Morris rocked again in Pirates' 11-2 loss
Matt Morris throws to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of their baseball game in Los Angeles last night. The Dodgers and Pirates celebrated the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier with uniformed personnel wearing his number 42.
Phil Dumatrait reacts as Los Angeles Dodgers' Jeff Kent rounds the bases after a three-run home run during the fifth inning of their baseball game in Los Angeles last night.
Award-winner Chaka Khan, sings the national anthem before the start of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pirates baseball game in Los Angeles last night. Chaka Khan was part of the pregame events to celebrate the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.
Oscar-winning actor Lou Gossett Jr. speaks before the Los Angeles Dodgers'' baseball game against the Pirates in Los Angeles, Tuesday last niht. Gossett was part of the events to celebrate the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking major league baseball's color barrier.
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LOS ANGELES -- The simple math tells the tale ...
During the Pirates' four-game winning streak, their starting pitchers had a cumulative ERA of 1.75.
During their 11-2 loss to Los Angeles last night at Dodger Stadium that snapped the streak, Matt Morris was slammed for six runs in just 4 2/3 innings, raising his personal ERA through three starts to a staff-high 7.02 and his opponents' batting average at .345.
- Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (0-1, 4.35) vs. RHP Brad Penny (1-2, 3.86).
- Key matchup: Jason Bay has had little trouble keeping up with Penny's power stuff, owning a .400 career average with a home run.
- Of note: Nate McLouth's first-inning single last night gave him at least one hit in each of the first 14 games. The previous Pirates player to open a season with a 14-game hitting streak was Willie Stargell in 1976.
In the early going, that cannot be disputed.
The question is this: What to do about it?
Morris' $9.5 million salary, combined with management being amenable to trading him if a taker could be found, surely will keep him in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Moreover, there is the not-so-small matter of Morris' pedigree, including that 7-3 start with the San Francisco Giants last season and his even richer past.
To no surprise, then, the Pirates' clear aim is to right him.
"We have to figure it out," manager John Russell said. "He's a professional, and he and our staff will work through this."
The maddening part for Morris and the team is that he has started well in his past two outings, including three innings last night in which he faced the minimum nine batters and threw only 41 pitches.
"His command in the first few innings was very, very good," pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "His fastball had action and tightness. His cutter was good. Everything was working fine. It's kind of hard to explain why it's coming undone."
For Morris, too.
"It's just a matter of continuing to make your pitch," Morris said. "I'm one pitch away in some of these innings. It's just ... I don't know what to say."
Andrews strongly indicated that significant between-starts work is in order.
"It's something we'll have to talk about," he said. "Maybe it's pitch selection. Maybe it's mechanical. We're going to see if we can come up with a solution."
Lost in the process was a chance at a seriously modest milestone: If the Pirates had improved to 8-6, it would have marked the latest in a season they had been two games over .500 since April 16, 2003, when they were ... 8-6.
It looked as if Los Angeles starter Hong-Chih Kuo might not last long, particularly given that this converted reliever was working with a pitch limit of 70-80. To boot, he was plenty wild in the opening inning, walking three consecutive batters after two outs -- including Ronny Paulino with the bases loaded -- to hand the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
But he strikingly bounced back by fanning his next five batters and would glide into the fourth on 75 pitches, eventually giving way to Esteban Loaiza for the final five innings. The Pirates wound up with five hits, two by Nate McLouth.
Three consecutive hits opened the Los Angeles fourth, including Andre Ethier's two-run double, and James Loney's one-out single put the Dodgers ahead, 3-1.
That became 5-1 in the next inning on Rafael Furcal's two-out RBI single and Matt Kemp's follow-up triple, after which Morris was replaced by Phil Dumatrait. A hit batsman and a three-run blast by Jeff Kent, and it was 8-1.
Dumatrait was charged with two runs on two hits, a walk and a hit batsman, but Morris took full responsibility.
"I'm out there in the fifth inning with a man on second, two outs and a chance to get us out of that inning down, 3-1," Morris said.
Evan Meek, summoned for mopup duty, gave up three more runs in his two innings.
How tough a night was it for the visitors?
When McLouth doubled in the eighth, the majority of his splintered bat whipped into the Pirates' dugout and struck hitting coach Don Long on the left cheek, causing a deep gash that required several stitches.
Where Long was fortunate was that the bat, one, got him just below the eye and, two, made contact with the non-broken end.
"It was pretty scary," Russell said. "But he'll be fine."
The bat struck left fielder Jason Bay in the back, too, but he was well enough to make his next plate appearance.
One other negative: Third baseman Jose Bautista double-clutched a Kemp grounder in the seventh and was charged with an error. Tough or not -- and a case could be made either way -- that extended the Pirates' error streak to 13 games. Their total of 20, all within the infield, leads Major League Baseball.
First Published April 16, 2008 12:54 am