Monday, April 1, 2013

Weather Hotter Than Buc Bats; Cubs Take Opener 3-1

AJ Burnett was workmanlike with a strikeout touch in his first Opening Day start, but Jeff Samardzija was absolutely dominating, and the Pirates fell to the Cubbies 3-1 in front of 39,078 fans at PNC Park on a cold but sunny day for baseball.

Burnett whiffed David DeJesus to open the tilt, and got ahead of Starlin Castro 1-2 when he ripped a slurve into left for a knock. Anthony Rizzo got a first-pitch 93 MPH sinker that stayed up and tailed over the plate and launched it 438' into the batter's eye greenery in right center to make it 2-0.

The Bucs tried to answer in their half. Starling Marte walked on a 3-2 slider, and Garrett Jones got aboard when Brent Lillibridge couldn't handle his grounder. A Cutch force out put runners on the corners, but Pedro and Gaby Sanchez both went down swinging on 2-2 pitches off the plate; El Toro bit on a slider and Gaby on a split finger delivery.

Burnett was in trouble in the fourth when a walk and double to right put Cubs at second and third. AJ was up to the task against the bottom of Chicago's order, coming up with a pair of punchouts and a soft comebacker. He was helped during the sequence by a nice block of a 55' curve in the dirt by Russell Martin to save a run.

He was touched up for another tally in the sixth. With an out, he bopped Nate Schierholtz with a pitch. The next hitter, Welington Castillo, dropped a fly into right that Jones didn't zero in on particularly well, and it fell for a run-scoring double. Castillo was nailed after the throw went home; a head's up look by Martin after taking the relay caught the Cub catcher in a rundown.

Justin Wilson came on to finish the frame. AJ's line was 5-2/3 frames with three runs on six hits with a walk, beanball and ten strikeouts after 98 pitches. That's the most K by a Bucco on opening day since John Candelaria struck out 10 Cards in the 1983 lidlifter. Considering he didn't get a lot of MLB mound time in the spring, it was good to see his stuff working and his control in line.

Wilson worked the seventh and Jared Hughes the eighth; both guys pitched clean frames. Samardzija wasn't to be outdone. He pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up two hits and K'ing nine with a walk, using 110 tosses. At one point he retired 14 straight Pirates, and nary a Bucco hit a fair ball into the outfield until the sixth inning. Sam I Am is 4-0 against Pittsburgh with a 0.92 ERA in 39 IP.

Mark Melancon finished up the ninth, with only a runner aboard by error (ironically by the Minister of Defense, John McDonald) to mar his outing. But Mr. Excitement, Carlos Marmol, came on to close and woke up the Bucs a bit.

Garrett Jones led off the frame by whiffing on a 3-2 pitch that C Castillo had to knock down and toss to first to complete. Cutch got bopped by a pitch, stole second for some reason - probably because they were giving it to him - and scored on Pedro's knock into center. Josh Harrison came on to run, with the tying tally, represented by The Kid, coming to the dish.

Dale Sveum saw enough and gave his erratic closer the hook. LHP James Russell took the ball from Marmol and turned around Neil Walker, who hit a soft fly to right. Then RHP Kyuji Fujikawa made his MLB debut against Martin, who put one in the air to center that settled in DeJesus' mitt to cue the Fat Lady.

The teams are off tomorrow and pick it up again Wednesday night. Wandy Rodriguez will take the bump against Edwin Jackson.

  • Wilson, Hughes and Melancon faced one batter over the minimum while working 3-1/3 frames, and whiffed five Cubbies. Buc pitchers collect 15 K during the game.
  • Cutch was the only Buc to get aboard more than once. He smoked a two-out double up the LF line in the sixth and was HBP in the ninth, scoring the only run.
  • Rizzo, who didn't hit a home run during Cubbie camp, drilled the first pitch he saw in the regular season out of PNC Park. So much for spring results, hey? Rizzo, like Samardzija, loves playing Pittsburgh. Last year he hit .288 with 4 HR and 15 RBI in 52 at-bats with a 130 OPS+ against the Pirates.
  • Looking ahead, Neil Walker told Mike Sanserino of the Post Gazette that the Bucs didn't talk contract to him and he's not inclined to open discussions during the season.

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