Pirates' offense comes up empty again, blanked for an 11th time

Vasquez roughed up, could lose spot in rotation



PHOENIX -- If you wanted more money off those left- and right-field seats for this coming weekend's Washington series, you can thank the Pirates for nothing.

Because that's precisely what they scored in the last two games of this runs-for-rebate promotion: zero.

Shutout on consecutive days in the desert, taking over the ignominious major-league lead with their 11th shutout this season, the Pirates fell, 9-0, to Arizona yesterday in a game that might yet shake up the starting rotation, though not the beleaguered batting order.

Virgil Vasquez (1-5) exited early for the second time in his past three starts, and Pirates manager John Russell wasn't ready to pronounce Vasquez as his starter for Saturday against Washington.

"It's too early to tell," Russell said. "We'll see where we're at the next couple of days."

In losing his fifth consecutive start, Vasquez allowed a run in the second and two in the third, all after two outs. The biggest blow was a curveball that Mark Reynolds hit 434 feet for a two-run homer. The next two batters reached on a walk and a single, then Vasquez got out of the inning and the game. The rotation?


Today

Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 10:15 p.m., AT&T Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (6-4, 4.63) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (10-3, 2.45).

Season series: Pirates, 2-1.

Key matchup: These two had a terrific duel 10 days ago at PNC Park, Maholm holding San Francisco to one unearned run over eight innings, Lincecum holding the Pirates to a Garrett Jones home run over seven. The Pirates prevailed in the 14th, 2-1.

Of note: The Pirates have taken 10 of the past 14 meetings with the Giants, their best such run against any opponent.


Jeff Karstens replaced him, same as that 1 1/3 innings exit the start before last, at Philadelphia. But Russell wasn't prepared to anoint him as a candidate to return to the rotation he left in early June, replaced by Charlie Morton. Karstens has a 2.40 bullpen ERA and a 4.40 ERA overall.

"Jeff's done a great job. He gives us so many options down in the bullpen," Russell said.

As for Vasquez, Russell said: "A couple of innings, he got two out and couldn't finish it. A lot of their runs came with two out [eight of Arizona's nine]. Didn't pitch very well. He's not a dominant, hard thrower. He's got to make sure he's got command and changes speeds. When he doesn't, he has a tendency to get hit. Today, his off-speed pitches weren't there. [He] left too many pitches out over the plate again."

"The team needed me to come out and put up a couple of zeroes early, and I just faltered," Vazquez said. "[A potential rotation change] crosses your mind, especially when you get taken out after the third inning. You can't worry about that, really. Because then you pitch with fear. You can't play with fear in your mind."

Meanwhile, Arizona's Max Scherzer appeared to be deeply implanted in the craniums of the Pirates' batters. He struck out eight and got only one groundout among the first 24 batters he faced, about one-fourth of those trying to turn on his trademark fastball yet producing only long, arid flyouts.

"Spot him four runs early, it's awfully tough to come back," Russell said. "Especially [when] we've been struggling the last couple of games scoring runs."

As it was, Friday's 10-run output was all the refund the Pirates' offense granted consumers in the promotion for the Washington series that starts Friday. So went a series loss in what one Arizona Republic poster called a matchup between "the West Coast Pirates and the East Coast Pirates." The West's was best by 27-4 in its three victories and won the four-game series on total runs, if such a thing counted, 30-14.

Yesterday marked the parched Pirates' fifth shutout in their past 17 games. The last time they were shutout in consecutive games was May 22-23 at the Chicago White Sox. One trend to notice: Freddy Sanchez was struggling with a prolonged oh-for back then, too.

"Of course you're always pressing when you're not feeling good at the plate, when you're trying to do too much at the plate -- trying to get five hits in one at-bat," said Sanchez, who went 0 for 12 with seven strikeouts in Arizona, where he has a home, and enters San Francisco today on an 0-for-20 bent. "Obviously, I've been here before. Hopefully, I can get a fresh start the next series."

He isn't the only troubled hitter in a Pirates order that went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position amid these shutouts after going 6 for 10 in that frenetic Friday. Shortstop Jack Wilson went 1 for 6 in his two games since returning from a balky hamstring and stranded three runners yesterday. Could it be the trade-deadline looming? The stalled contract negotiations? A combo platter?

"You never know," Sanchez said on a day when scouts from Minnesota and Boston, if not others, were in Chase Field to keep an eye on potential trade-worthy Pirates. "You try not to worry about that stuff but ... you never know. I'm not going to put an excuse on anything. I'm not having good at-bats, that's what it boils down to.

"As bad as we're pressing and not doing," he added of Arizona's Doug Davis Saturday and Scherzer, whose stuff he labeled "filthy" yesterday, "you've got to give the other guys credit."


Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com . First Published July 27, 2009 4:00 AM


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