If it was last start for Pirates' Ohlendorf, it was fitting
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If this was Ross Ohlendorf's final start of 2009, it certainly served as a tidy microcosm: He pitched quite well, got almost zero support and wound up in a hushed clubhouse after the Pirates lost in the ninth inning to the San Diego Padres, 2-1, yesterday at PNC Park.
One might think the guy would look a little irritated once in a while, but ...
He never has complained about the support, which includes a total of six runs in his 10 losses.
"I was really happy with the way the guys played behind me," Ohlendorf said again yesterday.
And he never has complained about being shut down, an action the team is likely to take after this one.
Ohlendorf allowed one run on five hits over seven innings. That left his season inning count at 176 2/3, just above the 160-170 range where management had wanted to limit him based on studies showing that pitchers risk injury by greatly exceeding their previous inning highs.
• Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (8-8, 4.51) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (10-10, 4.24).
• Key matchup: San Diego slugger Adrian Gonzalez is 0 for 6 with three strikeouts vs. Maholm.
• Of note: The Pirates have 64 errors, fewest in Major League Baseball, and are on an easy pace to break the franchise record of 83, set in 2007.
Manager John Russell said the Pirates would "take a day or two" to determine Ohlendorf's status, but one got the distinct impression this was it.
"This is something we've seen all year," Russell said of Ohlendorf's showing yesterday. "Ross has made great strides. There's a very good feeling when he pitches. And that's true of a lot of our guys, if you look at how we're developing starters. We should have a very solid rotation next year."
Ohlendorf was asked, if this was it, how he felt about a first full season of Major League Baseball in which he has gone 11-10 with a staff-best 3.92 ERA and, maybe most impressive, a closing stretch of holding opponents to three or fewer runs in 12 of 15 starts.
"I've been really happy," Ohlendorf replied. "I feel like I've learned a lot, gotten a lot better. That's what it's about."
And what about the month-long specter of each start possibly being his last?
"I'm trying not to think about it. I'm just trying to finish strong and work on things."
He achieved that yesterday by leaning hard on the changeup -- a different pitch each start, it seems -- and pinpointing his fastball early in counts. He struck out five, walked one and never was in real trouble.
"Ross threw strikes, and he was down in the zone," catcher Robinzon Diaz said. "He was good, really good. If he can continue what he's doing now, he can be great."
The Pirates scored in the first, but only with the help of two Clayton Richard walks and an error.
San Diego tied in the third on Everth Cabrera's RBI double.
That 1-1 tie lasted until the ninth, when Russell turned to immensely struggling left-hander Phil Dumatrait. That might have struck some in the crowd of 20,379 as curious, but Matt Capps and Jesse Chavez pitched the previous night, and Joel Hanrahan is down for the weekend with elbow soreness.
"Seems crazy to say in September, but we're pretty banged up," Russell said.
After one out, Chase Headley's routine grounder slipped past always erratic second baseman Brian Bixler for an error. Dumatrait walked two to load the bases, and Denny Bautista gave up pinch-hitter Henry Blanco's sacrifice fly.
"You can't make errors, and you can't walk people in the ninth," Russell said. "That'll get you every time."
So will producing negligible offense: This lineup, which even under optimal circumstances might be the franchise's least imposing in a decade, was missing Garrett Jones, Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche to injury or illness, and it mustered all of five singles.
Two of these last-place teams' three runs came without a hit.
"Sometimes, you have to win ugly," Headley said.
To avoid 100 losses, the Pirates, winners of three of their past 21 games and 13 of the past 40, must go 7-9 the rest of the way.