Karstens shines, bullpen falters in finale

Karstens shines, 'pen falters in finale

DETROIT -- This one stung.

Instead of raving about a stellar performance from Jeff Karstens, the Pirates headed back to Pittsburgh without a win on this six-game road trip. Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Tigers in front of 31,243 at Comerica Park also extended the team's current losing streak to eight games, a season-worst.

  • 134 wins
  • 118 wins
Afterward, forlorn faces in an almost silent Pirates clubhouse certainly said as much, as the club collectively tried to grasp the disheartening late turn-of-events that snatched away a much-needed win.

"It's tough," Karstens said. "It's not like we're not trying. We go out there and we battle. We have to know that we're better [than this]."

The Pirates couldn't have asked Karstens to be much better than he was on Sunday. He had already turned in a handful of clutch starting performances this season -- it was Karstens, you might remember, who stepped up to help the Pirates snap a 22-game losing streak at Miller Park back in April -- despite being a rotation afterthought at the beginning of the season.

And this was his best performance yet.

"You can't take anything away from his start," manager John Russell said. "He was really good. It was a start we really needed."

Armed with what Karstens described as his best fastball command of the season, he breezed through Detroit's lineup for seven innings. The right-hander allowed just three singles and one runner to reach scoring position in his first six.

Really, Karstens' only mistake came with two out in the seventh, when Tigers catcher Alex Avila lifted a first-pitch fastball over the wall for a solo homer. However, Karstens closed out the inning still enjoying a 2-1 lead.

With Karstens' pitch count standing at 91, Russell sent him back out to begin the eighth. He'd only face one batter, though, as Russell turned to his bullpen after Detroit started the inning with an infield single.

Russell was limited in his options, though. He wanted to stay away from Evan Meek, who had labored through a 32-pitch inning the night before. Joel Hanrahan wasn't particularly fresh either after tossing two innings on Saturday and appearing in five of the team's previous nine games.

"They've all pitched a ton," Russell said. "We can't use them every day. It's unfortunate. The guys we had down there we felt could get the job done."

The limitations dictated Russell's matchup selections. He turned to D.J. Carrasco first, and Carrasco did his job by getting two straight outs. With the left-handed-hitting Johnny Damon up next, Russell turned to lefty reliever Javier Lopez.

Though Lopez had limited left-handed hitters to a .194 batting average this season, he never gave Damon the chance to swing. Damon walked on five pitches.

"You can't walk guys late in games," Russell said. "We know that."

From there, it was Octavio Dotel's turn to try and secure a four-out save. Fatigue certainly wasn't an issue with the Pittsburgh closer, who last pitched a week ago. He had history working in his favor, too. First baseman Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate with just two hits in 11 previous at-bats against Dotel. Cabrera had struck out seven times.

It hardly mattered, though, as Cabrera clobbered a 1-1 fastball into the right-center-field stands.

"I wanted to drive the run in to tie the game," said Cabrera, who now leads the Majors with 19 homers. "I was focused to make my best swing and just try to make something happen."

The three-run blast gave the Tigers their first lead of the afternoon.

"Today was one of those days that he got better luck than I [did]," Dotel said. "I just threw my pitch and he hit it. I think it was a good location, but he's a great professional hitter. There's nothing I can do. I came with my best."

The blown save was Dotel's first since April 28, though he has now given up at a run in each of his past three appearances. This hiccup comes after Dotel allowed just one run in 11 May games.

"That's a situation where he likes to come in," Russell said. "He just made a bad pitch."

The eighth-inning unraveling cost Karstens what would have been his second win of the season, and it left the Pirates still winless in Interleague Play. The 0-6 road trip marked the first winless road swing the team has had this year.

Five of their eight straight losses have come by two or fewer runs.

"I know that team has struggled, but I thought they were very aggressive against us," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought John Russell pushed the whole series. They did a good job against us. We were just fortunate to get a couple big hits when we needed them."

Though it was the pitching that faltered in the end, the Pirates' offense continues to be extremely quiet. Garrett Jones was the only one to have much success against Detroit starter Armando Galarraga, who was making his first home start since his infamous almost-perfect game.

Jones led off the second with a solo homer -- his second in as many days. In the fourth, he doubled home Andrew McCutchen, who had beaten out an infield hit to begin the frame.

"I was just trying to see the ball up and wait for something over the plate," said Jones, who is hitting .325 in his last 30 games.

Ronny Cedeno's innocuous third-inning single was the only other hit off Galarraga, who exited to a standing ovation with two outs in the eighth. Pittsburgh tacked on a run off closer Jose Valverde in the ninth, though that changed nothing about the outcome.

"We squared some balls up, just in the wrong spot," Jones said. "It seems like that's happened a lot lately. When we do hit the ball hard, it's right at people or bad timing. We're just in a rut right now."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.