Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm didn't have his best stuff on Sunday. It took him six innings to throw a curveball for a strike and 96 pitches to cobble together 16 outs.
Still, the veteran left-hander impressed manager Clint Hurdle even as another solid start ended with another disappointing loss for the Pirates, a 2-0 setback to the Detroit Tigers.
"You speak to his effort again, probably below average command, below average stuff and way above average guts," Hurdle said. "(He used) duct tape and chicken wire and kept going out there and kept going at 'em and gave us a chance to win a ballgame."
As has been the case every time Maholm (1-7) has pitched this season, his teammates failed to pick him up. Pittsburgh has scored a total of 14 runs in his 10 starts and managed all of two hits against Detroit's Rick Porcello (4-2) as the Pirates lost for the first time in five games.
"I hate to be the guy to keep you know ending streaks," Maholm said. "I can't sit here and say it's any fun."
Neither was facing Porcello. The 22-year-old right-hander limited the Pirates to just one hit over eight innings to prevent Pittsburgh from getting back to .500.
"He kept the ball on the ground pretty good," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "He was pounding the strike zone pretty good. He was fantastic."
Jose Valverde worked an eventful ninth inning to pick up his 11th save and snap Detroit's five-game losing streak.
Maholm, as he's done all season, battled. Detroit scratched out a run in the second, and Jhonny Peralta hit a solo home run in the fourth but couldn't blow it open.
Maholm wasn't in the mood to declare a moral victory.
"You're going to go through the year and you're going to have starts where you feel (poorly)," Maholm said. "You keep telling yourself to stay back and make your pitch, and you keep rushing. You keep missing and you've just got to do whatever you've got to do to get outs, and that's how the day went."
The way Porcello was pitching, one run allowed might have been too much. He took a no-hitter into the sixth before giving up Ronny Cedeno's leadoff double. He struck out three and walked two in his first start in nearly two weeks.
"I was working guys away early in the game and was having success, so we decided to stay with it," Porcello said. "Victor (Martinez) called a good combination of pitches to keep their hitters off balance."
Porcello's previous start was wiped out by rain, but he hardly looked rusty. He kept the surging Pirates off balance all afternoon and even added a single during a rare plate appearance.
Pittsburgh managed to make it interesting in the ninth. Xavier Paul singled and Valverde hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch before bearing down to strike out pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit. The reliever then got Garrett Jones and Neil Walker to hit harmless groundballs to end it.
"A couple of better at bats at critical times could have changed things a little bit but not a whole lot of offense going on for us," Hurdle said. "We did everything we could as a staff to minimize the damage."
The Tigers have been one of baseball's most Jeckyll and Hyde teams in May. They ripped off a seven-game winning streak earlier this month, then followed it with a weeklong run of futility behind an anemic offense.
Leyland bemoaned his team's woeful run production during the slide, marked by a lack of clutch hitting with runners in scoring position.
The Tigers weren't much better on Sunday, but the way Porcello was dealing they didn't have to be.
He retired the first nine batters he faced until walking McCutchen leading off the fourth. McCutchen stole second but was stranded at third when Walker struck out to end the inning.
Pittsburgh's only serious threat came after Cedeno finally broke through in the sixth. He moved to third on a sacrifice and the Pirates had runners at the corners with one out after McCutchen walked.
Porcello beared down, however, getting Jose Tabata to hit into an inning-ending double play.
NOTES: After the game the Pirates activated RHP Evan Meek, who had been on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis, from the disabled list. He was out with right shoulder tendinitis. To make room for Meek the team sent LHP Daniel Moskos to Indianapolis ... Detroit is 64-29 in interleague play since 2006, the second-best mark in the majors behind Boston during that period. ... The Tigers head home for a 10-game homestand. ... The Pirates will host a two-game set against Atlanta starting Tuesday.