When Joel Pineiro first came up to the major leagues eight years ago, he was expected to one day become a staff ace.
That hasn’t happened, but he’s sure looked like one when he’s faced the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pineiro will look to win for the fourth time in as many career starts against the Pirates on Thursday as his St. Louis Cardinals conclude a three-game set against their NL Central rivals at Busch Stadium.
Great things were expected of Pineiro (2-2, 4.05 ERA) when he began his career in Seattle in 2000, but injuries and inconsistency derailed his career with the Mariners.
He’s enjoyed somewhat of a rebirth in St. Louis, where he’s gone 8-6 with a 3.99 in 17 starts with the Cardinals (24-18) dating to last August.
Pineiro has been at his best, though, against the Pirates (19-21). He’s 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his career against them, and pitched his best game of 2008 against Pittsburgh, when he went seven innings and allowed one run and four hits in a 6-2 win on April 24 at PNC Park.
“I thought Pineiro was outstanding,” manager Tony La Russa told the team’s official Web site after that game. “From the first pitch to the last pitch, he made so many quality throws that, in a game where there was no scoring until the middle, he gave us a great chance and was just outstanding.”
The Cardinals have been having problems scoring runs, and though they had 15 hits on Wednesday, they left 15 men on base in their 5-1 win over the Pirates.
St. Louis has left 364 runners on base in 42 games, by far the most in the majors.
One Cardinal who hasn’t had a problem getting on base with runners on is Albert Pujols. The first baseman is hitting .306 with runners on and has a .538 on-base percentage in that situation, partly because of a major league-leading 11 intentional walks.
Pujols extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a pair of hits on Wednesday, and he’s reached safely in all 41 games he’s played this season.
Pujols has especially enjoyed playing against the Pirates throughout his career. He has 34 home runs and 98 RBIs in 113 career games against Pittsburgh, totals he hasn’t surpassed against any other team.
He’s had plenty of success against Ian Snell (2-2, 4.53), who the Pirates will send to the mound in the series finale. Pujols is batting .579 (11-for-19) with four homers in his career against the right-hander.
Snell, who had the lowest ERA (3.76) of any Pittsburgh starter last season, was expected to take another step forward in 2008, but he’s struggled with his control, walking at least four in three of his past four outings.
He issued a season-high six walks on Friday against Atlanta, but allowed only one run and two hits over seven innings despite not picking up a decision in the Pirates’ 3-2 win.
Manager John Russell was pleased with Snell despite the walks.
“I thought he was good,” Russell told the team’s official Web site. “He made some pitches when he had to. I thought the aggressiveness that he showed tonight was more like Ian attacking the zone.”
Snell allowed four runs over six innings - walking four - but didn’t figure in the decision of Pittsburgh’s 7-4 win over St. Louis on April 23.
The Pirates have been enjoying increased production from second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who was hitting just .216 toward the end of April. Sanchez was moved to the leadoff spot on May 6, and is hitting .351 with eight RBIs in the nine games since.