PITTSBURGH (AP)—Maybe it was the frustration of not pitching in the majors like he had in the minors. Or maybe Ian Snell disliked being compared negatively to Zach Duke, the Pirates’ other top pitching prospect.
Whatever it was, it finally clicked for Snell four starts ago and he has been a very effective pitcher since.
Snell, pitching like the top prospect he is supposed to be, limited Arizona to five hits over seven innings and Ronny Paulino hit his first career home run in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 victory over the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night.
“His fastball gets on you a little bit,” Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. “He was using his breaking ball, a cutter, a little backdoor slider to lefties and down some down-and-in curveballs. They pitched better than we did, and we didn’t swing the bat very well.”
The Pirates reached the double-digit victory mark in their 34th game, leaving Kansas City and Florida as the only teams in the majors with fewer than 10 victories.
While the last-place Pirates are running out of time to make anything of what is quickly becoming their 14th consecutive losing season, the 24-year-old Snell (2-2) seems to be settling in as one of the NL’s best young starters. The right-hander was in control from the start, never allowing a runner past second base while striking out five and walking one in a dominating performance.
“He made pitches in good spots,” Luis Gonzalez said of Snell, who was 58-20 in the minors from 2000-05. “It was more of a frustrating night for us offensively. We felt we were seeing him pretty well.”
Snell didn’t have as many strikeouts as he did in his previous two starts, when he struck out 16 in 12 2-3 innings—nine in 5 2-3 innings in his most recent start, against the Mets. But he didn’t need them on a night he kept the ball down and permitted only one ball to leave the infield in his final four innings.
“It’s starting to come around,” Snell said.
Snell and Duke were considered the Pirates’ top minor league prospects at this time a year ago, but Duke had much more success (8-2, 1.81 ERA) than Snell (1-2, 5.14 ERA) did after they were called up around midseason. Snell also struggled in his first three starts this season, yielding 16 earned runs in 15 innings.
Snell has since given up only five runs in four starts, including a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia on April 28 in which he pitched seven shutout innings.
“I didn’t change anything,” Snell said. “I’ve just been mixing my pitches up more, throwing more offspeed pitches. And it got around that I was a fastball pitcher and now it’s like, `Oh, well, maybe he’s not a fastball pitcher.”’
Paulino homered in the second inning, his first in 47 career at-bats, as the Pirates took a 2-0 lead against Miguel Batista (3-2). Paulino missed a second homer by inches when his drive in the seventh hit the top of the padded wall in right field and bounded back into play for a double. Paulino scored a batter later on pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit’s double.
“I’m excited,” said Paulino, a rookie catcher who exchanged two bats and a signed baseball for his first home run ball. “I hit it pretty good. The second one I hit really good.”
Batista, a one-time Pirates Rule Five draft pick who made his major league debut with them in 1992, gave up three runs and eight hits over seven innings.
Arizona lost its second in a row after winning seven straight. … The Pirates are 7-7 at home but 3-17 on the road. … Duke had the Pirates’ only other shutout this season, an 8-0 victory over the Cubs on May 2. … Snell failed to allow a run in the first inning for the second time in seven starts. … Jeromy Burnitz ended an 0-for-19 slide with a double in the sixth. Until then, he was 2-for-25 against Batista. …. Batista is 2-5 against Pittsburgh.
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