SAN DIEGO -- Sometime this afternoon, Paul Maholm plans to ask Ian Snell to sit at a laptop and review the Pirates' 6-3 victory against San Diego last night at Petco Park.
It should come with raves.
Maholm might mention the poise Snell showed in limiting the Padres to one run and one hit over five innings -- a no-hitter through 42/3 until Nick Hundley's home run -- with the only downer that his outing was cut short by cramping in the right calf.
He might mention the cut-it-loose attitude Snell flashed from the first offering in pumping a 94-mph fastball, as well as everything else in his repertoire.
Above all, though, expect that he will stress how important it is to the entire pitching staff that this version of Snell is the one the Pirates see in 2009.
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 10:05 p.m., Petco Park.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Jimmy Barthmaier (0-1, 15.19) vs. RHP Chris Young (6-6, 4.11)
- Key matchup: Anytime the Pirates face Young, a no-hitter alert should be lit. In four career starts against the team that drafted him, he is 3-0 with a 1.52 ERA, a ridiculous .126 opponents -- batting average, and 22 strikeouts in 29-plus innings.
- Of note: Ryan Doumit's .406 average with runners in scoring position is best in the National League.
"If Ian challenges himself to be the best possible pitcher he can be, I think he can be, at minimum, a 15-game winner," Maholm said. "You could see it tonight. You can see it on the nights that he goes out there with his focus, he's throwing 94, 95, 96 ... and other nights, he's throwing 90 and falling behind. Hopefully, tonight was something he can take into the offseason."
Maholm shook his head.
"Hey, we need him. We need Ian Snell. I'm going to challenge him and all of our guys to do better."
The talk Maholm and Snell likely will have will not be the first. Maholm, the leader of the staff in more ways than one, met with Snell a few weeks ago to ask about his inconsistency, to offer advice. Then, they met again. And again.
Snell, from the sound of it, embraced it.
"Paul sat me down and told me what I had to do to get ready, mentally and physically, for games," Snell said. "It's worked out great."
The advice began with helping Snell from wearing down between starts, as he had complained at times early this season. The emphasis was on running rather than lifting weights and eating better.
"The eating was the biggest part," Snell said. "It helped my body recover a lot better."
Some of that familiar Snell snarl seems back, too.
"I just wanted to finish the season strong, and that's what I did," he replied when asked about this performance. "There's no guessing about it. I finished stronger than I started. I left everything out on the field tonight. Everything's out there. People can judge that performance and say what they want. I did my best, and that's all that my team asked of me."
Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Doumit each homered, T.J. Beam and John Grabow escaped jams, and Matt Capps recorded his 21st save to help end the Pirates' four-game losing streak.
Snell still finished with immensely disappointing numbers, of course: His 7-12 record and 5.42 ERA were downgrades from the 9-12 and 3.76 from last year, as were his walk total rising from 68 to 89 and his strikeouts diminishing from 177 to 135.
Perhaps the most important development, though, was that he rediscovered his stuff after that two-week hiatus in June and July to rest a sore elbow. His numbers since that stint: 4-5 with 4.80 ERA. Before, he was 3-7 with a 5.99 ERA.
Nothing great, but ...
"I just think he's more prepared to pitch now," manager John Russell said. "He's made a different kind of commitment in the second half. He was pressing really hard in the first half to try to do a lot, which took him out of his game, had him overthrowing. He's gone back to managing the strike zone better. I think he learned a lot this year."
Sanchez's solo shot in the first inning off Josh Geer, his ninth home run, gave the Pirates the quick lead.
Hundley tied the score when he ended Snell's no-hitter by lofting a 2-0 fastball -- intended to go outside but tailing back across -- into the second deck above left field.
The Pirates went right after fresh reliever Mike Ekstrom in the sixth: Nate McLouth and Sanchez singled, and Doumit pulled his three-run shot, his 15th home run, 20 feet inside the right foul pole to make it 4-1.
Sean Burnett gave up two in the bottom half, and it was 4-3, but Beam got the third out to strand a runner at third.
Grabow, who has made a living cleaning up other relievers' messes, had to wade through one of his own in the eighth: Bases were loaded with two outs after a hit, a Grabow error and walk but, after a visit from pitching coach Jeff Andrews, he got Kevin Kouzmanoff to swing over a changeup.
"Trust me," Grabow said. "I didn't want it to go like that."
The capper for San Diego came in the ninth when, with the Pirates having two aboard and two outs, Brian Giles dropped McLouth's lazy fly ball and allowed two runs.
The Pirates ended an 0-7 run at Petco, winning here for the first time since April 10, 2005.
They also locked up the No. 4 position in the first round of Major League Baseball's draft next June. San Diego locked up third by losing, and the Baltimore Orioles did the same with fifth.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org First Published September 27, 2008 6:15 AM