NORMAL — Normal entered play Wednesday with a Frontier League-leading .299 team batting average.
The CornBelters also ranked last of 12 league teams with a 5.23 team ERA.
That contrast of positive and negative has resulted in a break even 21-21 record after Normal dropped a 9-6 decision to Evansville on Wednesday at the Corn Crib.
The 3-hour, 54-minute contest featured 28 hits and 394 pitches.
"We've gone over this story before," Normal manager Brooks Carey said. "If you don't get good starting pitching, it's tough to come back and win those type of games."
The Otters (23-18) touched Normal starter Edgar De La Rosa for three first-inning runs when Christopher Riopedre followed singles from John Schultz and Jeff Gardner with a wind-aided home run to left field.
De La Rosa departed with a groin strain after allowing two hits in the third. Both runners scored as the Otters extended their lead to 5-0.
"I don't think he's going to lose any time," said Carey. "That's a good thing because we need all the pitching we can get."
Normal reached the scoreboard in the bottom of the third when Justin Fletcher singled home Aaron Dudley, but Evansville added two more in the fourth on a Josh Allen home run and three singles.
"We're going to try to get this pitching better one way or the other. If we do, we're going to be pretty good," Carey said. "We've got a couple (new pitchers) coming in again. Some of these guys didn't throw the ball bad today. (Anthony) Herrera kept us in the ballgame for three (scoreless) innings."
The Belters chipped away at their substantial deficit with a two-run Dudley single in the sixth and Chirino's two-run base hit on an 0-2 offering in the seventh to close within 7-5.
Normal's initial five runs reached on walks.
Chirino stroked five singles and Dudley four to account for nine of the Belters' 13 hits. Normal stranded 17 baserunners, leaving at least one on base each inning.
Evansville kept Normal at arm's length with two eighth-inning runs. Yet the Belters scored once and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth before Otters' closer Randy McCurry could nail down his 11th save.