ATLANTA -- Look at Paul Maholm as the swing vote.
When he pitches as well as he has in his past nine starts, the Pirates' rotation goes from having two steady contributors in Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny to a majority of three.
And if those three guys win more often than they lose ...
"It makes a big difference," manager Jim Tracy said. "A huge difference."
"It gives our whole team a better chance to be more successful," Maholm said. "For me to go out there and give the team seven or eight innings, I think it's kind of solidified the rotation a little more."
Maholm, the starter in the series finale today with the Atlanta Braves, was 2-6 with a 5.82 ERA through his first nine starts.
In the next nine, he has gone a still unflattering 3-5, but he has averaged seven innings per outing with a 3.84 ERA.
And the key, according to all concerned, has been a simple steadying of his delivery, with an emphasis on not leaning toward the batter when releasing his pitch.
"If you looked at my film before and after, I don't think you'd see a lot," Maholm said. "It's more a matter of comfort and rhythm. Initially, when things weren't going well, I kept trying to tweak stuff and figure out what I was doing before. Now, I'm just working a little quicker, throwing sinkers for strikes and watching the defense make the plays. It feels good and, honestly, this is what I expected from myself all along."
Part of the challenge was ignoring the statistics that show him on a 20-loss pace.
"I think the record's a little deceiving," Maholm said of being 5-11.
"I feel like I've had some great starts where the results just weren't there, or where there was maybe one pitch that could have made it be a totally different game. I just tried to keep competing."
Maybe this number will mean something: Maholm's career record after the All-Star break is 8-3.
Doumit back today
Ryan Doumit will catch today, marking his first start since his left hamstring was tweaked eight days ago at PNC Park.
"I'm good," he said of his health. "Really good."
Lincoln eyeing spring
Starter Brad Lincoln, the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2006 who had reconstructive elbow surgery in April, has had no rehabilitation setbacks and remains on pace to take the mound for the first time in spring training and pitch next summer. Lincoln will not begin throwing until this fall.
The Pirates have yet to respond to reliever Shawn Chacon's request to discuss a contract extension.
Atlanta management would seek nothing less than an impact-caliber young pitcher in exchange for promising catcher/first baseman Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Pirates are among several teams to have inquired about him in the past month.
Bizarre moment of the day: As the Pirates were taking batting practice, the Turner Field sound system was blaring Donnie Iris' "Ah Leah."
First baseman Adam LaRoche might want to watch his stuff today. When the Pirates faced the Braves in a spring exhibition March 2 in Orlando, Fla., LaRoche allegedly took scissors to some of his former teammates' clothing. And speculation is swirling through the Atlanta clubhouse that revenge is in order.
INDIANAPOLIS (48-44) lost at Rochester, 8-4. RHP Marty McLeary (4-3, 3.45) allowed three runs and six hits in five-plus innings. He struck out one. RHP Franquelis Osoria (2.60) allowed three runs, three hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning of relief for his fourth blown save. RF Brad Eldred (.219) hit his ninth home run and went 3 for 4. LF Michael Ryan (.258) hit his seventh home run and went 2 for 4 with two RBIs. SS Brian Bixler (.289) went 0 for 4.
ALTOONA (45-45) beat Akron, 3-2. RHP Luis Munoz (9-4, 3.32) allowed one run in six innings. 1B Steve Pearce (.323) went 1 for 3 with an RBI. CF Andrew McCutchen (.244) went 1 for 4.
LYNCHBURG (40-49) won at Frederick, 3-2. RHP Todd Redmond (7-6, 4.81) allowed two runs in six innings. LF Jamie Romak (.281) went 3 for 4 with an RBI.
HICKORY (37-51) lost to Lexington, 10-9. RHP Henry Cabrera (3-5, 5.89) allowed five runs in two innings. RF Albert Laboy (.270) hit his second and third home runs and went 2 for 5 with four RBIs.
STATE COLLEGE (13-11) lost to Brooklyn, 13-1. RHP Matt Foust (0-2, 3.38) allowed one run despite not giving up a hit in his five innings. He struck out four and walked three. CF Austin McClune (.305) went 2 for 3.
BRADENTON (9-12) beat the Orioles, 15-2. LHP Eddy Nunez (2-2, 4.15) pitched four scoreless innings and allowed three hits. 3B Dan Bomback (.239) hit his first home run and went 2 for 3 with two walks and four RBIs.