Carlos Zambrano’s most friendly road stop before Saturday night had been PNC Park.
But being back there didn’t prevent his control issues from continuing, or the Marlins from achieving a new low in an increasingly disappointing season.
The Pirates scored four runs without a hit in a historically bad fourth inning for the Marlins, and another weak hitting effort left them with a 5-1 loss to the Pirates before a crowd of 39,411 — the fifth-largest in PNC Park history.
It was the first time in franchise history the Marlins gave up four runs in an inning without surrendering a hit. It was also the first time any major-league team has accomplished the feat since Sept. 23, 1998, when Oakland did it at Seattle.
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The Marlins’ fourth consecutive loss continued their dip in the standings as baseball’s July 31 trade deadline nears. Miami (44-50) slipped six games under .500 — a season-worst — for the third time this year. During the losing streak, the Marlins are 2 for 29 with runners in scoring position, although A.J. Burnett did not allow many of those opportunities Saturday.
Manager Ozzie Guillen said his frustration level has reached a new high. Guillen said he showered immediately after the game before his postgame news conference for the first time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done that except maybe in the World Series because I had to look good for the cameras,” Guillen said. “I just sat there [in the dugout] thinking, ‘Are we that bad?’ Everything is wrong right now, coaching, offense, the defense. Hopefully, we can forget about it and start playing better, even if it’s at least to have fun at this job.”
Zambrano left distraught as well after a performance that did not mirror a career 8-1 record at PNC Park — his best career winning percentage at any road stadium.
Zambrano gave up only three hits but surrendered six walks and hit two batters after only 3 1/3 innings pitched, his shortest outing since back-to-back sub-three-inning starts against Tampa Bay on June 9 and 15.
“I’m not pitching the way I’m supposed to, and I’m not doing my job,” Zambrano said. “It’s terrible.”
Burnett, an ex-Marlin, fared much better against his former team, going 7 2/3 innings while allowing only one walk and one earned run, which came on a solo homer in the second by Justin Ruggiano. Burnett (11-3) has won 10 of his past 11 decisions.
Zambrano opened the disastrous fourth by hitting Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes — the No. 7 and 8 batters in the Pirates’ lineup. Catcher John Buck compounded the mess when he fielded a sacrifice bunt by Burnett and threw the ball high and wide of first base, allowing Barajas to score. After walking Alex Presley to load the bases, Neil Walker drove in another run on a sacrifice fly. Guillen pulled Zambrano after back-to-back walks to Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, the latter forcing in a run.
Zambrano’s record fell to 5-8 in 19 starts this season, and his ERA is now 4.34 as his struggles the past six weeks continued. It was especially frustrating for Zambrano after securing a 5-3 victory Monday in his previous start.
“Sometimes I throw 94 [mph] at least once, like my last outing,” Zambrano said. “But sometimes, like [Saturday], I can’t get anything. I’m working hard. I’m doing my exercises and doing everything I have to do.”
Since June 9, Zambrano is 1-5 with a 7.69 ERA in eight starts and has walked 34 batters to only 23 strikeouts. During that span, he has not lasted more than six innings, and he has done that only three times.
In his 11 starts to open the season, Zambrano was 4-3 with a 2.81 ERA and had 56 strikeouts to only 29 walks. Zambrano went at least six innings in 10 of those starts.
Walks have been a big issue. Zambrano has walked 63 batters, which is seven more than he had all of last season with the Cubs. Zambrano, who leads the Marlins in walks, issued six walks in a game for the third time this season, tying his season high.
Zambrano said he felt fine physically but said the issues could stem from his delivery.
Chad Gaudin replaced Zambrano and walked Casey McGehee to force in another run. But Gaudin was sharp after that and went 3 2/3 innings.