PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Pirates, eight games under .500 and well down the NL Central standings, have been off the radar for weeks to many who follow the majors.
Only this might not be the normal, pack-it-in-soon Pirates season, thanks to starting pitchers Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny.
When they come out of the All-Star break this weekend in Atlanta, they'll throw a top-of-the-rotation pitcher at the Braves on Friday in Snell (7-5, 2.93 ERA) and another Saturday in Gorzelanny (9-4, 3.10 ERA).
The Pirates have spent 14 consecutive losing seasons scrambling to find a staff ace, but may have two of them developing at the same time.
Neither made the NL All-Star team - Snell was bypassed and Gorzelanny lost out in the fan vote for the final spot - but the Pirates won't be surprised if there are multiple All-Star games in the future for both 25-year-olds.
Manager Jim Tracy finds it symbolic they will oppose Atlanta in the traditional start to the second half of the season, as the Braves once owned the majors' model pitching staff in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
``When you add up the major league starts of both of them, you're looking at how things get started with the Atlanta Braves,'' Tracy said, pointing to Snell's 55 career starts and Gorzelanny's 29. ``It could be a similar type situation. They've been models of consistency.''
Tracy was referring to how the two are coming up, developing and growing together, not necessarily that they'll win nearly as many games as the former Braves' aces.
Most teams prefer to have a veteran pitcher atop the rotation, but the Pirates are becoming Atlanta-like in that they're building their staff from the kids down, not the other way around, with four of their five starters coming from their farm system. Left-handers Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, currently out with an elbow injury, also did.
The Pirates weren't supposed to be building around Gorzelanny and Snell.
They have drafted a pitcher in the first round of the June draft every year but two since 1999, but neither the right-handed Snell nor the left-handed Gorzelanny was a first-rounder.
Gorzelanny was a second-rounder in 2003, three years after Snell went in the 26th round - meaning nearly every club passed over what then was a 5-foot-11, 160-pound starting pitcher 25 times. The Pirates alone chose 15 pitchers, including Padres All-Star Chris Young, whom they later dealt, before taking Snell.
``I thought I should have gone higher,'' said Snell, a former high school star in Delaware who was passed over because of his size. ``I've always thought I was the best. Not the best person, I've never said that, but my parents always instilled in me that I was the best. That's where I get my confidence.''
Snell throws slightly harder than Gorzelanny, but is not a velocity-reliant pitcher - even though he seems to get more key outs with strikeouts later in games. It is not uncommon for him to throw his fastball at 93 mph in the first inning but 96 in the ninth.
Snell is 10th in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings and in fewest hits allowed per nine innings. So far, he's been even better than he was going 14-11 a year ago on a team that lost 95 games.
``Ian Snell's a guy nobody talks about but is (sixth) in the league in ERA,'' Nationals All-Star Dmitri Young said.
Dodgers manager Grady Little hasn't seen many better right-handers than Snell.
``That's some of the better stuff we've seen from a starter all season,'' Little said. ``He mixes his pitches and all four are quality.''
Snell was disappointed he didn't make the NL All-Star team, but said he's over that.
``It's gone. It's in the past,'' he said. ``I'm looking passed that.''
Snell is competitive, too. His clubhouse rant after a loss to the Angels last month in which he yelled he ``hated losing'' may have precipitated the Pirates' recent turnaround. They've won four series, taking nine of 13 games.
Gorzelanny is evidence of how spring training is important to pitchers for conditioning, but not necessarily for results. His ERA hovered in four digits all spring, but Tracy refused to take him out of the rotation and he got straightened out when the season started.
``I just told him to relax. He's not going anywhere,'' Tracy said. ``Just relax and pitch.''
Gorzelanny, who had only 11 career starts and two career victories before this season, is eighth in the league in ERA and in innings pitched.
``I knew all along that, when the lights went on, it would be a different ballgame,'' Gorzelanny said.

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