Going-bad Pirates not giving up on season

PITTSBURGH -- Even for a team that has known nothing but losing for 15 seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates have rarely had a week this bad.

They were outscored 52-18 by the Dodgers and Cubs during a trip in which they won only once in six games and were beaten by scores of 11-2 and 8-1 (Dodgers) and 13-1 and 13-6 (Cubs).

Their defense, one of their few strong points as they went 68-94 a year ago, is the worst in baseball. With 24 errors through their first 18 games, they already have nearly 30 percent of the 81 errors they totaled in 2007. Then, they tied with the World Series champion Red Sox for the third-fewest in the majors.

For a team that talked all spring about the necessity of getting off to a good start, if only to begin erasing the memories of their ongoing string of losing seasons, this isn't what they wanted.

Not after new team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell stressed throughout the offseason that these players would be held accountable and the content-to-lose days of the past were gone.

Now, Russell is emphasizing the need for patience with a team that has changed little personnel-wise since last season, even if the Pirates' fans already seem to be losing patience with a club that looks to be simply more of the same.

"You go through streaks, whether it's April or June or July, it happens," Russell said Monday, before the Pirates played Florida in the opener of a seven-game homestand. "The first time it happens, it gets more magnified. ... We'll be on the other end of it."

What puzzles the Pirates is that what they expected to be their biggest strengths -- starting pitching and their defense -- have been notably deficient. Their starting rotation was a combined 3-8 through their first 18 games, with Ian Snell (2-1) owning all but one win, and three starters had ERAs above 5.28. Tom Gorzelanny, a 14-game winner last season, is 1-2 with a 9.35 ERA.

The defense has been hurt by the absence of shortstop Jack Wilson, whose calf injury could keep him out another couple of weeks. Wilson, who hasn't played since April 4, is rehabilitating at the club's Florida spring training complex and may not be ready to play there until the end of next week.

Still, Wilson's absence doesn't explain the poor defensive play of third baseman Jose Bautista, who had only two fewer errors than the Houston Astros' team total of seven through the weekend. Or two errors by reliable first baseman Adam LaRoche. Or four by utility infielder Luis Rivas.

"Nobody is happy with it, there is some frustration with it, but I don't think anybody is panicking with it," Russell said. "We know we have to be better."

Given Monday's game-time crowd that appeared to number only a few thousand in PNC Park, it appears that their fans believe things haven't changed all that much.

"You hate to be leading the league in errors, guys take a lot of pride in it, and it's not for a lack of work or effort," Russell said. "As a staff, we've been having some meetings about it, but nobody's panicking.

"These guys have proven in the past they're good fielders, they're a good defensive ballclub. They need to relax and be good and continue to work on it. ... We'll just roll with it and keep moving."