06/01/2004 10:26 PM ET
Familiar tune plagues Vogelsong
First-inning troubles put Bucs in bleak hole
By Ed Eagle / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- With his back against the wall and fighting for the final spot in the Pirates starting rotation during Spring Training, Ryan Vogelsong seemed unable to do any wrong. Since then, not a lot has gone right for the 26-year-old.
|Jack Wilson and Tony Womack collide at second base without incident Tuesday. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
In the Pirates' 8-1 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday night, Vogelsong's woes continued. He was tagged for three runs in the first inning and two more in the second before manager Lloyd McClendon had seen enough.
"His command was bad, he hit a guy and left some balls up in the zone," said McClendon. "It was just not a good outing at all."
Vogelsong's early-inning woes continued a season-long trend. He has allowed 20 runs in the first innings of his 10 starts, and the opposition is batting .435 (20-for-46) against him in the opening frame.
"I would imagine that there are probably a lot of things going through the young man's mind," said McClendon. "From a physical standpoint, he's just not making good pitches. It's just that simple. You have to pound the ball down in the zone and he's not doing that. He's getting behind in the count and he's getting hurt as a result."
Since limiting the Philadelphia Phillies to one run in seven innings in his season debut April 8, Vogelsong (1-5) has lost five straight decisions, and he has failed to reach the fifth inning in four of his 10 starts. After surrendering five runs in two innings Tuesday, his ERA ballooned to 8.08.
"I don't really have any answers," said Vogelsong. "I thought I threw the ball pretty decent tonight. Maybe one or two balls were up in the zone.
"It just seems like every ball right now is finding a hole or blooping in even when it breaks their bats. I don't have any answers for it. The only thing I can do is keep throwing the ball and trying to work myself out of it that way."
Despite Vogelsong's struggles, McClendon said that he is not yet ready to give up on the right-hander as one of his starters.
"At some point, if the young man is not getting it done, you have to consider making changes because your responsibility is not to just one individual, it's 25 -- not to mention the coaching staff and everybody else that is associated with this club, including the fans," said McClendon. "But at the same time, we've got four months left. If you push a panic button with this kid, who's next?"
Although he admitted a move to the bullpen was an option for Vogelsong, it's unlikely it will happen soon.
"Anything is a possibility. If that's going to help him get back on track, I'll certainly look into that," said McClendon. "But as we speak right now, I plan on using this man in five days in the rotation."
Vogelsong was certainly not the first Pirates pitcher to be victimized by the Cardinals' potent offense during recent seasons. With 13 hits Tuesday, the Cardinals have collected 10 or more hits in each of their last 18 games at PNC Park. Slugger Albert Pujols led the St. Louis offensive attack Tuesday night by going 5-for-5, including his Major League-leading 16th home run of the season off Pirates reliever Brian Boehringer in the fourth inning, to pace the St. Louis offense.
"They've got a good lineup, particularly when you make mistakes. They are going to take advantage of them," said McClendon. "Vogie made a lot of mistakes up in the zone."
The Redbirds did receive a scare in the first inning, however, when All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen was hit in the front of his batting helmet with a Vogelsong pitch. Rolen remained in the game and scored a run before being removed at the end of the frame as a precautionary measure. He was checked by team doctors and he'll be reevaluated Wednesday.
"I was just trying to throw a good fastball in there to try to get a double play," said Vogelsong, who phoned Rolen after being removed from game. "It was definitely not intentional. I hate to see it happen."
"I tell you what, I'm a Vogelsong fan now," said Rolen. "He came out of the game and called over to the clubhouse and asked if I was all right and apologized. That's first-class right there. That's very professional. Very, very classy."
Staked to an early lead, Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan cruised to his second consecutive win against his former team. Five days after limiting the Bucs to three runs in six innings, Suppan (5-4) allowed one run on six hits and two walks in seven innings Tuesday to notch his third win in his last four decisions. Reigning National League Co-Player of the Week Daryle Ward's solo home run in the sixth inning was the only blemish on Suppan's otherwise outstanding night.
"He smells it. When he gets a lead like that he is going to pound the strike zone," said McClendon.
After starting their current homestand with three consecutive wins against the Cubs, the Bucs have dropped three straight to fall to 9-16 at home. The Pirates are 6-20 all-time against the Cardinals at PNC Park.
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.