Pirates fall to Brewers, extend losing streak to four
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen is caught stealing by Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder in the fourth inning of Thursday's game at PNC Park.
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This is beginning to feel like just another Pirates season -- or at least the ones that have occurred since 1993.
All the momentum clutched with that season-starting swing through Chicago and St. Louis has vanished, left behind in the Midwest. When the Pirates came home, the enthusiasm got taken away.
When the Pirates lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-1, Thursday night at PNC Park in front of 10,517 fans -- striking out 14 times in the process -- it marked another point in the evaporating energy the club had seemingly stockpiled over its first six games.
"You got to play your way through it, you got to swing your way through it, you got to hit your way through it," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, his team now 5-7.
"The at-bats have got to improve. The number of strikeouts continues to be alarming."
And the excitement that was palpable around town regarding this team about a week ago, seems zapped to a large degree.
Game: Pirates vs. Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
Radio: WPGB-FM 104.7.
Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (1-0, 2.08 ERA) vs. RHP Bronson Arroyo (2-0, 2.08).
Key matchup: The Pirates vs. The Cincinnati Kids (in Cincinnati). The Pirates were 2-5 at Great American Ball Park last season, 3-7 in 2009.
Of note: Arroyo was the third-round pick of the Pirates in the 1995 draft. They took OF Chad Hermansen in the first round that year and 1B Garrett Long in the second.
Consider this: When the Pirates started the season 4-2 with a six-game swing on the road, they came back to a home-opener, April 7 crowd of 39,219, the second-most in stadium history.
For the past three games combined, they have lured 32,315 people to the ballpark. They also have lost four games in a row.
With momentum securely on their side entering a six-game homestand against the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers, the Pirates went 1-5, winning only a 14-inning game against the Rockies that began Friday night and weaved its way into the early morning hours Saturday.
Meanwhile, the lack of offensive production has been alarming.
In a stretch that began Sunday in the final game of the Colorado series and drifted into the eighth inning of the loss Thursday, the Pirates went 22 consecutive innings without a run.
In those innings, they collected eight hits and one extra-base hit, second baseman Neil Walker's double Thursday in the sixth.
Much of the plunge falls on the shoulders of essential players.
The Pirates' regular Nos. 2, 3 and 5 hitters -- Walker, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Pedro Alvarez -- went a combined 9 for 65 in the homestand.
"There's no explanation for it, we're just not getting it done," McCutchen said.
"It's frustrating because we know what we can do, we know we can hit the ball, we know we can score runs. It is just not happening. We don't know why it's not happening."
On top of that, Alvarez has been mired in such slump, it forced Hurdle to give him the game off from starting Thursday, pushing Steve Pearce into a start at third. Alvarez pinch-hit in the eighth and struck out looking on a down-and-in fastball, making him 3 for his past 20 at-bats.
Such offensive ineptitude is one thing, but yet another when coupled with the trend of falling behind to start games.
In the first innings of their 12 games, the Pirates have been outscored, 13-4. In the six-game homestand, the Pirates allowed at least one run in the first five times.
"It puts you in a hole you have to dig yourself out of a little bit," Hurdle said.
Thursday was pitcher Paul Maholm's opportunity to take the ball in his third start of the year, and he -- true to the rotation's form on the homestand -- ran into trouble in the first.
Rickie Weeks began the game with a single and a one-out walk to left fielder Ryan Braun followed. Prince Fielder singled in Weeks from second. The Brewers' second run -- which proved more than enough -- scored on shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt's sacrifice fly.
"I'd rather not give them two right away, maybe let us relax a little," Maholm said.
"But once they got those two, I just said that's it. I wanted to give my team a chance."
He did -- but the Pirates could not mount any semblance of an attack off Milwaukee starter Randy Wolf, who blistered through the lineup, striking out 10 and giving up three hits in his 62/3 innings.
Milwaukee tacked on two more runs in the ninth, when Walker's throwing error led to one and Nyjer Morgan's double chased home the other.
The Pirates' lone run the past two games came on a wild pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth, scoring McCutchen.
The loss to the Brewers also continued an another trend at PNC Park. Since 2005, the Pirates are 2-19 in April at home against the Brewers, including an unforgettable, 20-0 loss April 22, 2010.
Things won't get easier with a four-game series in Cincinnati next. The Reds lead the National League Central Division and are 5-1 at Great American Ball Park.
"The schedule says go, so we're going to go, we're going to go Cincinnati," Hurdle said. "We're going to face a pretty good ball club there for four days and we need to show up and take the battle to them."
First Published April 15, 2011 12:00 am