After a wobbly first three innings, Wandy Rodriguez settled in and gave the Pirates a quality start, but the Bucs' offense was unable to overcome an early three-run deficit, and the Cubs took the final game of the season-opening series, 3-2.
Rodriguez posted a pitching line of six innings, five hits, three runs, one walk, five strikeouts, and a 54 game score. But this was really a tale of two starts. In the first three innings he allowed five hits and three runs, with only one strikeout. In innings four through six, he held the Cubs hitless while picking up four strikeouts.
"Early on, whether he was excited, it was flat a little bit, it was up in the zone," Hurdle said. "He finished up very efficiently, very strong and a very good outing."
The Pirates' offensive was unable to mount anything resembling a threat against Cubs starter Jason Hammel through the first six innings.
In the seventh, the Pirates broke through for two runs after Hammel was removed following his walk of Neil Walker. With two outs, and Travis Ishikawa due up, the Cubs brought in lefty James Russell. Hurdle responded by inserting Gaby Sanchez to pinch hit. Sanchez doubled to left, and the Pirates had runners on second and third with two outs. With the rain beginning to fall, Cubs manager Rick Renteria slowly walked to the mound, eventually calling on Justin Grimm to face Tony Sanchez. After jumping ahead 2-and-0, Sanchez fouled off two pitches before hitting a ground ball to center, scoring Walker and Sanchez. Jordy Mercer followed with a pop out to right field, ending the rally. The Pirates trailed 3-2 heading into the eighth.
Edinson Volquez relieved Rodriguez and pitched two scoreless innings, picking up two strikeouts along the way. We certainly can't draw any conclusions from Volquez's appearance, but it was nice to see him work smoothly through the seventh and the eighth.
"I think this is another step forward for him," Hurdle said. "This might be as good as he's looked. Another confidence builder for Edinson."
In the bottom of the eighth the Pirates were once again in a position to inflict some two out damage. But, with runners on first and second, Pedro Alvarez grounded out to the pitcher, ending the threat.
After Bryan Morris got through the top of the ninth, the Bucs came up in the bottom half trailing by a run. The inning began with promise when Neil Walker led off with a single. But then, after fouling the ball off in his first attempt at a sacrifice, Gaby Sanchez tried to bunt again and popped out to the mound. Tony Sanchez followed by lining into a game-ending double play.
Afterwards Hurdle said that Sanchez's second attempt at a bunt with one strike was Gaby's call: "We gave it one shot with Gaby, he didn't get it down, so we let him swing away from there and he felt compelled to try to put it down again."
NOTE: Volquez's appearance today will not change the probable starters for the weekend series against the Cardinals. Gerrit Cole will start tomorrow, Liriano on Saturday and Volquez Sunday.