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Knockout comes quickly

| Thursday, July 6, 2006

NEW YORK -- The upcoming All-Star festivities will cast Pittsburgh in such a positive light that, perhaps, nobody will notice the Pirates' dismal record, which stands at 29-57 following a 5-0 loss to the Mets on Wednesday.

Truth is, though, that record has most of the Pirates looking forward to the break that will accompany the Midsummer Classic.

Kip Wells likely needs it more than any of his teammates.

Wells lost his fourth game of the season last night.

He has now dropped 13 decisions since the 2005 All-Star Game. He has won just two of 18 starts over the past year. His ERA over that span stands at 7.35.

Wells' next start won't come until after the All-Star break.

A few days away from baseball might do Wells a world of good. Maybe then he could put those frightful 360-some days behind him.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind. ... Obviously, I'm going to take advantage of it from a regrouping standpoint," Wells said. "It'll be a chance to catch my breath and hopefully come back as a more productive pitcher."

It might help, too, if his offense could get him some runs.

New York starter Orlando Hernandez didn't allow any last night.

The Pirates managed only four hits on his 107 pitches over seven innings. Conversely, they struck out seven times against him. Only Jose Bautista, Jose Castillo, Sean Casey and Ronny Paulino managed to ding Hernandez. The Pirates failed miserably to damage a pitcher who entered last night with a 4-8 record and a 5.55 ERA.

So much for the offense that scored six or more runs in six consecutive games for the first time since September 2000, the offense that had banged out at least 10 hits in seven straight contests.

"We weren't able to string together anything," manager Jim Tracy said. "Give credit to (Hernandez). He was on his game."

Wells has been felled in every start since returning from vascular surgery on his right throwing arm. The procedure corrected a circulatory condition diagnosed during the early part of spring training.

Back then, in late February, Wells was seemingly making marked progress with pitching coach Jim Colborn, who was convinced the 29-year-old was better than his 8-18 record from 2005 suggested.

For much of last night, Wells actually was the pitcher Colborn had envisioned.

He allowed no hits and only two baserunners in the second through sixth innings. In working six, Wells made his longest start of the season.

Despite allowing five runs, his ERA was lowered to 12.42 from 15.19.

The Mets posted all five of their runs on all four of their hits before Wells recorded a third out in the first inning.

Tracy said Wells was up in the zone in the first, after which, his sinker began to dip.

"I was able to establish my off-speed stuff from the second inning on, and that helped me get some quick outs," Wells said. "I just couldn't weather the storm in the first. Then it became a soul-searching kind of deal for me to get some quality innings in after that."

He did that, and he was able to take a positive from yet another loss.

"Fortunately, I was able to put together some good innings after the first, so that's something for me to build on in the second half of the season," Wells said.

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