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Bucs encouraged by Ohlendorf's return

Bucs encouraged by Ohlendorf's return

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates dropped Monday's series opener to the Reds, 2-1, in front of 9,045 at PNC Park. But game No. 32 of the season wasn't defined by its outcome. It was branded by Ross Ohlendorf's taking the mound.

In a narrow lens, Monday's loss was the third in four games for the Pirates, who have now scored more than four runs just once in the team's past 10 games. In a big-picture sense, though, Ohlendorf's presence on the field meant much more to the club moving forward than any single-night result.

His return presents the opportunity for much-desired rotation stability. And his track record, albeit a brief one, suggests the potential for dominance.

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"We've missed Ross," manager John Russell said of his right-hander, who battled through an early-season back injury. "We've started to pitch better and now adding him, if he gets to that form, we feel like our rotation's going to be pretty solid. It's outstanding to have him back. It should be a big boost for our club."

That's not to say that Ohlendorf was dominant on Monday night. He wasn't. However, no one expected the right-hander to be, in what was his first outing in 32 days. Still, there was more than enough to be encouraged about.

His outing lasted four innings, with the early exit due to a high pitch count (84) and how hard Ohlendorf had to labor to get through his final two innings of work. For the right-hander, that length was the lowlight.

"I wish I had been able to pitch deeper into the game," Ohlendorf said. "Even though I was limited somewhat on a pitch count, I still should have done a better job at not walking guys to pitch deeper. I felt like I could have thrown more strikes."

That was particularly the case in the fourth, when Ohlendorf got into his most trouble. Cincinnati's Jay Bruce led off the frame with a single. A double from outfielder Laynce Nix followed to push the night's first run across.

Ohlendorf walked each of the next two hitters while throwing 10-of-13 pitches out of the zone during one stretch. But he battled his way out of it. Opposing starter Bronson Arroyo flied out to shallow right field before Ohlendorf induced an inning-ending groundout to strand all three runners.

"To come out of that with only one run, I thought that was really good," Russell said. "He made some good pitches when he really had to."

And of Ohlendorf's night as a whole: "We saw some very good things," added Russell. "He was a little rusty obviously, but you saw that when he was on, he was very effective. We're looking forward to him getting out there in the rotation. It's just nice to have him back."

"He looked right," noted shortstop Ronny Cedeno. "He's a great pitcher. He can help us."

For Ohlendorf, there was a palpable sense of relief afterward. Not only had he pitched well enough to keep his team within striking distance, but he did so with no physical issues.

"I'm happy about that," he admitted. "It's been tough not pitching. I'm definitely looking forward to pitching from here on out. I really feel like that's behind me, and I'm feeling good now."

In between Ohlendorf's season debut and Monday's loss, the Pirates' rotation certainly felt the right-hander's absence. Though the rotation has stabilized itself over the past week, there is no question that the void left by Ohlendorf in April hurt.

The rotation had gone a combined 7-16 with a 6.54 ERA with Ohlendorf not in it. That ERA was much more inflated, too, before the starters combined to post a 2.08 ERA in the first six games of this homestand.

"I just want to continue that on," Ohlendorf said of that recent upswing. "It was really exciting to get back out there."

After his 25-pitch fourth, Ohlendorf handed the 1-0 deficit over the bullpen, which continues to be collectively impressive. The 'pen's strong night was marred only by another Andy LaRoche error -- his fourth this homestand -- that led to an unearned run off Evan Meek in the eighth.

This time, the usually sure-handed LaRoche was unable to cleanly backhand Joey Votto's leadoff chopper. Votto came around to score on a double by Scott Rolen.

"It's unfortunate we gave them a run again," said Russell, whose club has given up six unearned runs in the past four games. "We've got to limit those mistakes that are costing us some runs, especially in close games."

The error loomed even larger, too, when Cedeno began the bottom half of the inning with a home run off Arroyo. To that point, Arroyo had scattered three hits in seven innings.

"Fortunately for me today they hit some balls hard in the outfield that were in the reach of some of our guys," Arroyo said. "It's a totally different ballgame if some of those go in the gap. Some days you don't throw the best ball and come out on top."

Even so, the Pirates had their chances late. Delwyn Young followed Cedeno's homer with a single, but he would advance no further than second. Pittsburgh then drew consecutive one-out walks off Reds closer Francisco Cordero in the ninth. Cordero had blown a save against Pittsburgh back on April 17, but he finished the inning this time, leaving the tying runner at third.

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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