game, I was taking some velocity off. This was just going after them, just throwing hard."
Colorado increased its lead to 3-0 with two gifts in the second.
Willy Taveras walked with two outs, then was erroneously called safe on a steal of second by umpire Dan Iassogna. Replays clearly showed Freddy Sanchez tagged him in time, and even Taveras was laughing as he dusted himself off. He tried to steal third, too, and scored when Ryan Doumit lost his grip on the throw -- first of two wild ones -- and flung it into left field.
Jose Bautista got that one back in the third, lining a Rusch fastball inside the left foul pole for his 11th home run.
The Pirates closed within 3-2 in the sixth. Sanchez and Doumit singled, and Jason Bay hit a sacrifice fly. But men were left at the corners when Jason Michaels struck out looking at a Jason Grilli slider.
That proved particularly painful moments later, when Hawpe led off the Rockies' seventh with a home run, this off a Snell changeup that stayed too far up.
Yates entered for the seventh and was greeted by the first inside-the-park home run the Pirates allowed since Sammy Sosa's Oct. 6, 2001: Smith's drive to deep center caromed violently off the sharp-angled fence, with enough force to make McLouth reverse course and chase it all the way into left. Smith touched home plate standing up.
Brian Fuentes recorded his 16th save with his second 1-2-3 ninth inning in as many nights.
Maybe the Pirates' offense will wake up tonight: Colorado's journeyman starter, Jorge De La Rosa, has a 3-5 record and 7.26 ERA despite averaging better than a strikeout per inning.
The problem: The Pirates are countering with Yoslan Herrera, recently promoted from Class AA Altoona and fresh off a six-run pummeling by the St. Louis Cardinals in his debut.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published July 19, 2008 4:00 AM