Gorzelanny's gradual recovery hits another hill
Tom Gorzelanny tries to wave foul Toby Hall's two-run home run in the second last night at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
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CHICAGO -- It will be like this much of the summer for Tom Gorzelanny, no doubt ...
Trying to find himself.
Trying to shake off the effects of that spring shoulder injury.
Trying, step by step, to regain the form that made him a 14-game winner in 2007.
But it will not come easily, as was evident again in the Pirates' 8-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox last night at U.S. Cellular Field: He pitched six fairly fast-paced innings, showed the best command of his full repertoire all summer, limited a formidable lineup to five hits ... but three of those cleared the left-field fence, accounting for four runs.
"All in all, I felt about as good as I have," Gorzelanny said afterward. "I felt like I got behind every batter with a 2-0 count, but I battled back with some pretty good pitches."
He shook his head.
"But it's no fun giving up three home runs. I made some mistakes, and they capitalized."
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago White Sox, 2:05 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field.
- TV/Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Phil Dumatrait (3-3, 3.84) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (7-3, 3.30).
- Key matchup: Floyd vs. the gopher ball. He has given up at least one home run in his past five starts, including four to Colorado in the most recent start Friday. Remarkably, despite this, opponents are batting just .198 off him.
- Of note: Twelve of the Pirates' 17 games this month have been decided by two or fewer runs.
To be sure, some of the Pirates' struggling starters have seen positives where few others have, but this scene seemed different: Manager John Russell and others in the clubhouse concurred that, even if this was not Gorzelanny's best line, it was the closest he had come to rediscovering himself.
Never mind the four walks, and never mind that he threw only 58 of 110 pitches for strikes.
"It's the most consistent I've seen him in the zone in a while," Russell said. "He threw the ball well and really kept it down, used all his pitches, and that's a good thing for him. I think it was a good step. ... Unfortunately, he faced somebody who was throwing really well."
Chicago's Mark Buehrle, a fellow left-hander Gorzelanny acknowledged last night that "I've idolized for a while," zipped through the Pirates in eight innings, with two runs and four hits. He was perfect through four and had a no-hitter through five before Jose Bautista's home run led off the sixth.
Buehrle's pitch count: 96.
Total game time: Two hours, 17 minutes, a virtual cameo in the American League.
"I felt like it was one of those games where everything was working for me," Buehrle said.
And the no-hitter?
"It was in my mind."
"It's not the first time anyone's seen him throw like that," Bautista said. "He makes his pitches, and he works really quick."
That was the key as some of Bautista's teammates saw it, too: Buehrle did not have his best stuff, in their estimation, but he put his pitches where he wanted and wasted little time in between.
"He's tough to slow down," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He just gets the ball and comes right back at you."
Gorzelanny noticed that, and he might have noticed a resemblance, too.
"That's how it was for me when I pitched last year, just going right after guys, putting my pitches where I wanted," he said. "And I can be that pitcher again."
The calendar year did not start well for Gorzelanny, coming up with that sore left shoulder before his first spring start. And, though he did not speak about it much at the time, he had lingering stiffness that carried into the early part of the season.
"It's completely fine," he said. "I felt as good out there as I have all year."
That showed not only with the varied command, but also on the gun: His fastball stayed in the range of 91 mph, roughly where it was last year.
Two days ago, Gorzelanny told Pirates broadcaster John Wehner during a televised interview that his shoulder was sore, but he clarified last night that he was referring mostly to that lingering stiffness at season's outset.
"It's really just something that affected me at the beginning," he said.
Even so, indirectly, it surely contributed to throwing him off course. And, by the time he failed to escape the first inning on that awful May 28 night in Cincinnati, his season -- maybe his professional career -- had bottomed out.
He has bounced back, though, with four respectable starts, holding each opponent to four runs or less and lasting into the sixth inning each time.
"I feel like things are getting better," Gorzelanny said.
The overall numbers remain numbing at 5-6 with a 6.59 ERA, plus those 50 walks. But the stressing point throughout the bounce-back period has been rebuilding the confidence to throw all of his pitches for strikes, especially the fastball. And there has been progress there, including a good example last night in the first inning: He deftly located a fastball on the outside corner to Jermaine Dye for strike two, then came right back on the inside black to freeze him.
"I'm looking for him to be aggressive," pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "I'm looking for good arm speed. I'm looking for him to go after hitters, to be into the game more, to not walk guys, to be a competitor."
Gorzelanny exited this one with a 4-1 deficit, that coming on the two-run shot by Toby Hall in the second inning and solos by Carlos Quentin in the fifth and Brian Anderson in the sixth, the latter two on aggressive -- if elevated -- fastballs. He had given up only nine home runs beforehand.
The White Sox have hit seven home runs in taking the first two games of this series, 93 for the season, most in the American League.
Bautista, the designated hitter, again provided the Pirates' primary highlight: He opened the sixth by clubbing a first-pitch changeup into the left-field bleachers for his seventh home run, second in as many nights and third in four games.
He is batting .356 in his past 19 games -- 21 for 59 -- to raise his season average to .260.
"I'm feeling pretty good right now," Bautista said.
Tyler Yates relieved Gorzelanny in the seventh and gave up three runs, putting the game out of reach.
Phil Dumatrait will try to avoid the sweep this afternoon.
First Published June 19, 2008 12:00 am