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Ohlendorf's fortunes turn on dime again

Ohlendorf's fortunes turn on dime again

ARLINGTON -- Ross Ohlendorf believes he knows the solution to his pitching problems. It's the execution, however, that continues to give him fits.

Unquestionably the Pirates' best starter during the second half of last season, Ohlendorf has yet to find his form in 10 starts this season. And his latest outing -- a 6-3 loss to the Rangers in front of 23,083 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Tuesday night -- was a microcosm of how things have gone for the right-hander all season.

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There was a period of dominance, a stretch where seemingly everything went right. And then all of a sudden, there was a costly collapse.

"He's got to stay away from that inconsistent inning that has really hurt him," manager John Russell said.

That about summed things up.

Needing just 36 pitches, Ohlendorf set down the first 10 hitters. His fastball command was sharp. His sinker was effective. He picked the right time to mix in his breaking pitches and changeups.

Ohlendorf served up a solo homer in the fourth, but he exited the inning still ahead by a run. Yet, for all that Ohlendorf had working early, everything went rapidly south in the fifth.

Josh Hamilton extended his hitting streak to a career-high 17 games with a leadoff double. With a runner on base, Ohlendorf had to pitch out of the stretch. And as was a problem in his previous start, Ohlendorf never felt comfortable doing so.

"I'm just not executing my pitches like I need to," Ohlendorf said. "I just need to make some improvements out of the stretch."

Ohlendorf did rebound to get two outs, with Hamilton still standing on third. But he wasn't aggressive enough going after Matt Treanor, hitting .236 at the start of the game, and a four-pitch walk resulted.

"That was a pretty big at-bat," Russell said. "Right there is where you have to really go after the guy, and he didn't."

Nine-hole hitter Julio Borbon was up next, and after watching Borbon struggle with the changeup in his first at-bat, Ohlendorf went to it on a 1-0 pitch. Only this time, the changeup hung. Borbon didn't miss, sending a three-run blast over the left-field wall to give Texas a 4-2 lead.

"That was a big turning point in the game," said Ohlendorf, who had allowed only five home runs in 50 innings before serving up two within the eight-batter span. "When I get two outs, I really need to just close out the inning."

Ohlendorf never recovered, either. Next, he allowed a single to Elvis Andrus and then threw an errant pickoff attempt that allowed Andrus to advance two bases. A four-pitch walk to Michael Young followed, and Ohlendorf's night was over.

"He did a really good job that first four innings," Borbon said. "He was throwing stuff that was keeping us off balance. He was mixing his pitches, hitting his spots and from top to bottom he did a good job until the fifth inning when we were able to put some things together."

The 4 2/3-inning outing was Ohlendorf's shortest since May 21, and he is now just one of two starting pitchers to make at least 10 starts and still not have a win. And what remains perplexing is how Ohlendorf can cruise for innings at a time but be unable to sustain that momentum through a full outing.

Though Ohlendorf highlighted pitching out of the stretch as his biggest issue, here is something else: Opponents are hitting just .203 against him the first time through the order. They are batting .341 the second and third times through.

"It's been frustrating because I need to pitch better than I have been," Ohlendorf said. "I do think I'll turn it around."

The Rangers further extended their lead with two runs off Pittsburgh relievers.

While Ohlendorf handed the lead over to Texas, the Pirates' offense had Rangers starter Tommy Hunter on the ropes a number of times early but never broke the game open.

Pittsburgh scored once in the first when Garrett Jones extended his career-best hitting streak to 12 games with an RBI single. But with runners on the corners later in the inning, Pedro Alvarez struck out to end the inning.

After Alvarez scored in the fourth to extend the lead to 2-0, three hitters left runners stranded at first and second.

"We hit some balls hard," said Jones, who is batting .422 in his past 12 games. "Hitting the ball hard is all you can do as a hitter and hope it falls. They were just playing us in the right spots."

Hunter's assessment was much the same.

"They played great defense out there," he said. "Thank you, team. I definitely didn't have the best stuff. Balls were not doing what they were supposed to do tonight. But they played good defense, and you have to give credit where credit is due."

Pittsburgh scored again in the sixth on back-to-back doubles by Lastings Milledge and Bobby Crosby, but the club also ran itself out of a chance to tie the game in the frame. Down by two with one out, third-base coach Tony Beasley waved Ryan Doumit from first to home on Milledge's double to left field. Hamilton was already throwing the ball to the cutoff man when Doumit rounded third, and he was out at the plate by four feet.

Had Doumit still been on third, he would have scored easily on Crosby's double one pitch later.

"We got a little overaggressive," Russell said. "We're trying to push to score runs. We lined out with some guys in scoring position, which was a little disheartening. We don't need to get our head down offensively. Some guys are starting to show some real good things."

The Pirates have lost 11 straight games on the road. The club fell to 2-8 in Interleague Play and has still never won (0-4) at the Rangers' home ballpark.

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

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