By John Perrotto
ST. LOUIS _ During the final days of spring training, a scout from another National League team was asked to identify the Pirates player who impressed him the most during the exhibition season.
He answered Ross Ohlendorf without hesitation after watching the big right-hander post a fine 2.55 ERA in Grapefruit League play.
‚ÄúYou can just see it all coming together for him,‚Äù the scout said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a big, strong guy with a good arm and a good head on his shoulders. He looks better than I‚Äôve ever seen him before. I think he‚Äôs going to be a handful for opposing hitters this season.‚Äù
Ohlendorf certainly looked that way in his first start of the regular season Thursday at Busch Stadium, though he took a tough 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals and Chris Carpenter, who combined with two relievers on a one-hitter.
Ohlendorf allowed two runs and seven hits in six-plus innings with one walk and one strikeout. He carried a four-hit shutout
into the seventh before giving up three straight singles, two softly hit, that enabled the Cardinals to tie the game at 1-1. Sean Burnett relieved and served up pinch hitter Brian Barden‚Äôs game-winning single.
‚ÄúI feel bad we lost this game because Ohlendorf pitched really well and deserved to win it,‚Äù Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. ‚ÄòIt‚Äôs a tough loss for him to have to take on his record. He pitched great.‚Äù
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs disappointing to lose but other than that I‚Äôm very happy,‚Äù Ohlendorf said. ‚ÄúI thought I pitched a good game. I was really happy with the way it went. You always want to pitch well that first time out.‚Äù
There are many reasons to believe Ohlendorf will follow this outings with many more good ones rather than looking like the guy who was overmatched last September when he went 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA in five starts after being acquired from the New York Yankees.
Ohlendorf was converted from a reliever into a starter by the Yankees at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season and had to relearn his curveball and changeup after going exclusively with a fastball/slider combination while working out of the bullpen.
Ohlendorf said the only pitch that was really above average Thursday was his sinking fastball. Other that than, he said, his stuff was ordinary.
While the Cardinals lineup does not produce much heartburn for the opposition beyond Albert Pujols, Ohlendorf did limit the first baseman to one single in three at bats while also holding down the rest of the Cardinals. That Ohlendorf did so with one effective pitch just whets the appetite for those starts when everything is working.
John Perrotto covers the Pirates for Baseball America, Piratesreport.com, and major league baseball for baseball prospectus