Burden grows for Bucs' Gorzelanny
By Rob Biertempfel
Thursday, June 21, 2007
SEATTLE - Tom Gorzelanny reared back and threw one last breaking ball to Jose Guillen, and the Seattle Mariners right fielder struck out swinging.
Exhausted, Gorzelanny trudged back to the Pirates dugout.
"I had absolutely zero left," Gorzelanny said. "The tank was on empty."
In seven innings Tuesday night, Gorzelanny threw a career-high 123 pitches. He made first-pitch strikes to just 15 of 31 batters, and he faced full counts on three of the first nine.
The Pirates held on to beat the Mariners, 5-3, marking Gorzelanny's first victory since May 29. In his past seven starts, the left-hander has gotten three no-decisions and two losses while posting an ERA of 3.77.
In that seven-game span, Gorzelanny has posted five triple-digit pitch counts.
"It's been happening a lot," Gorzelanny said. "It's one of those things I've got to correct and get through games with (lower) pitch counts. I've got to be aware of that and try to be ahead more (against batters)."
What Gorzelanny did not say was that the Pirates' porous, patchwork bullpen is putting a strain on the starting rotation.
Salomon Torres is on the disabled list. Closer Matt Capps is serving a suspension. Lefties John Grabow and Damaso Marte have morphed into one- or two-batter matchup pitchers.
Shawn Chacon is the most reliable arm in the bullpen, but he's moved into the closer role for this series. Dan Kolb is underwhelming, Jonah Bayliss is erratic and Masumi Kuwata has no fastball.
What's a guy like Gorzelanny to do?
"It didn't bother me at all," Gorzelanny said. "I wanted to do my part and go as far as I could. I had to battle, get outs, do whatever I could to stay in the game."
Gorzelanny made his job more difficult by allowing five leadoff batters to reach base. Two of them -- Kenji Johjima (hit by a pitch in the second inning) and Yuniesky Betancourt (double in the seventh) -- scored.
The mental stress of dealing with runners on base can be as much of a drain as the physical effects of making so many tosses.
"You could see it toward the end (of the seventh)," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "You could see his fastball command starting to scatter a little bit. That's fatigue."
Tracy closely monitored Gorzelanny, as always. And even as the left-hander tired, Tracy never felt Gorzelanny lost his grip on the game.
Tracy revealed that, either way, Guillen was going to be the final batter Gorzelanny faced in the game. Grabow was warmed up and ready and would have pitched to lefty-hitting Raul Ibanez if Guillen had reached base.
"I'm a proponent of the complete game, if the circumstances set themselves up correctly," Tracy said. "But when a guy goes that far into the game and gives you that kind of performance, I'm not going put him in harm's way. I'm not going to put him in a position to lose."
Even though this seven-game stretch has been a bit bumpy for Gorzelanny, he still is getting results. That, more than anything, is encouraging to Tracy.
"I sure don't think we're going to burn him out," Tracy said. "He's having a very solid season."