Bucs roughed up early, fall to Phils
Six-run third inning ends Van Benschoten's tough outing
PHILADELPHIA -- A little over two hours before John Van Benschoten took the mound at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night, Pirates manager Jim Tracy leaned back in his office chair and spoke with confidence about his rookie right-hander.
It was simple, said Tracy. The only way to see if a 10-day hiatus and four bullpen sessions with pitching coach Jim Colborn had successfully addressed Van Benschoten's mechanical issues was to send Van Benschoten back out there.
"He's sure not going to get any better sitting around talking about it," Tracy said.
Well, Tracy sent the right-hander out there, but what he and Van Benschoten found out was more along the lines of what they had hoped they lost, as evidenced by the ineffectiveness of the 27-year-old in the Pirates' error-filled, rain-shortened 8-1 loss to the Phillies.
Van Benschoten has reached trying points in his career before. There were the surgeries on both of his shoulders in 2005. Then came the grueling physical therapy that followed. Both were frustrating. Both tested his mental toughness.
But as Van Benschoten sat in front of his locker after Friday's game, a sullen look strewn on his face, he spoke of a challenge that is more taxing and more difficult than any injury he has ever faced.
"Absolutely," Van Benschoten quickly replied when asked if this was the lowest he had ever felt in baseball-playing career. "I was hurt for a while, but there was always this, 'You'll be fine when you come back.' This doesn't feel much better. I can tell you that."
The comments came on the heels of another early exit for Van Benschoten. It was another showcase of his control gone missing, another start mired by a lack of everything that made him such a highly-touted prospect coming through the organization.
"Nothing was there, actually," said Van Benschoten, who watched his ERA shoot to 9.76 by the end of the night. "I thought I was going to get on a good roll and to have this happen again, it's a little frustrating. It's starting to get to me a little bit."
There's the possibility of moving Van Benschoten into a bullpen role. Or there's the option of a demotion to Triple-A to provide him with a new setting to start building up what has become a shattered confidence. The fact that there really isn't any standout replacement waiting in Indianapolis is likely the only reason that Van Benschoten hasn't already been sent back down.
Those answers, however, will come on another day.
"We won't talk about it tonight," Tracy said. "We'll see. Obviously, we've got to huddle up and talk some things over and take it from there."
Though the unraveling didn't hit an apex until the third, the strand started to unwind beginning with the first pitch Van Benschoten threw -- a ball to Phillies center fielder Michael Bourn. Van Benschoten's control wavered throughout the inning, one which would last 33 pitches in total. Eighteen of those pitches missed the strike zone.
An inning that started so ominously, though, almost ended without any damage done. The Phillies quickly loaded the bases before Van Benschoten answered with two strikeouts.
"It would have been unbelievable if he had gone through the first inning with a zero up there," Tracy said.
One strike away was as close as Van Benschoten would get as Phillies third baseman Greg Dobbs sent a two-strike slider from Van Benschoten into right field for a two-run single.
That set the tone for the game, one which the Phillies broke open with a six-run third.
"It would have been big just for momentum purposes to get off to a good start in the first inning," said Van Benschoten, who dropped to 0-5 with the loss. "Unfortunately it didn't happen."
The third inning was even worse. Twelve Phillies hitters came to the plate, an inning in which Van Benschoten lasted just one out. His final line -- seven runs, six hits, four walks -- reflected a right-hander who looked lost out on a field where he has always been so comfortable.
It marked the third straight start that Van Benschoten proved unable to pitch out of the third. During those three starts, the right-hander has given up 21 runs in just six total innings of work. Any progress that may have been made during his extra work with Colborn was washed away -- even before the thunderstorms arrived.
And the eight runs Van Benschoten spotted the Phillies early quickly sucked the life out of a Pirates offense looking to build off an eight-run outburst one day earlier.
"When you fall behind by eight runs in that short a period of time, it's hard to even put a barometer on your offense." Tracy said. "You really can't do that. That's such a huge hole to dig for yourself in such a short period of time."
That proved to be the case as the offense didn't put up much of a fight against Phillies starter Jamie Moyer. What has been a quiet Pirates offense for two weeks now managed one lone run off the Philadelphia pitcher, who came into the game with a suspect 5.22 ERA in his career against Pittsburgh.
The only real bright spot on this gloomy night came from Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino, who put together his second three-hit game of the season. His single in the fifth plated Josh Phelps to put the Bucs on the scoreboard, but the fact that Paulino's three hits accounted for half of the team's offense tells the woeful story of the Pirates offense during the team's current 2-11 skid.
The game was called prior to the beginning of the eighth after a 61-minute rain delay, with the game all but decided already and no respite in sight for the steady rain.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.