HOUSTON -- The last time Jeff Karstens started a game and was physically able to get more than one out, the Pirates had a 68-58 record and were one game out of a playoff spot.
The date was Aug. 25, and Karstens pitched the first seven innings of a 4-0 blanking of the Brewers. In nearly a month since, he has pitched 3 1/3 innings -- and that includes the Aug. 31 start in Milwaukee abridged to 1/3 of an inning by an aggravation of the hip pointer that had forced him out of the Aug. 25 meeting.
Since fully recovering from that injury, Karstens has spent 10 days in the bullpen, emerging for only one relief appearance. Manager Clint Hurdle essentially said Saturday that he owes a comeback start to the right-hander who has twice fought his way back from injury -- but even that would be too little, too late to make Karstens feel any less responsible for the Bucs' collapse.
"I would put some of the blame for the way we're playing on myself," Karstens said. "Over the last couple of years, I tried to be one of the guys they can count on every time out, and I haven't been there for my guys.
"It's unfortunate and tough, and something I don't like. I want to help, but when you're hurt, you can't. It's been a very roller-coaster season for me, with all the rehab."
This latest detour was minimal compared to the shoulder inflammation that had knocked Karstens out from April 17 to June 25. Because he had battled his way back from both injuries, Hurdle hopes to find an opening for a Karstens start.
It won't be easy. The four-game rotation for the series in New York against the Mets has been set, and it excludes Karstens. Following that, a six-game homestand will lower the curtain on the season.
"He's been a big part of what we've tried to do here the last two years," Hurdle said. "I want to make sure to honor every opportunity to find a way back for him, outside of just the bullpen work. I'll continue to keep that in sight."