PITTSBURGH — Cubs right-hander Caleb Kilian stood on the top step of the visitors’ dugout Monday at PNC Park, staring out over the damp field. He had found a quiet moment between pregame rain showers and his first road start in the major leagues to get his bearings in an unfamiliar park.
On the mound a couple of hours later, however, he lost his bearings. He said he didn’t feel like himself for a second consecutive start.
Manager David Ross pulled Kilian one out into the third inning of the Cubs’ 12-1 loss to the Pirates. The rookie had given up seven runs, five earned. And he had issued five walks for the second outing in a row.
‘‘It’s super-frustrating because I feel like I’m digging myself in a hole with walking people, getting behind in counts,’’ Kilian said. ‘‘I feel like it’s not far off; I feel like it’s close. Once it clicks, it’ll be a lot better.’’
Kilian’s time in the majors came sooner than the Cubs planned, sparked by a rash of injuries to the starting rotation. But with a 2.06 ERA at Triple-A Iowa before his first call-up, he had the organization and the fan base excited to see what he could do.
His debut stoked those flames, as he retired the first nine Cardinals he faced. Kilian went back to Iowa with an idea of what to work on. But making adjustments under the bright lights of a major-league stadium presents another challenge.
‘‘I think you’ve just got to trust it,’’ Kilian said. ‘‘Trust the process, continue to do these things. I think in the long run it’ll pay off. But there’s a lot going on in my head, a lot I’m working on. So maybe that’s part of it.’’
Between starts, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy focused on the consistency of Kilian’s delivery. They ran through several drills for timing and getting into the lower half of his body.
‘‘But it kind of got out of whack a little bit today,’’ Kilian said. ‘‘And it didn’t go too well.’’
The first inning held promise. He got ahead of Pirates leadoff hitter Ke’Bryan Hayes with a pair of called strikes and went on to strike him out. But Kilian walked the first two batters in each of the next two innings.
Kilian tried to focus on just hitting catcher Willson Contreras’ mitt, but he also started to think about the mechanical tweaks he had made in the last week.
‘‘Which I probably shouldn’t have been doing,’’ he said.
Those walks exacerbated the Cubs’ defensive mistakes. In turn, those defensive mistakes created longer innings for a young pitcher trying to bounce back from a rough last outing.
In the second, second baseman Jonathan Villar bobbled a grounder that could have become a double play. Instead, it loaded the bases with no outs. A single and a sacrifice fly scored the Pirates’ first two runs.
In the third, a hard chopper deflected off first baseman Alfonso Rivas’ glove for a single, again loading the bases with no outs. This time, a wild pitch and a double brought in four more runs.
When asked how to keep Kilian’s last couple of outings from snowballing, Ross paraphrased former Cubs left-hander Jon Lester: ‘‘You’re going to have five that are going to be really good, and nobody’s going to be able to hit you. You’re going to have five where you’re going to give up a lot of runs, and you’re going to stink. And it’s what you do with the other 20 starts.’’