HOUSTON -- Tom Gorzelanny's season might be finished after a finger injury knocked him out of the Pirates' 7-4 loss to the Houston Astros last night at Minute Maid Park.
Manager John Russell suggested it might be ligament damage to the left middle finger, but a firm diagnosis will not be available until an MRI is taken tomorrow when the team returns to Pittsburgh.
"Hopefully, it's not too bad," Gorzelanny said afterward. "I'll cross my finger."
The singular use of the term was a clear attempt at a joke, but Gorzelanny barely cracked a smile. And that, given how his 2008 has gone, surely was no accident: Expected to be a staff stalwart, if not the ace, he has gone 6-9 with a beastly ERA of 6.66 and, most disconcerting, was banished to the minors for six weeks.
Now, this, with 17 games to go.
With one out in the third inning, Gorzelanny threw a 2-1 slider to Lance Berkman for a called strike, then shook his throwing hand, paced and crouched behind the mound. Less than a minute after Russell and athletic trainer Brad Henderson reached the mound, he was ushered off.
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 8:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-13, 4.87) vs. RHP Roy Oswalt (14-9, 3.72).
- Key matchup:Duke, a native of Clifton, Texas, tends to pitch carefully to fellow Texan Lance Berkman, who is 6 for 18 off him with five walks.
- Of note: The Pirates had 26 comeback victories leading up to the July 31 trading deadline. They have had five since.
"I felt a little pop," Gorzelanny said.
The trouble might have begun earlier in the week when Gorzelanny jammed the finger. He could not remember how, but he sounded certain it did not happen during his side session.
"Honestly, I couldn't tell you. I do know it felt better going into this and that I could grip the ball."
It is difficult, then, to discern how much it might have led to his line of two runs on three hits -- all the damage coming on Hunter Pence's two-run home run in the second -- as well as two walks.
The Pirates would go on to lose their fifth in a row, and that probably should have come as no surprise on a night when two-thirds of Russell's starting lineup was batting below .240.
They did catch up for a 2-2 tie after Pence's shot, as Adam LaRoche hit his 19th home run in the fourth inning -- a majestic blast just to the left of the 436-foot mark in center -- and Nyjer Morgan doubled home Brian Bixler in the next.
But Denny Bautista's latest blowup, a five-run sixth, rendered that moot.
Bautista had bailed T.J. Beam out of a jam in the fifth but his sixth opened with two hits, an out, a walk, a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and another walk to fill the bases anew for the torrid Miguel Tejada.
"It's still a good matchup if Denny throws the way he's capable," Russell said.
Bautista got a 2-2 count, but his flat, over-the-middle curveball was launched by Tejada into the arches above left-center, and his 11th career grand slam made it 7-2.
"I wanted to get it all the way down in the dirt," Bautista said. "I left it up, just like the one to Abercrombie."
That was a reference to Reggie Abercrombie's solidly struck double earlier in the inning.
Bautista, the hard-throwing right-hander acquired from the Detroit Tigers in late June, was mostly reliable through the All-Star break with a 3.90 ERA and .233 opponents' batting average, even though he walked more than he fanned. Since then, the ERA is 7.22, the opponents' average .326.
In his past nine appearances, comprising 10 1/3 innings, he has given up 14 runs and 17 hits.
"His velocity is still fine," Russell said. "He's just not getting any break on his breaking pitches."
Bautista was shut down by shoulder trouble just before the trade, but he insisted he was healthy and fresh.
"No problem with the shoulder," he said. "I just need to pitch better."
Nate McLouth and LaRoche had RBI doubles in the eighth, but the below-.240 crowd went a combined 4 for 19. That included another 0-for-4 from Andy LaRoche, whose latest hitless streak has reached 16 as his average has fallen to .169.
The only other highlight: With two outs in the ninth, Doug Mientkiewicz's hustling infield single -- accompanied by his own safe call as he hit the bag -- was followed by just his 15th career stolen base.
Zach Duke will try to avoid the four-game sweep tonight.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published September 11, 2008 4:00 AM