If before Monday’s season opener at PNC Park against the Chicago Cubs someone told you A.J. Burnett would have 10 strikeouts and the Pirates’ bullpen would not allow a hit, chances are you would have been pretty happy about Pittsburgh’s chances to win.
Well, Burnett did strike out 10 Cubs while Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes and Mark Melancon combined to not allow a hit after Burnett’s exit with two outs in the sixth inning. The trouble was the offense and the Pirates managed just three hits in their 3-1 loss to the Cubs.
For all that Burnett did well — and there was plenty — a rough first inning put Pittsburgh in a hole that they could never seem to dig themselves out of.
After opening the game by striking out David DeJesus, Burnett gave up a single to left field off the bat of Cubs’ shortstop Starlin Castro. One pitch later the Pirates trailed 2-0 after Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo crushed a Burnett fastball well over the wall in center field.
“That’s the one mistake I had to deal with today,” Burnett said.
He would go on to strike out the side in the second and had multiple strikeouts in the third and fourth innings before being pulled after a Wellington Castillo double that scored Nate Schierholtz with two outs in the sixth.
“Overall you want to get out there and get a little further and go a little deeper but the first one, it was a blast out there either way you look at it,” Burnett said.
That was more than enough for Cubs’ starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The former Notre Dame wide receiver retired 14 consecutive Pirates between a Neil Walker single in the second inning and an Andrew McCutchen double in the sixth.
“The last two times we’ve seen (Samardzija) he’s been a beast out there,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after the game. “Command with everything out of his hand. He can go get 95 to 97 and drop that breaking ball in there at 80. He used a couple straight changeups, the split, the slider — all of it came into play and he was throwing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.”
Carlos Marmol pitched the ninth for Chicago, and while it was a typical Marmol outing (one strikeout, one earned run, one walk) the Pirates were not able to capitalize on the opportunity. Kyuji Fujikawa made his Major League debut with two outs and two runners on before getting Russell Martin to fly out to end the game.
It’s a small sample size, but the answers to some of the lingering off-season questions about the Pirates might have started to become more clear after Opening Day.
Right away, Starling Marte’s progress at the plate was on display. Patience was not one of his strong points during his initial call up last season, but Marte waited out Samardzija and took a six-pitch walk (the only walk the Cubs would surrender until the bottom of the ninth).
John McDonald saw his first action in a Pittsburgh uniform in the ninth inning and promptly made a throwing error that allowed Scheriholtz to reach base.
Then there were the combined efforts of Garret Jones, Gaby Sanchez and Clint Barmes. There have been doubts about the ability of all three, especially at the plate. None of the trio did much to alleviate those concerns, combining for an 0 for 9 showing with each taking a turn striking out.
In the “You don’t see that everyday” category:
When Burnett took the mound for the fifth inning, he did as many pitchers do and went to pick up the rosin bag on the mound. He gave it a few pats against his hip and *poof* — the rosin bag exploded all over Burnett in what was either a freak occurrence or one of the most devious April Fools’ Day pranks in baseball history.
“I just went to get it and it went everywhere — on my face and all in my mouth — it was a good April Fools’ joke,” he said. “You’ve got to laugh at that and have fun. One pitch to Rizzo and a rosin bag. That’s my day”