HOUSTON -- The Pirates love Ross Ohlendorf's potential, from his velocity to his command to that Princeton education.
"Power pitcher with precision and a plan," pitching coach Jeff Andrews calls him.
One might add poise to the alliteration train, too.
Trouble is, as with everyone who climbs a mound in Major League Baseball, more than one of those pieces has to come together, and there clearly was not much clicking for Ohlendorf in the Pirates' 9-3 loss to the Houston Astros last night at Minute Maid Park.
In giving up six runs and nine hits over just four innings, his second career start saw an upgrade in the heat, his fastball once registered 97 mph and consistently hit 95, but those frequently arrived well off course.
And were hit hard.
"The velocity was there, but command is important," manager John Russell said. "The pitches were staying over the middle of the plate, he had trouble going inside and ... well, those are some good hitters over there."
- Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 8:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (6-9, 6.64) vs. RHP Brian Moehler (10-6, 4.22).
- Key matchup: Houston All-Star Miguel Tejada had one hit in his first 31 at-bats against the Pirates this season, but has four in his past five at-bats.
- Of note: Nate McLouth has stolen 18 consecutive bases since being caught April 18. The only active streaks longer belong to the Colorado Rockies' Matt Holliday (20) and Tampa Bay Rays' Cliff Floyd (19).
All in a row, too: Houston's Nos. 2-5 of Darin Erstad, Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Geoff Blum went a combined 11 for 17 with four extra-base hits. Berkman singled, doubled, homered and had four RBIs.
Still, in getting back to those potential positives, Ohlendorf's plan was shaky, too as he opened with 12 consecutive fastballs that might have helped Houston's hitters establish good timing rather than making them figure out the newcomer. As for the poise, suffice it to say that most of Houston's hits came in bunches.
This despite showing flashes of outright dominance.
"All my pitches were inconsistent," Ohlendorf said. "I made good pitches with everything I have a few times. But there were too many bad pitches."
The Pirates leaped on Randy Wolf in the first on an RBI single by Ryan Doumit and follow-up double by Adam LaRoche, but Ohlendorf gave it right back: Two singles were followed by Berkman's three-run shot, a changeup sent the other way beyond left field.
The pitch was down and away, not exactly long-ball material.
"I felt like it was a pretty good pitch," Ohlendorf said. "But he's a good hitter. Definitely strong."
It was Berkman's 28th.
Houston strung three hits in a row again in the third, including Berkman's RBI double, this time pulled to right.
Ohlendorf did not allow either rally to get out of control, but a lack of poise showed in the next inning: After two quick outs, Michael Bourn lashed a single, stole second, took third on a balk and trotted home on Erstad's double to deep left-center to make it 6-2.
Jason Davis game up two more in the fifth, and the rout was on.
Three other noteworthy elements ...
Second baseman Freddy Sanchez exited in the second because of blurred vision in his right eye, the same from which doctors removed a tiny piece of metal in April 2007. He experienced occasional blurriness for months afterward and treated it with drops, but there had been no known recurrence this year until now.
Russell said he "probably" will rest Sanchez tonight, as the drops again were prescribed.
The Pirates also had their first experience with instant replay, the second in major league history: Hunter Pence's sixth-inning double that hit off the top of the padded fence in right was called correctly by first base umpire D.J. Reyburn and upheld by replay after a delay of less than a minute.
"It was quick," Russell said.
"We wanted to make sure we got it right," crew chief Tim Welke said.
The offense squeezed out just four hits, two after the first inning, but one of those was Steve Pearce's first career home run, that coming off Wolf in the seventh inning and in his 139th at-bat. It was a monster, into the arches above left-center.
"It was definitely getting frustrating," Pearce said. "Took a while, but it felt good. Hopefully, there will be a few more now."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published September 10, 2008 4:00 AM