Cubs’ pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, won the opening day starting job by default with injuries to veterans Matt Garza and Scott Baker. And it wasn’t without good reason. He struck out nine Pirates hitters over eight shutout innings to sink the Pirates 3-1 on opening day at PNC Park, Monday afternoon.
“The last two times we’ve seen him, he’s been a beast out there,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle after the game. “Command of everything out of his hand. He can go get 95, 97, and he can drop that breaking ball in there at 80.” “He was throwing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.”
Despite a rocky first inning, Pirates starter A.J. Burnett was arguably as good down the stretch of his start. He punched out 10 Cubs’ hitters in 5 and 2/3 innings, allowed six hits and three runs, all the knocks coming in the first and sixth innings.
“His curveball was on today, and he was aggressive,” said Pirates new catcher, Russell Martin. “He did a solid job of pitching out of the jam in the first, and he just coasted the rest of the way.”
The first inning for Burnett was the rough one. After striking out David DeJesus to start the game, Starlin Castro popped a line-drive single into left field. On the next pitch, Cubs’ star Anthony Rizzo demolished a high fastball into the right center seats to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the first, the Pirates got two runners on with a walk to Starling Marte to lead off the game and Garrett Jones reaching on an error by second baseman Brent Lillibridge. Samardzija worked out of the jam, retiring the next three batters, including strikeouts to Pedro Alvarez and Gaby Sanchez to end the bottom half.
The Pirates failed to get a ball out of the infield until the sixth, when Andrew McCutchen lined a double into the left field corner.
The Cubs added their third and final run of the game off Burnett in the sixth. After Nate Schierholtz was hit by an errant fastball, Wellington Castillo slammed a double into deep right to bring him around to score. Justin Wilson relieved Burnett after 5 and 2/3 innings, and threw a scoreless one and 1/3 in his first relief appearance on the season.
“The results weren’t there, but I battled,” said Burnett of the first opening day outing of his career.
Jared Hughes and Mark Melancon each threw one inning of work to keep the Cubs off the board late in the game.
The Pirates tried to mount a comeback in the bottom of the ninth. After McCutchen was hit by a pitch by Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol, he stole second base with Pedro Alvarez at the plate. On the next pitch, Alvarez lined a single into center to score Cutch, notching his first RBI on the year. Marmol failed to record another out and was quickly replaced by James Russell. Russell and rookie Kyuji Fujikawa teamed up to retire the last two Pirates batters and record the win for the Cubs, 3-1.
Despite the loss, the Pirates pitching staff combined to strike out 15 batters on the afternoon. In addition, A.J. Burnett tied a club record with his 10 strikeouts on opening day—the first time a Pirates pitcher completed this feat since 1983 when John Candelaria struck out 10 St. Louis Cardinals hitters.
On Deck: After a day off on Tuesday, the Pirates are back in action at 7:05 p.m. On Wednesday at PNC Park against the Cubs. Wandy Rodriguez gets the starting nod, facing off against Edwin Jackson.