Bucs stopped as Nats hold on for win

Bucs stopped in Nats win

PITTSBURGH -- Paul Maholm pitched well enough to win, but the Bucs offense was ineffective against Nationals starter Mike Bacsik as the Pirates lost, 3-2, at PNC Park on Sunday.

The Bucs got only five hits against a pitcher they roughed up when they faced him in Washington on June 5. The Pirates drove Bacsik from that game after they put up six runs in 4 1/3 innings off him in a 7-6 win. On Sunday, they did not get a hit with a runner in scoring position and got only three hits off the left-hander in the first six innings.

Manager Jim Tracy said the main thing that Bacsik did differently on Sunday was use his changeup effectively to keep the Pirates off balance.

"He threw a lot of strikes and he had us out in front on his changeup, evidenced by some of the pop-ups we hit," Tracy said. "We hit more than our fair share of either infield popups or little fly balls to the outfield, and those are changeups where we extend ourselves too far and can't put a good swing on it."

The changeup, among other things, baffled the Bucs for six innings. They put only five men on base and had threatened just once, in the third, when Adam LaRoche led off with a double, advanced to third on Jose Castillo's groundout and was stranded.

The Pirates finally began to put some good swings on the left-hander in the seventh. LaRoche stroked a single, Castillo roped a double and Ronny Paulino reached on Bacsik's throwing error to load the bases with nobody out. That prompted Nationals manager Manny Acta to lift Bacsik in favor of reliever Luis Ayala.

But the Pirates could not get a hit as they drove in two runs in the inning on sacrifice flies by Jack Wilson and pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit to cap the scoring.

The lack of production wasted Maholm's third quality start in his last four outings. He sizzled early, needing just 14 pitches -- 11 strikes -- to make it through the first two innings, giving up just a base hit to Dimitri Young that he erased with a double play two pitches later. Things got tougher for him, though, in the third and fourth when he loaded the bases in both innings.

Maholm kept the Pirates in the game by allowing the Nationals just one run, but he was hard on himself for making a poor pitch in the sixth. Maholm hung an 0-2 slider to eighth hitter Jesus Flores, who lifted a fly ball that barely made it out of the park for his first career home run that put Washington ahead, 3-0.

"He pitched a good ballgame. He made one mistake and due to our lack of offense today, he had to pay for it," Tracy said.

Maholm said the decision to throw a potentially dangerous breaking ball with the pitcher on deck is something he can grow from as a young pitcher.

"There's positives, but it's still hard to take when you know that one pitch could've changed the game, and it probably wasn't the right pitch in the situation," Maholm said. "It's just one of those things you learn from and file away."

The Pirates will hope to build off the success they had this weekend despite Sunday's loss when they face first-place Milwaukee and the second-place Cubs, who come to Pittsburgh for seven games beginning Monday. Saturday's victory marked the Pirates' second straight series win and third consecutive at home, something newly-elected All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez said the team can use to build on.

"Obviously you want to win a series, but when you win the first two, you really want to get all three," Sanchez said. "We have some tough, tough games this week, and hopefully we can build off [the first two wins against Washington] and win some games."

Jeremy Anders is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.