LOS ANGELES -- The Pirates were caught looking, and Clint Hurdle did not like what he was looking at.Thus, the Pirates manager doubtlessly empathized with fans who felt frustration watching Chris Capuano mesmerize the lineup in the early going of Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers. The difference is Hurdle could do something about the four called third strikes his guys took in the first two innings. "I was very disappointed watching the number of called third strikes on fastballs. It's something that's been addressed," Hurdle said. "We've got to do a better job. We took a lot of hittable fastballs. "Nobody doesn't want to go up there and not do well. But at the end of the day, you've got to commit with two strikes to hit the fastball, if nothing else. We've preached and talked about that -- don't get beat with two-strike fastballs. Unfortunately, there was too much of that going on early." Too much for the Bucs' typical late showing to prevent a fourth loss in six games -- three of them by one run. Jeff Karstens overcame another shaky first inning in another strong evening by the pitchers, and the offense again applied some comeback heat. For all his early mastery, Capuano and his seven strikeouts were gone one out into the sixth. However, the Los Angeles bullpen closed it out by repelling the Pirates over the final 3 2/3 innings by allowing only two hits, one of them an infield single. The Bucs started slowly after Karstens had spotted the Dodgers a 3-0 first-inning lead. Michael McKenry jumped on one of Capuano's first mistakes, launching a chest-high fastball over the fence in dead center leading off the fifth to make it 3-1. The next inning was monumental for the Pirates: In their 52nd inning of the season, they finally bunched more than two hits; and McKenry drew a walk, the Bucs' first in 25 innings. "In the pitchers' meeting leading into this series, we knew we couldn't give up walks, we had to challenge hitters," Capuano said. "That was foremost in our minds coming into the series." Yet all that sixth-inning traffic added up to only one run, on Yamaico Navarro's sacrifice fly, after pinch-hitter Matt Hague's line drive to center with the bases loaded was caught for the third out. Hague was batting for Karstens, who admitted not being happy to leave the game so early. The right-hander knew who to blame. "If you want to stay in the game longer, don't give up runs early," Karstens said. "Hague did a good job coming in. He hit the ball squarely on the nose, right at someone." "Painful," is how Hague described his rope on a 1-and-0 pitch from southpaw reliever Scott Elbert. That fruitless at-bat became part of the Pirates' jammed early-season clutch. They are 4-for-34 (.118) with men in scoring position, helping explain 11 runs in six games. The Dodgers' three-run first seemed insurmountable to a team that had scored more than two only once, and was averaging 1.8 runs through five games. Juan Rivera's sacrifice fly and two-out run-scoring singles by James Loney and Juan Uribe presented the Pirates with that challenge. Hurdle saw that as the Dodgers' Willie Keeler Offense: Hit 'em where they ain't. "They found grass. It wasn't like Jeff had bad location, he just left balls up just enough so they could get under them," Hurdle said. "They hit them where we weren't." Karstens' first inning, however, duplicated his slow start on April 7 against the Phillies. On that occasion, he allowed one run on three hits -- then went on to blank Philadelphia on two more hits the rest of his six-inning outing. Against the Phillies, Karstens had retired 10 in a row out of that rough first. This time, he induced nine straight outs before the next Dodgers baserunner, and blanked the Dodgers through his last four innings. "It's something I really need to address," Karstens said. "Either I need to get mad before I get out there, or focus more when I'm there. As the game goes on, I feel more comfortable. At the beginning, I'm kinda lax. "It's something we'll talk about and address, and see where it takes us against Arizona [in his next start]." Making way for a hitter amid the sixth-inning rally, Karstens was charged with seven hits and the three runs in five innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. If he was upset to be taken out of the game, he grew even more upset seeing Hague's smashed lineout leave him on the hook for the loss. "That's kinda the way the season has been going early," Karstens said. "I don't see why we can't turn it around. It's still early."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.