Pirates 3, Diamondbacks 0

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PITTSBURGH – Ian Snell, finally pitching like the top prospect he is supposed to be, limited Arizona to five hits over seven innings and Ronny Paulino hit his first career home run in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3-0 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Freddy Sanchez, getting an infrequent start at shortstop with Jack Wilson out with a sore hamstring, added a run-scoring double to support Snell’s second scoreless effort in his last three starts.

Paulino homered in the second inning, his first in 47 career at-bats, as the Pirates took a 2-0 lead against Miguel Batista (3-2). Paulino missed a second homer by inches when his drive in the seventh hit the top of the padded wall in right field and bounded back into play for a double. Paulino scored a batter later on pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit’s double.

The Pirates finally reached .500 for the first time in what has been a miserable season – if only at home, where they are 7-7. They are 10-24 overall, mostly because of a 3-17 road record. The Diamondbacks lost their second in a row after winning seven straight.

While the last-place Pirates are running out of time to make anything of what is quickly becoming their 14th consecutive losing season, Snell (2-2) seems to be settling into the pitcher the Pirates have expected him to be. The right-hander was in control from the start, never allowing a runner past second base while striking out five and walking one in a dominating performance.

Snell didn’t have as many strikeouts as he did in his previous two starts, when he struck out 16 in 12 2-3 innings – nine in 5 2-3 innings in his most recent start, against the Mets. But he didn’t need them on a night he kept the ball down while allowing only one ball to leave the infield in his final four innings.

Snell and Zach Duke were considered the Pirates’ top minor league prospects at this time a year ago, but Duke had much more success (8-2, 1.81 ERA) than Snell (1-2, 5.14 ERA) did after they were called up. Snell also struggled in his first three starts this season, yielding 16 earned runs in 15 innings.

Snell has since given up only five runs in four starts, including a 3-1 victory over the Phillies on April 28 in which he pitched seven shutout innings.

Roberto Hernandez pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Mike Gonzalez completed the six-hitter for his fourth save in as many opportunities.

Batista, a one-time Pirates Rule Five draft pick who made his major league debut with them in 1992, gave up three runs and eight hits over seven innings.

Notes: Duke had the Pirates’ only other shutout this season, an 8-0 victory over the Cubs on May 2. … Snell failed to allow a run in the first inning for the second time in seven starts. … Jeromy Burnitz ended an 0-for-19 slide with a double in the sixth. Until then, he was 2-for-25 against Batista. …. Batista is 2-5 against Pittsburgh.

AP-ES-05-09-06 2127EDT

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