04/22/09 12:15 AM ET
Bucs build momentum with win over Fish
Karstens continues Pittsburgh's string of solid starts
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Shortly after learning it'd be without catcher Ryan Doumit for the next eight to 10 weeks, Pittsburgh responded with proof that not all will be lost without Doumit's on-field presence.
There would be no lamenting the void now in the lineup or the loss of his game-calling abilities behind the plate. Another strong starting pitching performance with a just-good-enough offensive output and some clutch work in relief was enough to hand the Marlins a second consecutive loss and give the Pirates two wins in two games without their starting catcher.
"That's a tough guy to lose," Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson said after the game. "I think everybody was down for about 20-30 seconds, but then you say, 'OK, we need to step it up and we need to fill that hole.' We're just trying to go out there and play fundamental baseball. That's how you win games."
As it's been, somewhat surprisingly, for the majority of the year, it was the Pirates' starting pitching that paved the way for this win. This time it was Jeff Karstens' night to shine, as he continued a string of recent strong starting performances with his six-inning outing.
Karstens snapped a personal six-game losing streak with the win and lowered the combined ERA of Pittsburgh's starters to a National League-low 2.79. The starters have posted quality starts in four of the past five games, winning all four contests in which they did.
"With this pitching staff, when they go, we go," said Jason Jaramillo, Doumit's replacement behind the plate. "I can't say enough. They're on."
Karstens handed much of the praise to pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for helping with the advanced preparation. But the right-hander deserved credit as well for the way he bounced back from his previous outing.
After lasting only four innings in his first start of the season, one Karstens made after a 17-day layoff, he limited the Marlins to only three hits and one two-out run in six innings.
"I knew he was going to be better tonight," Bucs manager John Russell said. "He was a lot more consistent, kept the ball down. That's a pretty solid start for him at this point in the season."
With the benefit of two double plays, Karstens faced the minimum number of hitters in the final four frames he pitched. And with his win, each of the team's starters already has recorded at least one victory this season.
Last year, the starters accumulated only 33.
"I really think there are a lot of people that doubt us, but we all believe in ourselves," Karstens said. "We all believe in each other, and I think that's all that matters right now. We are more prepared than any team in the league."
The win didn't come without a comeback attempt by a feisty Marlins team that has shown a propensity for come-from-behind wins.
The Pittsburgh offense struck early, scoring a run off Florida starter Anibal Sanchez in each of the first three innings. A two-out RBI single by Adam LaRoche plated the first run, and Jaramillo doubled home a run in the second.
Freddy Sanchez, who finished the day with three hits, then poked a home run over the left-field wall to lead off the third and give the Pirates a 3-1 lead.
"I tip my hat to that guy," Florida's Sanchez said. "That was a two-seamer up and in. He made a good swing. I don't know how he made contact with that pitch."
Said Pittsburgh's Sanchez: "I guess I should have laid off [the pitch], but I went after it. I really don't know what happened."
Sanchez, who was a triple short of the cycle, has 12 extra-base hits this season, the most in the NL.
The Pirates had a chance to add to that lead in the sixth when Russell removed Karstens for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded. Eric Hinske, however, grounded out to end the inning.
That almost proved to be consequential when the Marlins rallied against the Pirates' bullpen in the eighth. Attempting to hold a two-run lead, Tyler Yates served up a leadoff homer to Cameron Maybin.
John Grabow put two more runners on base, but he escaped the inning by getting Ross Gload to swing through a two-strike changeup. Grabow pumped his fist as he walked off the mound to the dugout.
"Grabow is a guy we're going to lean on heavily," Russell said. "No matter what he does, he finds a way to get out of it."
Matt Capps then made it a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities as he closed out the ninth to seal a second straight series win for the Pirates and secure a winning record in the team's opening homestand.
The victory also pushed the Pirates two games above .500 for the first time since they began the 2007 season with three straight wins. That's normally a modest achievement, yes, but a significant one in Pittsburgh considering the club's struggles in recent years.
And there's a resounding belief that as long as the starting pitching success remains contagious, everything else will continue to click.
"As a group, those starting five are doing an outstanding job," Wilson said. "Those guys are giving us a chance to win ballgames. These guys are throwing great. Our defense and offense is just riding them."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.