BOSTON – Opening Day is only one game. If you win or lose one game at any other point during the season, it’s not magnified. If a player has a good or bad performance at any other point during the season, it just gets chalked up as a good or bad game. But Opening Day has a way of magnifying things. It’s the first impression of the season, and for a short while, it can be a big impression.
But Opening Day did show us something that was true about the 2016 Pirates, and that will also be true about the 2017 Pirates: If Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen aren’t good, the Pirates probably won’t be good.
Cole looked fantastic today through the first four innings. He gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out two. His fastball was consistently in the upper 90s, hitting 99 MPH a few times, including a 99 MPH strikeout and a 98 MPH double play in the second inning. But then Cole fell apart in the fifth inning, giving up five runs on six hits.
The damage in the fifth came from a triple by Jackie Bradley Jr. to start things off, and was all capped off by a three run homer by Andrew Benintendi. In between saw a lot of tough luck, with two well placed infield singles in the hole at shortstop, along with a bunt single by catcher Sandy Leon to beat the shift.
Had it not been for the home run to Benintendi, this game may have turned out a bit different. Cole got a fastball by the young left fielder on the inside on a 1-1 pitch. He tried for the same pitch on 2-2 to get the out, but didn’t hit the same spot, and couldn’t get it by Benintendi.
“Obviously he was not going to let that one get by him again,” Cole said. “I’m not going to beat myself up too bad. I probably wasn’t happy with the sequence there and the triple that started the whole thing off.”
Francisco Cervelli took the responsibility for the pitch and the outcome after the game, saying that he called the pitch and that Cole was following his calls all day. Outside of that pitch, Cole’s outing wasn’t horrible, with some encouraging signs before the fifth inning.
“I thought he was strong,” Hurdle said of Cole before the fifth. “It was a lot of what we saw in Spring Training, as far as athletic, a good fastball, finish, mix of pitches. There’s definitely a body of work to build on moving forward.”
If the Pirates can get more of Cole before the fifth inning, and less of that fifth inning struggle they saw today, then it will be a good year for him and for the team on days when he starts. It doesn’t seem like Cole is going to let this one linger into future starts, as his takeaway from Opening Day was a positive one.
“It was pretty cool,” Cole said of the Opening Day experience. “Pre-game ceremony, I didn’t get to watch all of it, but it’s pretty hard not to at least notice something going on. Tom Brady is on the field and tackling Gronk. You’re trying to warm up and the crowd is going nuts. It’s a really special environment. I think it lived up to the hype. It’s something I’ll always remember. I’ll just forget everything that happened after the fourth.”
Then there’s Andrew McCutchen, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts at the plate, while having a few rough plays in the outfield. McCutchen didn’t look good at the plate at times, including getting fooled in a bad way on his third strikeout — a pitch in the dirt that resulted in a weak, off-balanced swing.
The outfield work led to two plays showing McCutchen’s inexperience. The first one was a foul ball that fell in the small area between the wall next to the foul line and the actual foul line. McCutchen pulled up short, but later realized he could have caught the ball.
“You can’t practice a ball that close to the wall,” McCutchen said. “You can’t even throw balls like that. That was one of those plays where you learn and you go from there. I think it was a ball that I could have caught, but it’s new. Something that I’ve got to learn. I’ve got to learn how to get to the ball, but at the same time how to protect myself and not injure myself at the same time.”
The triple to Bradley Jr. might have had a chance to be a double. McCutchen correctly read the bounce off the corner of the wall, and got the ball after it rebounded right to him. He fumbled the ball though, allowing Bradley to take third easily on a play that might have been close if fielded cleanly.
The defensive struggles should be expected a bit early for McCutchen, since he’s at a new position. But the offense will be a concern, especially after the down year he had last year, and the slow start he had the year before. The Pirates are already missing Jung Ho Kang, and could use McCutchen’s old bat in the lineup, or at least something closer to the old bat than last year.
Opening Day is one game, but this one game was a reminder of how important Cole and McCutchen are to the Pirates in 2017.
**Clint Hurdle pitched his late inning bullpen guys, giving an inning each to Juan Nicasio, Felipe Rivero, and Daniel Hudson, with Tony Watson warming up in the ninth. The goal here was to get them some work and avoid having them down four days in a row with tomorrow’s off day.
**Adam Frazier looked good on both sides of the ball today. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and was hit by a pitch in a good at-bat in the ninth as the leadoff hitter. It sounds like he might get more consideration as the leadoff guy going forward.
“I liked the way he’s looked at the top of the lineup all spring,” Hurdle said. “You saw more of it today. I liked the way he moved around left field as well today. He’s been on a fun run to watch. It’s only the first game of the season. We’ll see where he can take it.”
The defense was good, especially when you consider that Frazier hasn’t spent a lot of time in the outfield and had to deal with the Green Monster, outside of 45 minutes of work yesterday. Frazier has speed and range in the outfield, but hasn’t been the best with his routes. That wasn’t the case today.
“I think if you keep it simple, when you think about it, you go to a spot you know you can get to, and then anything else you just play off the wall,” Hurdle said of Frazier’s play. “I think it gets overcooked sometimes. He kept it simple. He acted like he had spent some time out there.”