Ex-Gophers pitcher is in ‘No-Win’ situation

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Former Gophers All-Big Ten pitcher Denny Neagle is as frustrated these days as the batters who constantly fail to hit his tantalizingly slow 78-mph changeup.
No matter how well he pitches — and right now it’s very well — the Pittsburgh Pirates’ left-hander can’t seem to win. Or lose.
Just call him No-Decision Neagle.
Arguably the National League’s best pitcher this season not named John Smoltz, Neagle (12-5) has allowed only 10 runs in 37 innings (a 2.43 earned-run average) over his last five starts, yet has won only once. In his last four starts, including a nine-inning effort against the New York Mets in which he gave up only one run and struck out 12, he is 0-1 with three no-decisions.
“It’s just wearing on me right now,” Neagle said. “A guy who throws hard doesn’t have to think much out there. It’s a no-brainer: Throw the fastball.
“But to me, every pitch has a purpose. Each pitch sets up the next pitch. So if you’re worrying not just about the next pitch but if you’re going to make a mistake, it really taxes you.”
Until recently, the Pirates’ roughed-up rotation knew it could count on at least one good start and, usually, one victory every time around. Not now.
“To me, he’s the best pitcher in the National League,” said the admittedly biased Jason Kendall, the Pirates’ catcher. “He can do so many things.”
Except win, it seems.
Neagle has a 2.02 ERA in his six no-decisions this season and would already be a 15-game winner if the Pirates had won even half of those starts.
“We’re just not scoring any runs for him,” manager Jim Leyland said.
In his last four starts, Neagle has received exactly six runs of support — 1.5 per game. With that lack of support, even one run or one pitch can cost a potential victory.
“You get tired feeling you always have to make the perfect pitch,” Neagle said. “It’s so much easier to pitch with a few runs. I looked at the scoreboard the other night and I saw where the Braves scored nine runs for Smoltz. I said, “`Hmmm, a nine-spot, that’s not bad.'”
Neagle’s next look at the Braves will be in person. He is scheduled to start today in Atlanta — against Smoltz. It is a start Neagle has anticipated since Braves manager Bobby Cox left him off the National League All-Star team in early July.
Neagle was picked last year with a 9-4 midseason record, but didn’t make it with the same record this season. In his final two pre-All-Star Game starts, he allowed only two runs in 14 innings.
“I’ll have more motivation the next time I pitch against Atlanta,” Neagle admitted.
Neagle also wants to dispel any notion that he is a half-season pitcher who hitters figure out the second or third time around the league.
Last season, he was only 4-4 after the All-Star break. There has been no second-half dropoff this season. His 2.93 ERA is exactly the same as it was at the break.
“I let it get to me last season,” Neagle said. “I also got worried before the break when I didn’t win my last two starts. But I’ve gotten over that now, and I’m not pushing the panic button. I’m not pressing, and I’m not going to.”