SAN DIEGO -- John Russell has had quite a few of these in his first year as the Pirates' manager, where he fills out the lineup card, checks his starting pitcher's history, reaches for the antacid and crosses his fingers.
This time, it was Jimmy Barthmaier, making his third career appearance.
And it began ... well, where was that antacid again?
Barthmaier gave up three runs in the first inning and, though he settled for four zeroes after that, the hole held up as the Pirates lost, 3-2, to San Diego last night at Petco Park in their penultimate game of 2008.
All told ...
"He did OK," Russell said. "He started to relax and just got to pitching instead of hurling the ball."
The Padres' Chris Young, always dominant against the team that drafted him, allowed one run over six innings -- Adam LaRoche's RBI double in the third -- and the bullpen did the rest, the visitors finishing with seven hits. Trevor Hoffman's 1-2-3 ninth brought his 30th save, adding to his record total of 554 and marking his 15th consecutive season with 30 or more.
One chance for the Pirates to tie came in the seventh, with the score 3-1, with two aboard and two outs for Nate McLouth, but Mike Adams struck him out.
Another came in the eighth, just after Jason Michaels' RBI triple made it 3-2, but Steve Pearce's liner off Heath Bell was snagged by leaping first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Pearce slammed his bat to the grass and flung his helmet.
Barthmaier, a 24-year-old right-hander considered by management to be on the fringe of the starting pitching competition next spring, looked as if he would wind up with a fraction in his linescore in the first, giving up two scorching fly-outs, then issuing a walk, Gonzalez's double and Kevin Kouzmanoff's two-run home run to the deepest part of the park.
On top of all that, Barthmaier looked as if he would rather have been anywhere else.
"I just felt like I wasn't as loose as in the later innings," Barthmaier said, meaning physically. "I left some pitches."
And the relaxing?
"I felt relaxed the whole game. I just got some pitches up."
Over his final four innings, Barthmaier allowed two singles and two walks, his pitch count finishing with an unsightly breakdown of 44 strikes, 40 balls.
For the three starts, he was 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA, this after a modestly encouraging run with Class AAA Indianapolis in which he went 3-1 with a 3.53 ERA.
Russell has seen very little to like this summer of what has made its way from Indianapolis -- or Class AA Altoona, for that matter -- and, given that a manager's handling of his pitchers is one of his most difficult tasks, it is safe to say it probably has taken a toll.
"I think it took a toll on everybody, all our players, the staff, the front office and the fans," Russell said. "The pitching staff, too. It's not like they wanted to go out and pitch like that. Yeah, it was a frustrating year on the mound. But we, as a group, learned a lot from it. I think you saw some of our guys start to lock in down the stretch, do some good things. Unfortunately, it took until near the end for that to happen."
The starters have fared better of late, with a 3.39 ERA in the past eight games, and much of that has come in the context of games that meant quite a bit to their contending opponents.
Ross Ohlendorf will close out the Pirates' 122nd season this afternoon.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com First Published September 28, 2008 8:00 AM