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The Good, Bad and BUC’N Ugly: Pirates struggle at the plate in Cincinnati

Was the Pirates’ parade of strikeouts the result of early season rust or poor preparation?

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Opening weekend for Major League Baseball is officially in the books so, naturally, it’s time to overreact to the first three games of the season.

I don’t know about you, but seeing Andrew McCutchen back in the Black N’ Gold sent shivers down my spine. Hearing his postgame interview following the 5-4 Opening Day win was something I, along with several Pirates fans, missed over the last couple seasons.

His words on playing in a Pirates uniform and Oneil Cruz’s monster home run brought hope that the 2023 season was going to bring a different flavor compared to the previous three seasons.

Saturday and Sunday, however, showed that more of the same could be on the way. With that said, let’s dive into some Opening Weekend takeaways:

Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez were... OK.

The season debuts for veterans Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez could’ve been better, but they could’ve been WAY worse.

Take away a poor first inning on Saturday and Hill turned in a quality start in awful playing conditions. The 43-year-old battled rain, high winds and a hostile atmosphere at Great American Ballpark and allowed just three runs to the Cincinnati Reds over five innings, all of which coming in the first frame off two home runs. One by former Pirate Kevin Newman.

Velasquez also gave up three runs on Sunday, but his trouble areas came from locating his pitches. T.J. Friedl mashed a fastball down the middle over the right field fence, while Jason Vosler took advantage of a high-and-in slider in the second inning.

Both could easily overcome these issues at PNC Park later this week.

Have a cup of (Connor) Joe!

Connor Joe wasted no time in showing he could be an everyday type of player this weekend.

The versatile Joe went 3-for-7 at the plate with a RBI and stolen in two games and had a slick web gem in left field during Sunday’s finale.

Overall, he looked comfortable at the plate and in the field, which could help him garner more playing time down the stretch. This shouldn’t surprise fans given what he did during Spring Training, but it is nice to see that his reunion with the Pirates is off to a strong start.

Too many Bucs on the pond

Yet again, the Pirates found difficulty with turning hits and walks into runs as they stranded 39 runners on the basepaths this weekend.

Of that number, 14 runners were left on base during Sunday’s finale and it came back to bite the Bucs in the late innings. This is a problem that carried over from last season in which the Pirates averaged seven runners left on base, according to TeamRankings.

It’s beating a dead horse saying they need to improve this figure if they have any intention of improving this season, but seeing this sort of issue right out of Spring Training spells trouble.

Cutch is BACK!

Let’s end on a positive note. One that was already covered, but is worth repeating.

Andrew McCutchen made his long-awaited return to the Pirates lineup over the weekend, playing in all three games in right field and designated hitter. Collectively, he went 2-for-8 (.250) with five walks and a RBI.

Like Joe, he also made a slick play in the outfield on Sunday.

Sure, these stats aren’t the greatest but he produced in some form over the weekend, which is great.

The challenge gets tougher as the Boston Red Sox took two-of-three from the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, but they had to fight for their wins. If the Pirates can clean up their mistakes from this weekend, a series win isn’t out of the conversation.