Pirates shutout by Marlins' Johnson, 6-0


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MIAMI -- That is what a top-of-the-rotation power arm looks like.

And that is why they are in such high demand.

To watch Florida Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson baffle the Pirates and push his team to a 6-0 win Tuesday night at Sun Life Stadium was to realize how a hard-throwing, no-frills pitcher can render a batter helpless.

Johnson struck out nine Pirates and gave up two hits in seven innings while commanding his upper 90s mph fastball from virtually first pitch to the last as he overpowered Pirates hitters.

"The fastball is top shelf," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You want to start a franchise and pick a pitcher, you're not going to go wrong picking him. When you can go high 90s with a downhill plane, with good finish ... command both sides of the plate. He's good, he's a legit ace."


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Marlins, 7:10 p.m., Sun Life Stadium, Miami.

TV, radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (2-0, 1.64 ERA) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 4.05).

Key matchup: Nolasco vs. the order. Nolasco is 3-3 against the Pirates in six starts, but it is a bit of a misnomer. He has 38 strikeouts and hasn't given up a home run to a Pirates hitter in 42 2/3 innings.

Of note: : Matt Diaz has been effective against Nolasco (9 for 20), with three doubles and a home run in his career.

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A legitimate ace who perpetuated a disheartening trend -- in 15 of their 17 games, the Pirates have struck out six or more times.

There was a bit of other stuff mixed in for Johnson, including a curveball with which he has tinkered recently. He also hit the strike zone with a slider that reached into the upper 80s, and his changeup was solid at times. But, most often, his fastball served as both his get-ahead and sit-you-down pitch.

"He was attacking us well, throwing strikes," said Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones, who had one of those two hits off Johnson. "His fastball is definitely his pitch. Sometimes, it cuts when it comes in to lefties and it goes away from righties. ... It gets on you quick and has a lot of life."

And the Pirates knew what they were getting from the 6-foot- 7, 250-pounder, who was a schoolboy star in Oklahoma.

The opening-day starter for the Marlins, Johnson (3-0) has pitched at least six innings in all four starts. Wednesday in Atlanta, he allowed one hit and struck out nine. The start before, he struck out six and has yet to give up more than four hits in any games this season.

Last season, Johnson had 186 strikeouts in 183 2/3 innings.

The Pirates' first hit came when Jones led off the fifth with a long single that struck the wall in right field.

By comparison, the Marlins had eight hits at that point, had scored six times and chased one pitcher -- Pirates left-handed starter Paul Maholm -- from this game.

"It comes down to me not pitching well," Maholm said.

There is also the part about consistency. For as consistent as Johnson has been in the recent past, it seems Maholm (0-3) has been up and down just as much.

In his first start in Chicago this season, Maholm didn't give up an earned run in 62/3 innings. In his second start, he gave up eight hits in a loss against the Colorado Rockies in which he did not get out of the sixth.

Last time out, Maholm had a rocky first inning but settled down giving up four hits in seven innings.

Tuesday night, Maholm tunneled his own hole in the second inning, spotting the Marlins a 2-0 lead.

After rolling through the first five batters, Maholm hit Mike Stanton with a pitch. Then came three consecutive singles. The third one that hurt most with Johnson doing about as much damage swinging a bat as he had been on the mound.

The pitcher with a .130 career average laced a breaking pitch into right field that scored two runs.

"He Little Leagued us," Hurdle said of Johnson. "He struck us out, beat us on the mound and had a two-run single."

Maholm, as he stood in the postgame clubhouse hours after delivering the second-inning pitch, wanted that 1-1 breaking ball he threw to Johnson back.

"Should have thrown a curve to get ahead, but not there ..." Maholm said, his voice trailing off. "No, shouldn't have thrown the curve there. Looking back on it, yes, hindsight is 20/20, and I should have gone with something else."

Those runs would have been enough for the Marlins, but there were more.

Back- to-back doubles started the fourth and gave the Marlins a 3-0 lead and, before the inning ended, the Marlins led, 6-0.

Maholm was lifted after 32/3 innings and charged with six earned runs and seven hits.

"I've got probably 30 more starts left this season," Maholm said. "I didn't give the team a chance to win and facing Johnson, you know you've got to be good."


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com


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