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Pirates shutout by Tigers

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The Tigers avoided a sweep with a 2-0 shutout over the Pirates behind a brilliantly pitched game by Rick Porcello, who allowed just one hit over 8 innings. Paul Maholm was on the mound for yet another hard luck loss for Pittsb

By this point, Paul Maholm must be wondering what kind of Faustian bargain he must make to get some support from his teammates' bats.

The lefty, bedeviled by a lack of run support all season, suffered another difficult loss on Sunday afternoon as the Tigers blanked the Bucs, 2-0, at PNC Park behind eight ultra-efficient innings from Rick Porcello (4-2). A run-scoring single from rookie Casper Wells in the second frame and a solo shot from Jhonny Peralta in the fourth provided Detroit (23-23) with enough offense to hand Maholm his major league-worst seventh loss, ending the Pirates' season-high four-game win streak and denying the Bucs their first interleague series sweep since June 15-17, 2001, when they took three at PNC Park versus the Indians.

"I hate to be the guy to keep ending streaks," Maholm said. "I feel good, I feel like I'm pitching well. I guess you could say that I'm pitching well enough to lose."

The Pirates (22-24) have scored a total of 14 runs while Maholm has been on the mound in 2011. Entering play Sunday, he had the third-lowest average run support among major league starters. Maholm has a sole victory in 10 starts this year, besting the Nationals on April 25 at PNC Park.

Maholm surrendered six hits in 5.1 innings pitched against Detroit's all-right-handed-swinging lineup on Sunday, striking out five batters and walking two while giving up two earned runs. Detroit worked deep counts against Maholm, leading to his departure in the sixth inning after throwing 96 pitches.

Wells got the Tigers on the board with two outs in the second, hitting a line drive single to right field. Victor Martinez, who drew a walk and advanced to second on a Brandon Inge single, slid in at home plate ahead of Garrett Jones' throw.

Peralta put Detroit up 2-0 in the fourth inning, blasting a 3-2 fastball thrown low and inside to the base of the rotunda in left field.

"Below-average command, below average stuff, and way above-average guts," Hurdle said of Maholm's outing. Despite taking the mound with little more than "duct tape and chicken wire," Hurdle said Maholm "threw it out there and kept going at it, kept getting outs and giving us a chance to win a ballgame."

"I think the way my stuff was going, I could have given up eight [runs] pretty quick," Maholm said. "But you battle through it. I didn't throw my first curveball for a strike until the sixth inning. I missed one pitch on Peralta and he hit a home run. Other than that, I was just barely missing off the outside corner with a lot of sinkers. Whenever I threw it where I wanted to, then they hit ground balls or an easy pop up."

Porcello, meanwhile, took the mound with a full arsenal of pitches and wasted no time sending the Pirates back to the dugout. The 22-year-old right-hander threw eight scoreless innings, allowing just one hit while punching out three hitters and walking two. Porcello needed just 84 pitches to vanquish the Bucs.

"Quick outs," Hurdle said. "His sinker was very good early. I think he had nine ground ball outs through six, then he started going hand-high with some four-seamers, getting some fly balls. He had the breaking ball in play, and he had a very good changeup in play."

The Pirates didn't get a runner on base against Porcello until the fourth inning, when Andrew McCutchen worked a leadoff walk, and were held hitless until Ronny Cedeno doubled to the right-center field gap in the sixth inning.

In both cases, potential rallies were quelled. McCutchen, who stole second base and advanced to third on a Jones groundout, was stranded when Neil Walker struck out in the fourth. In the sixth, McCutchen (on base again after a walk) and Cedeno were left high and dry after Jose Tabata grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"Two missed opportunities early," Hurdle said. "A couple of better-placed at-bats at critical times could have changed it for us, but not a whole lot of offense going on for us."

Pittsburgh nearly took Porcello deep twice, but those drives instead registered as loud outs. Lyle Overbay was retired on a 400-foot shot to left-center field in the fifth, and a Walker clout to left-center in the seventh died at the warning track, too.

