Mariners shut out Pirates again

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, June 22, 2007

SEATTLE - The Pirates can't do any less for pitcher John Van Benschoten.

Six days ago, the Pirates scored one run on nine hits in Van Benschoten's debut after being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis.

Thursday night, the Pirates stranded seven baserunners and went down quietly, 3-0, against the Seattle Mariners.

After the game, reliever Dan Kolb was designed for assignment and the Pirates recalled first baseman Brad Eldred from Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Pirates have not scored in 20 innings, their longest drought of the season. They were blanked for 16 consecutive innings May 3-5 against Milwaukee.

"I don't know what it is," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who went 0 for 4, including three strikeouts. "I wish I had an answer.

"As bad as these last couple days were, it's going to be forgotten in a week when we get back to hitting the ball. You always get out of it. But the fact is, these are important games. We'll look back at the end of the year at this weak stretch."

Van Benschoten (0-2) pitched five innings, allowing three runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out two.

The right-hander ran into trouble in the fifth. With runners on first and second and one out, Ichiro Suzuki schooled the Pirates with an epic, run-producing at-bat.

After the count went to 2-2, Ichiro fouled off seven straight pitches, lunging at most just to stay alive.

"I should've just thrown the ball right down the middle and let him do whatever, just get it over," Van Benschoten said. "That's going to be something I'll look back on. Maybe I'll get it on film and play it like a movie or something. That was a pretty impressive at-bat.

"I threw every pitch to him, except the curveball, I think. Slider. Four-seamer. Two-seamer. Changeup. The changeup is the one when I thought I had him, because his rear end was already at first by the time he swung at it. The best man won."

When Ichiro finally got the pitch he wanted, a fastball, he did not waste it.

On Van Benschoten's 11th pitch of the at-bat -- and his 80th pitch of the night -- Ichiro dumped a soft single to left, scoring Richie Sexson.

As the crowd of 22,950 gave Ichiro a standing ovation, pitching coach Jim Colborn and the entire Pirates infield huddled with Van Benschoten on the mound.

Jose Lopez was not as patient as Ichiro. He didn't need to be.

"Standing there on deck, I got to see every pitch (Van Benschoten) had," Lopez said. "He came with a fastball, and I hit it."

Lopez rifled the first pitch down the third base line. Two runs scored.

Pirates reliever Masumi Kuwata continued to look sharp, tossing two scoreless innings -- 26 pitches, 21 of them strikes. He got four strikeouts, including Ichiro swinging to start the seventh inning.

It was a busy few days for Kuwata, who got a big out in the Pirates' win Tuesday night. His mother, Toshie, flew to Seattle from Japan to see him pitch.

Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez won for the first time in five starts and for only the second time since coming off the disabled list May 15.

Hernandez (4-4) gave up six hits and walked one. He struck out nine, his second-highest total of the season.

After LaRoche fanned for the third time to end the eighth inning, Hernandez slapped his mitt in celebration as he walked to the dugout.

Jack Wilson hit a two-out double in the third, but was stranded. Nate McLouth led off the fourth with a single, went to second on a groundout ... and stopped there.

The Pirates loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth. But Hernandez escaped by catching McLouth looking on a chest-high, 97 mph fastball.

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