Pirates lose ground despite Jones' four-hit day

Pirates lose ground despite Jones' four-hit day

Pirates lose ground despite Jones' four-hit day
PITTSBURGH -- Staging comebacks is dramatic, uplifting, exhilarating. The inspiration for that can-do attitude.

Having to try it daily, however, wears on you. Every run atop you is like a deadweight.

The Pirates are learning about all that. Monday night, for the seventh straight home game, they fell behind early, this time to the Dodgers. The Bucs lost the fifth of those, 5-4.

"That started on the road, but there our bats were showing up bigger so that made it easier," manager Clint Hurdle said of the ongoing comeback mode. "It's a challenge. It will always be. But sometimes that's the game laid out for you, and it's what you got to do."

So the gut-check of contention continues. The Bucs find themselves in their first extended lull of the summer, four losses in five games and nine of the last 15. The National League Central deficit to Cincinnati has grown to five games; the Wild Card lead over the Dodgers has shrunk to 1 1/2 games.

The Bucs' problem Monday night was not having anyone to keep up with the Jones: Garrett went 3-for-3 off Dodgers starter Aaron Harang, including a two-run double, then added an RBI double in the eighth off Ronald Belisario. But while Jones was going 4-for-4, his Pirates buddies were going 4-for-30.

"I felt pretty good up there. Harang is a crafty veteran," said Jones, whose 6-for-10 slate against Harang attests that he can be even craftier. "He was trying to throw the cutter more than usual, and I got some pitches just enough over the plate to get the bat on them. Nice, short approach. I was able to get some knocks."

Jeff Karstens had his own nemesis, Shane Victorino, who drove in three runs, two of them on the two-run homer that broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth.

Karstens went seven, the fifth time in his last eight starts he has gone at least that long, and gave up seven hits and four runs, walking one and fanning four.

"I didn't think I pitched terribly, but not well enough to win," Karstens conceded. "There's a fine line there. But I was not able to make the big pitch when Victorino was up there a couple of times."

"Fastball up [for the third-inning double]. Then a breaking ball into his swing path [for the fifth-inning home run]," Hurdle said. "But he battled to give us seven. We still were in position to win the game."

The eventual winning run scored at reliever Juan Cruz's expense, when Juan Rivera's pinch-hit single off Tony Watson scored an eighth-inning run charged to Cruz and gave the Dodgers a 5-2 lead.

Rivera's bases-loaded single became very significant when Michael McKenry followed Jones' RBI double in the eighth with a single that scored him to make it 5-4.

The Pirates' first-inning epidemic -- opposition runs in six straight firsts -- naturally would be cured by the man most susceptible to early scores. Karstens had been scored upon out of the gate in seven of his previous 11 starts -- 11 earned runs in all -- yet he turned away the Dodgers even after miscommunication had given Matt Kemp a two-out double. He was stranded on second as Andre Ethier flied out to left.

"That was a big out to get Ethier in the first, to get our guys off on a good step," said Karstens, fully aware of his pitching mates' weird beginnings. "I noticed our overall first-inning troubles as a starting staff, but I tried not to think about it. As a whole, the starting six has had a little bit of trouble with that first inning -- it's not like we're giving up four, five runs, just maybe a solo homer.

"You are trying to be aggressive early, and you can't fault a pitcher for that. At the same time, we need maybe a little more focus in that first inning."

Karstens' reprieve was brief. The Dodgers broke through two innings later, when Kemp's single scored Victorino, whose RBI double had made it 1-0. The toll would've been far greater had Kemp not taken off from first on Ethier's drive to right -- which Jones corralled with a leap against the scoreboard, then recovered to double the runner off first.

"Good effort, good route. Anyone have that off the bat?" Hurdle wondered. "He's finding ways to do a number of things to help us."

"That wall creeps up on you pretty quick," Jones said. "I kept going after the ball ... off the bat, I didn't know if I had a chance. But I kept going and leapt at the last second and was able to get it. Then I turned around and saw Gaby [Sanchez] raising his hands, so I threw it in and we were able to get out of the inning."

In the bottom of the inning, Jones flashed his bat: His two-out double delivered Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen to knot it at 2. Prior to that clutch blow, the Pirates had been 0-for-15 with men in scoring position against the Dodgers in three-plus games this season.

Victorino undid that knot in the fifth by following Harang's single with a two-run homer, his 10th and first for the Dodgers.

With the exception of Jones, Harang was in control during a six-inning stint in which he allowed five hits, two runs and walked three with four strikeouts.

Had anyone been grading Trade Deadline acquisitions, the Pirates would've come in second best there, too. While Victorino, the former Phillies outfielder, was getting those key hits, Sanchez twice followed Jones leadoff singles (in the second and the sixth) with double-play grounders. In 11 games since arriving from Miami, Sanchez has driven in one run -- and hit into three double plays.

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.