DENVER -- The Pirates' coaching staff had spent much time with Yoslan Herrera in the days leading up to this start, and their stressing points were twofold.
1. Throw more fastballs.
2. Stop shaking off your catcher.
3. Be aggressive.
And he heeded all three.
But maybe no one mentioned anything about getting people out.
In the latest of a long string of miserable pitching out of a barren minor league system, Herrera lasted only 1 2/3 innings and was crushed for seven runs and eight hits in what wound up a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies last night at Coors Field.
One of every five pitches he threw, from a total of 46, resulted in a hit.
- Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 3:05 p.m., Coors Field.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (4-6, 4.40) vs. RHP Aaron Cook (11-6, 3.57).
- Key matchup: Duke vs. his road issues. In nine starts away from PNC Park, he is 0-2 with a 5.21 ERA. His most recent road victory came May 27, 2007, at Cincinnati.
- Of note: Since Xavier Nady was acquired by former general manager Dave Littlefield July 31, 2006, his .297 average is highest among all National League right fielders, and his 35 home runs rank fifth.
Just five of the 15 batters he faced made outs, and one of those was a sacrifice fly.
There also was a hit batsman, a wild pitch and ...
Anything worthwhile to show for all that?
"No," manager John Russell replied without elaboration.
Herrera could lug his 19.50 ERA back to Class AA Altoona today to clear space for John Van Benschoten, who is expected to bring his 9.77 ERA back from Class AAA Indianapolis to pitch in Houston tomorrow. If Van Benschoten does not improve dramatically, the cycle will begin anew.
Small wonder that general manager Neal Huntington is known to be seeking starting pitching prospects through trades in advance of the July 31 deadline: The eight pitchers the Pirates have promoted from the minors this season have a combined ERA of 8.82. The four starters have zero wins.
Small wonder, too, that the Pirates, losers of four in a row, hit another season bottom at 44-53: The ERA of all 10 starters deployed to date is 5.77, worst in Major League Baseball by a monster margin, and those starters have 22 wins in 97 games.
Roughly one W every full turn through the rotation.
"It's tough to continue to battle back from big deficits," Russell said. "We have to keep pushing, do all we can do. It would be nice to get the bats going again, too."
No disputing that. The Pirates have scored six total runs in losing these first three after the All-Star break, and they did uncharacteristically little against Colorado's Jorge De La Rosa and his 7.26 ERA, just one run in six innings.
In the first, Freddy Sanchez doubled, and Ryan Doumit singled him home. Two more reached to load the bases, but Jose Bautista struck out to end it.
That was it. Thirteen of the final 14 batters were set down quietly, continuing a series-long trend of fades.
Meanwhile, Herrera gave up five runs in the first, two more in the second before Russell took the ball, marking the 19th time he has lifted a starter after pitching four innings or less.
T.J. Beam, Marino Salas and Franquelis Osoria releived without further damage, but that mattered little.
In Herrera's debut July 12 against St. Louis, he repeatedly shook off Ryan Doumit's fastball calls to go with his long-preferred slow stuff. That looked fine for a bit, but the Cardinals timed him and began teeing off for six runs.Missing offenseThe high-scoring offense of the first half hasn't returned from the break thus far for the Pirates.
This time, he went mostly with fastballs and sinkers -- 13 each -- but there were two problems with that: One, his fastball command was well off, as he repeatedly left pitches up and over the plate. Two, the velocity on his heat was plenty inconsistent, ranging from 87-92 mph.
"Mostly, he just didn't locate the fastball well," Russell said. "From there, he didn't have any rhythm, really couldn't get anything going."
Herrera was asked about the focus on fastballs and, through translator and fellow pitcher Denny Bautista, shrugged it off.
"It's just the game. I'm just trying to make all of my pitches," Herrera said. "I was trying to do my best, but those are good hitters."
And how disappointing is it to be faring so poorly, with a 19.50 ERA, through two starts?
"It's a big chance to be here in the big leagues. I'm just going to take the most I can from this and learn."
Zach Duke, loser of his past two decisions, will try to keep Colorado from the four-game sweep this afternoon.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published July 20, 2008 4:00 AM