"When a guy is sinking the ball and he's got enough late life with both the slider and the changeup that he's going down and throwing strikes with it, you can't sit there and take until you get to two strikes and hope that he misses," Hurdle said. "You're trying to do the right thing, trying to hit the ball to the big part of the ballpark or the off gap, but we just didn't do it."

The Pirates kept the score close due to stellar relief pitching, getting a combined 3.2 scoreless innings from Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, Jose Ascanio and Joe Beimel. And in the ninth, the Bucs had a chance to take Maholm off the hook.

Tigers closer Jose Valverde backed himself into a corner, allowing a lead-off single to Xavier Paul, who pinch-hit for Resop in the sixth and stayed in the game in place of Tabata as part of a double-switch. He then plunked McCutchen with a first-pitch heater.

But Valverde found his footing, punching out pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit on three pitches and getting both Jones and Walker to ground out to end the game.

While the tough-luck losses are getting old, Maholm won't be losing any sleep over his seemingly cursed fate. "It is what it is, and six days from now I'll be in Chicago preparing to face those guys," Maholm said. "Hopefully we can take two from the Braves, get back to .500 and get on a roll."

The Pirates placed third baseman Pedro Alvarez (right quadriceps) on the 15-day disabled list prior to Saturday's game and recalled infielder Pedro Ciriaco from Triple-A Indianapolis. Alvarez, who originally suffered the right quad injury against the San Diego Padres on May 3, missed Friday night's game versus the Tigers with the ailment. The 24-year-old is batting .208/.283/.304 in 138 plate appearances this season. He is eligible to return to the active roster on June 3.

Ciriaco, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks along with catcher Chris Snyder in a July 2010 trade that shipped D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby out of town, has mostly played shortstop in the minor leagues. But the 25-year-old also has experience at second base and made an appearance at third base with Indianapolis this season. The right-handed hitter has a career .248/.261/.357 line at the Triple-A level and made a brief cameo with the Pirates last September, going 3-for-6 at the plate.

Brandon Wood started at third base in Alvarez's place on Friday and Saturday, but Steve Pearce got his third start of the season at the hot corner on Sunday afternoon. Primarily a first baseman who dabbles in outfield play, Pearce has been taking reps at third and second base in order to improve his versatility. Batting sixth on Sunday, Pearce went 0-for-3.

While Maholm couldn't escape yet another loss on Sunday, Hurdle saw positives in the southpaw's ability to pitch inside to right-handed batters.

"You saw the number of strikeouts called on pitches in, the strikes he was grabbing inside," Hurdle said. "That's definitely a tool that's in his belt now that he's using and that he's confident with. And he's going in against some bigger boys today. You start going in Cabrera, you go in on Martinez, you go in on some of those other right-handed hitters that the Tigers have."

"It's good," Hurdle said. "It's a tool that he needs to have."

After surrendering runs in four of his last six appearances, including a five-run pummeling over two nights May 6 and May 8 versus Houston without recording an out, Chris Resop has regained his confidence, Hurdle said. Resop replaced Maholm in the sixth inning on Sunday with one out and runners on the corners. Resop wiggled out of the jam, striking out Brandon Inge swinging and getting Casper Wells to fly out.

"I think Chris is really working himself back to a good place, [with] command and confidence on the mound," Hurdle said. "Any time you bring a guy in first and third, it's not my first choice. We've had guys back-to-back nights step up and answer that call, and Chris answered it today."

Daniel McCutchen threw two scoreless innings out of the bullpen on Sunday, striking out four Tigers. His ERA in 20.1 innings out of the 'pen is now 0.44.

"Pinpoint command, down in the zone, mixing his pitches," Hurdle said. "We threw everything at him. [Jose] Veras was limited today at best, we had Moskos left, we had Hanrahan left and that was it in nine innings. Our staff did a very good job."

Lefty Joe Beimel made his 94th career appearance at PNC Park Sunday afternoon, tying him with Mike Gonzalez for fifth on the all-time list.

After a respite Monday, the Bucs open a brief two-game set with the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park Tuesday night. Jair Jurrjens (5-1, 1.80) will take on Charlie Morton (5-1, 2.62 ERA). "Ground Chuck," leading the National League in ground ball rate at 61.9 percent, is fresh off his second complete game of the season against Cincinnati on May 18.

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