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Pirates

Cards blast Pirates, 9-3

| Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ST. LOUIS — Much as it was throughout spring training, the Pirates' bullpen is a work in progress.

The back end of the 'pen — closer Matt Capps and his setup men — is secure. But the rest can be a risky proposition.

That's a big reason the Pirates hoped starter Ian Snell could shake off last season's bad form Tuesday night and pitch deep into the game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Instead, the Cardinals scored early and often on their way to a 9-3 rout. Snell was bounced after allowing eight runs (six earned) in four innings.

There was one mildly encouraging sign: the bullpen gave up just one run.

Snell missed a scheduled start in the final week of spring training due to flu-like symptoms. He played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and pitched in just three Grapefruit League games.

His final spring tune-up was a two-inning stint Saturday in a minor league game.

Before yesterday's game, Pirates manager John Russell said Snell was not on a strict pitch count due to his limited spring workload.

"His arm is built up and he could go deep into a game if he had to," Russell said. "We'll see how it goes. Arm strength, durability — he's in good shape. He should be able to go as long as we need him to go."

Not that long, as it turned out.

After just two innings, Snell had thrown 30 pitches. In the third, he threw 23 pitches and gave up three more runs. The barrage included two-run homers by Chris Duncan and Albert Pujols.

Just 10 days ago, general manager Neal Huntington described the bullpen as "really unstable." There is no long reliever. The mix includes former starter Sean Burnett, but last season he went two-plus innings in just five of his 58 outings.

Other options• Craig Hansen. Jesse Chavez. Donnie Veal.

And so, even though the Cardinals were up 6-1 and had Snell's measure, the right-hander went back out for the fourth inning.

It was a 26-pitch nightmare.

With two outs, Colby Rasmus, making his major league debut, beat out an infield single. Pujols hit a high pop-up ... which third baseman Andy LaRoche dropped for a two-base error.

Duncan was intentionally walked. Khalil Greene smoked a line-hugging, two-run double to left.

When the inning ended, so, mercifully, did Snell's night.

Snell's performance — low on innings and strikes, high on pitches and runs — was disturbingly reminiscent of last year. Snell lasted four innings or less in nine of his 31 starts in 2008.

Veal started the fifth inning — the first major league appearance by the Rule 5 pick.

Yadier Molina launched Veal's third pitch into the seats in left-center field.

Veal got a pair of strikeouts, then walked the bases loaded on 13 pitches. Duncan took a called third strike, ending the inning.

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