The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost as many games as they’ve won, but they wouldn’t even be a .500 club without some excellent starting pitching.
They’d love to include Ian Snell on their list of effective starters.
Snell was better in his last outing after getting hit hard in his first start, but he’ll still be looking for his first win Saturday afternoon when the Pirates continue their three-game set with the visiting Atlanta Braves, who are hoping to avoid a fifth straight loss.
Pittsburgh’s starters were 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA through 10 starts last season, and that number ballooned to an NL-worst 5.36 ERA by the end of the season and a major league-low 33 wins from the rotation.
Through 10 games in 2009, though, the Pirates (5-5) have already gotten four wins and a 2.95 ERA from their starters, and their latest performance was one of their best. Paul Maholm scattered four singles over seven innings and John Grabow and Matt Capps blanked Atlanta (5-5) the rest of the way Friday night in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 win.
The only truly poor start the Pirates have received was when Snell (0-2, 7.20 ERA) took the mound on April 7 in St. Louis. He gave up eight runs—six earned—over four innings in a 9-3 loss, looking much like the pitcher who went 1-6 with an 8.12 ERA in his first 11 starts of 2008.
On Sunday in Cincinnati, however, Snell pitched more like he did over his final six outings, when he was 3-2 with a 3.18 ERA. The right-hander gave up two runs and five hits over six innings—striking out seven—though Pittsburgh’s offense was silent in a 2-0 loss.
“I feel like I’ve finally got my stuff back,” said Snell, who was bothered late in spring training by the flu, to the Pirates’ official Web site. “It’s the first time I’ve had all my strength.”
Snell didn’t earn a decision in two starts against Atlanta last season, posting a 3.46 ERA in 13 innings.
One player he’ll want to pitch carefully to Saturday is catcher Brian McCann, who’s 9-for-14 (.643) with three homers, two doubles and seven RBIs in his career against Snell.
Neither McCann nor the rest of the Braves’ offense has been hitting lately, however. Atlanta is batting .200 over its past four losses, as it’s totaled seven runs.
A lack of production from McCann has been part of the problem. He was 6-for-15 (.400) with two homers and six RBIs in his first four games, but is in a 1-for-17 slump over his last six.
Atlanta may get a lift on Saturday if Chipper Jones can return. The veteran third baseman has missed the past three games with a bruised left thumb that he’s repeatedly aggravated since hurting it late in spring training, but is hoping to return during the series in Pittsburgh.
“Obviously, our lineup shapes different when he’s not in there,” Jeff Francoeur, who’s hitting .350, told the Braves’ official Web site. “So that stinks. But that’s part of the deal. We know that he’s going to be out some times and we’ve got to step it up.”
Shortstop Yunel Escobar, who’s hitting .343, is likely to sit for the second straight game with a strained abdominal muscle.
The shaky Braves’ offense could use a quality outing from Jo-Jo Reyes (3-11, 5.81), who will be called up from Triple-A to make his season debut. Reyes was 3-6 with a 4.15 ERA in his first 12 starts in 2008, but went 0-5 with an 8.45 ERA after July 1, and the Braves were 1-11 in his last 12 starts.
Reyes has never faced the Pirates.