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Pineiro struggles in loss to Pirates

Pineiro struggles in loss to Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Hoping to take some strain off the busy bullpen, the Cardinals shifted Joel Pineiro up from Sunday to start against the Pirates on Friday. The hope was that Pineiro would contribute more innings than previously scheduled starter Brad Thompson, who will instead pitch on Sunday.

It didn't work. Pineiro was chased after four-plus innings and seven runs, leaving the Cards' relief corps to get 12 outs in a 10-2 loss to the Pirates. It was the fourth straight day that the bullpen was asked to record at least 11 outs.

When it rains, it pours.

"I didn't make my pitches when I needed to," said Pineiro, who had to wait 73 minutes before making his first pitch because of rainstorms in Pittsburgh. "It was tough. I felt like two different pitchers once again. It feels like inning to inning. I'll go one inning and it's three ground balls on six or eight pitches, and then I come back, and it just gets away quick for some reason."

Pineiro wasn't the only Cardinal who struggled, as Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm held the St. Louis offense to two runs and seven hits over eight-plus innings. Ryan Ludwick misplayed a ball into extra bases in the determining fifth inning, and Albert Pujols was picked off after hitting a first-inning double.

But in the eyes of manager Tony La Russa, it all came back to the starting pitcher.

"It's puzzling from Joel's side," La Russa said. "You watch him and you get excited, because he makes a pitch or two, and you think it's going to be what he's going to do for most of the night. And then he'll throw the ball down the middle and get hurt. That's really been a puzzling part of his pitching. The potential is there for him to be good, but too many times, I'm not sure exactly why, the ball ends up in a bad spot."

La Russa gave a second thought to the odd string of events Pineiro endured, but ultimately found little to equivocate. Pineiro had made one start in the previous 26 days, as he was bumped to a bullpen role while the team twice switched to a four-man rotation. He was slated to start on Friday, then he was moved to Sunday and back to Friday, all within a span of a few hours.

Yet in the manager's eyes, the problems were the same ones the right-hander has encountered on the mound all year. Pineiro has five games this year in which he's pitched at least seven innings with two runs or fewer, but he also has six starts in which he's allowed at least five earned runs.

"It's the same exact game," La Russa said. "Believe me, I thought, 'He's pitching Friday, no, he's pitching Sunday, no, he's pitching Friday.' I was kicking myself for that. Except I started thinking, 'This has been his pattern.' If that's part of it, then I'll take my part of the heat. But it's happened enough to where he's got to figure out something. We've got to figure it out. Because it's not good enough."

The tone for the night was set quickly for the Cards. Pujols lined a two-out double to left field in the top of the first. However, with Ludwick at the plate, Pujols was picked off second base, ending the inning.

In the bottom of the first, Pineiro minimized the damage of a potential big inning, retiring the last three batters with only one run after loading the bases, and in the second he retired the side on three straight ground-ball outs.

He permitted a two-run homer to Nate McLouth in the third, then struck out the side in order in the fourth. In the fifth, though, things got out of hand. Pittsburgh hung six runs on Pineiro and Randy Flores that inning, putting the game out of reach.

"You come from an inning where you think you've got it, figured it out, you're hitting your spots good on the sinker, and next inning all the sinkers were up again," Pineiro said. "And the good ones, they found the hole."

St. Louis is now five full games behind Milwaukee in the race for the National League Wild Card with 15 games remaining on the schedule. The Brewers were rained out in Philadelphia.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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