PITTSBURGH — The majors’ hottest team was no match for one of its most surprising.
And the surprise is how well the Pittsburgh Pirates are pitching a year after their starters were mostly bad and their bullpen was even worse.
Ross Ohlendorf allowed two hits over seven innings during Pittsburgh’s third shutout in four games and Nate McLouth drove in four runs as the Pirates ended Florida’s seven-game winning streak, winning 8-0 on Monday night.
The Marlins began the night with a major league-best 11-1 record and were coming off three consecutive come-from-behind victories in their final at-bat in Washington. This time, they fell behind 1-0 in the first and never caught up during their first loss in seven road games.
With four shutouts, the Pirates already have twice as many as they did last season, when their 5.10 ERA was the NL’s worst and the third worst in franchise history. They’ve cut that by more than two runs per game to 3.08, even while losing 11-1 Sunday to Atlanta. They shut out the Braves 3-0 and 10-0 in the first two games of that series.
The Pirates are 7-6, not a great start but an encouraging one for a club that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992.
“We talked in spring training about the expectations, the accountability that was put on the starters to be productive and give us innings,” manager John Russell said. “We didn’t do that last year and we suffered. There’s urgency there that we’ve got to be better starting pitchers.”
All those zeros suggests something is working.
“As a staff, I think we get along really well and push each other, and it does seem to be breeding confidence and competition between us to see who can pitch the best,” Ohlendorf said. “I know we’re all really happy with how we’ve done so far and we feel we’ll be able to build on it.”
Ohlendorf (1-2), finally getting some run support, won for the first time in eight starts since being traded to the Pirates by the Yankees last season. He shut down a team that had scored a combined 16 runs in its previous two games, giving up only singles to leadoff batters Emilio Bonifacio in the first inning and Hanley Ramirez in the fourth. Ohlendorf struck out five and walked one.
The Marlins’ first three batters reached in the first with the help of shortstop Jack Wilson’s error. After that, manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “I don’t think we put a good swing on him (Ohlendorf) the rest of the night. .. He had a good sinker tailing into right-handers. I think he broke four or five bats.”
Tyler Yates and Jesse Chavez finished off the shutout with a scoreless inning each.
The Pirates manufactured a run in their half of the first as Nyjer Morgan was hit with Andrew Miller’s pitch, stole second and scored on Nate McLouth’s single. They took advantage of some sloppy play by Florida to keep adding on runs, as the Marlins had three wild pitches, a balk and issues six walks. The Pirates also stole three bases.
Miller (0-1) threw a run-scoring wild pitch in the fourth, and reliever Logan Kensing committed a run-scoring balk while giving up four runs over 2 1-3 innings, ending the Florida bullpen’s streak of 21 1-3 scoreless innings.
After the game, Miller was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique injury.
“I thought that it’ll be a little bit of a factor, but I shouldn’t haven’t any problems pitching through it,” Miller said. “But it’s not an excuse for some of the pitches I made. It’s just not getting any better. I didn’t have that second gear when I wanted to put somebody away.”
Before Miller left, Adam LaRoche had a two-run single in the fifth. McLouth hit his fourth homer, a three-run drive off Kensing in the sixth with the Pirates already up 5-0.
“We don’t feel like we have to put up seven or eight runs a game,” LaRoche said. “It’s great. We know if we put up a couple, we have a chance to be in the game and we haven’t had that luxury in the past.”
LaRoche went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .255—an improvement for a player whose .179 career average in April coming into this season was the third lowest of any NL hitter since 1900. LaRoche was 0-for-10 in his previous three games and was 0-for-14 against Florida last season.
The announced crowd on a cool, rainy night was 8,090, but the actual attendance appeared to be about half that.