DENVER -- More than any member of these Pirates, Paul Maholm preaches the importance of consistency, of simply pitching well enough from start to start to give his team a chance to win.
And half the time, he is precisely that consistent.
A case could be made that he gave his team that chance in the 4-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies Saturday night at Coors Field -- and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle certainly saw it that way -- because the line afterward showed a solid if unspectacular four runs in seven innings.
"Paulie pitched really well," Hurdle said.
But a case also could be made that it was not good enough, as the on-off-on-off pattern that has largely defined Maholm's six years with the Pirates came to light again in the fateful first two innings.
Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 3:05 p.m., Coors Field, Denver.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (2-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1, 6.75).
Key matchup: Jimenez has been superb against the Pirates -- 1.54 ERA, .183 batting average, 27 strikeouts in 35 innings -- but a thumb injury has kept him from lasting longer than six innings against anyone this season.
Of note: The Pirates' Neil Walker is batting .410 -- 16 for 39 -- in day games.
Andrew McCutchen hit his eighth career leadoff home run by lining Colorado starter Jason Hammel's fastball into the seats beyond left-center. Thus, the Pirates had the same ignition -- an early McCutchen solo shot -- that, on the previous night, Kevin Correia carried to the bullpen for the 3-0 shutout.
This one would last but a few minutes, though, as Maholm gave up hits to his first four batters he faced in the second inning, and the Rockies whisked ahead, 4-1.
Carlos Gonzalez stung a double off the left-field fence, Jose Lopez reached on a bunt single and Seth Smith beat out an infield squibber for a tying run. The latter two hits were unfortunate for Maholm, of course, but the same cannot be said when the next batter, Chris Iannetta, sent an elevated, 87-mph, 3-1 fastball into the evergreens for a three-run home run.
"I missed two pitches, Gonzalez's double and Iannetta's home run," Maholm said. "Both pitches were up. They're a good team. If you make bad pitches, that's going to happen."
Maholm was asked if the big inning hurt more for the potentially deflating effect after McCutchen's blast.
"It stinks either way," he said. "We lose, and the series is tied. ... It is what it is."
Hurdle saw the inning the same way.
"There's two infield hits in there, a bunt and a ball off the end of the bat," he said. "Paulie pitched well enough to win. In this ballpark, four runs in seven innings ... that's a good start. We weren't able to help him out on the offensive side."
Through six starts, Maholm is 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA, and opponents are batting .253. The record is partly a reflection of receiving just nine runs of support, and the opponents' batting average represents an improvement over 2010, when he allowed the second-most hits in the National League.
But there is this, too: Eleven of his 19 runs allowed have come in the first two innings.
"Just have to keep grinding it out and hope things turn for you," Maholm said. "We'll all keep battling."
As Hurdle stressed, the offense generated little after McCutchen's home run, finishing with a total of seven hits but losing baserunners to Colorado double plays turned in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
"The three double plays just stopped anything we had going," Hurdle said.
One positive for the visitors: McCutchen appears to be going again, with the home run being his second in as many nights and fifth of the season. He is 3 for 7 with a walk in this series, coming off an 0-for-16 slide. He also covered a breathtaking amount of ground for a sliding catch in right-center to rob Lopez in the fifth.
"I'm getting there," McCutchen said. "Starting to feel good."
Pedro Alvarez apparently is going the other way again. Since that 3-for-4 game in Miami last week in which he homered and doubled, he is 4 for 21, including three more hitless at-bats Saturday that dropped his average back to the Mendoza Line at .200. He hit into one of the three double plays and stranded three runners.
The only other positive: Daniel Moskos, the Pirates' first-round draft pick of 2007 making his major-league debut, pitched a perfect eighth inning on just 14 pitches. He was promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis earlier in the day.
"Nice, clean inning," Hurdle said. "It was good to get him out there, have the feel of the game."
"I'm just trying to focus on what I have to do here now," Moskos said.
Jose Tabata, the Pirates' left fielder, exited after his first at-bat with a tight right hamstring after trying to beat out a grounder and landing hard on first base.
He walked off the field without assistance, and the injury did not appear serious, but he will be held out of the series' rubber match today.
"We're going to give him a couple days, maybe navigate a man short," Hurdle said.
"It's just a little cramp," Tabata said. "It will be OK."