Reserves can't stop the skid
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ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates emptied the bench yesterday.
Craig Monroe made his first start in nine games. Eric Hinske his first in six. Robinzon Diaz his first in five. Delwyn Young his first at second base in almost a year, since May 11, 2008, with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Even that didn't reverse the club's misfortunes.
Forget for the moment that marketing campaign about pride and passion. These pent-up, pained and parched Pirates -- playing mostly backups while already missing two recuperating regulars, catcher Ryan Doumit and shortstop Jack Wilson -- fell to their season-worst fifth consecutive loss with a 5-2 setback to the Cardinals.
Fell to their ninth loss in their past 10 games.
Fell again offensively, and still can't get up.
- Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:10 p.m., Citi Field.
- TV, radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (1-1, 5.85) vs. LHP Jon Niese (season debut)
- Key matchup: All of the Pirates' hitters vs. Niese, a 22-year-old freshly recalled from Class AAA who was 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA for Buffalo. His major league experience: 1-1 with a 7.07 ERA in three starts last year.
- Of note: Mets CF Carlos Beltran batted .388 in April, while LHP Johan Santana had a 1.10 ERA. Since World War II, only two other National League teams had the top batting average and ERA through April.
"Changed things up a little bit," manager John Russell said of his lineup shuffling, which returned Nate McLouth to leadoff followed by Young, Monroe and Hinske while Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche got the day off. "Still, didn't score any runs."
Well, they didn't score many. Their two was just about average for this week-and-a-half slump, a period in which they were shut out three times in a four-game span..
The offense has mustered just 21 runs in the past 75 innings. It has mustered as many as three runs in a single inning just once -- four Saturday against Cincinnati -- in its past 80 innings. Meantime, the opposition has put up seven innings of three runs or more.
The team ERA has grown a tad from the 2.97 that topped all major league teams when the Pirates left San Diego with a winning April in pocket. Yet the team nevertheless entered yesterday second in the National League and third in the majors with a 3.79 ERA. So the pitchers seem to deserve better.
"When runs are at a premium, and we're not scoring a lot of them lately, maybe guys press a little more," said outfielder Brandon Moss, whose three RBIs ranks last among the club's regulars. "I think I'm the one who's the least productive on the team; I want to be helping out the pitchers as much as anybody. This is one of those times it isn't happening."
"Maybe it's a product of we're all trying to do too much," said Hinske, who combined with Young, Monroe, Moss and Andy LaRoche in the order's middle to go 0 for 18. "Today I felt like I had good at-bats, just nothing to show for it."
This lineup of backups -- Brian Bixler at shortstop made it six of eight -- collected four hits and three walks off St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer (3-3),whom the Pirates racked for 12 hits and five earned runs in five innings in the opening week.
Yesterday, St. Louis scored first, a harbinger for the Pirates: They've lost 10 of 12 when that has happened. Nate McLouth missed Skip Schumaker's leadoff fly ball, which turned into a triple, and Albert Pujols recorded his 110th RBI against the Pirates with a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.
McLouth's double plated LaRoche to tie it in the fifth inning.
Then in the bottom of the fifth, Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf (3-3), victorious in three previous starts, suffered his worst inning this year. A single, a bunt single, two hit batsmen, a sacrifice fly and a single over a leaping LaRoche brought in four runs.
"He's a kid who had some trouble," said Pujols, who was hit in the back before Ohlendorf clipped Ryan Ludwick on a 3-2 pitch. "We responded the way you're supposed to respond when somebody gets hit: by scoring runs."
"I didn't help us end the losing streak," Ohlendorf added. "I didn't come through like I needed to."
Outside of Diaz's first major-league homer -- and the Pirates' second extra-base hit of the day -- in the seventh, the visitors' offense was closed for business the rest of the way.
"We're not worried," Hinske said. "It's a long season. We're not hitting right now. Keep working, it'll turn around. It always does. Nobody's going to get down on himself. We have guys getting on; we're just having a little trouble stringing some stuff together. A couple losses in a row here, we got to find a way to turn it around."
First Published May 8, 2009 12:00 am