Game Recap: Bullpen Locks Down Opener for Bucs

The Pirates opened their season on a cold day in Chicago, but it was their bullpen that froze out the Cubs, sealing a 5-3 win with six, one-hit innings.  Pirates’ relievers fanned 11, making up for an offense stranded 15 and went 3-for-20 with RISP.

The game couldn’t have started much better.  After Adam Frazier walked, Ke’Bryan Hayes ripped a long home run to left, into the wind.

It looked like Chad Kuhl was ready to give it back right away.  He walked the Cubs’ first hitter on four pitches, gave up a one-out double to Anthony Rizzo on a 3-2 pitch, and walked Kris Bryant to load the bases.  He survived with only one run scored when, after a sacrifice fly, Javier Baez helped out by popping up on a 2-0 pitch.  (Baez and Jason Heyward each fanned three times.)

Kuhl obviously wasn’t going to be around long after a 32-pitch first inning, especially considering that his last spring start went only two innings.  He walked one in the second and gave up an unearned run in the third.  That one was set up by errors on the Pirates’ two Gold Glove finalists, Frazier and Jacob Stallings.  Kuhl left after three, having thrown 63 pitches, 33 for strikes, and allowed just the one hit.

By then, the Pirates led, 3-1.  They got a run in the second after Kuhl beat the relay on what could have been an inning-ending double play.  That left runners on the corners and Frazier punched a single past third.

The rest of the game was an endless parade of runners left on base for the Pirates.  They had nine hits and 11 walks, but did little with them.  The biggest offenders were Gregory Polanco and Anthony Alford.  Polanco went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and eight left on base.  Alford drew two walks, but fanned three times and stranded seven.  He also contributed the obligatory TOOTBLAN, getting picked off in the fourth after a leadoff walk.

The Pirates did manage to add a couple of runs.  In the fifth, Stallings doubled to drive in Colin Moran, who barely made it home from second.  That left runners at second and third with one out, but Alford fanned.  In the eighth, Alford walked and stole second, then scored on a two-out double by Frazier.  The newly aggressive Pirates had three steals, the other two coming on a double steal by Dustin Fowler, who’d reached on a pinch-single, and Frazier.

The game otherwise belonged to the Bucs’ bullpen.  Six relievers followed Kuhl for an inning each.  The first four just blew the Cubs away without a baserunner.  Duane Underwood, Jr., stuck out the side, throwing lots of changeups and getting the Ks on three different pitches:  fastball, curve and change.  Clay Holmes fanned one in his inning, then Sam Howard struck out the side.  Two of his Ks were on fastballs, so maybe he’s mixing that in with the slider better.  David Bednar fanned two, one on a curve and one on a splitter, so he’s still at it.

Chris Stratton had a little trouble in the eighth.  A leadoff double — the Cubs’ second and last hit of the day — and two outs produced a run.  Rich Rodriguez walked one in the ninth but finished the game by fanning Baez and Heyward to pick up the save.  The win went to Howard.  I’m not sure why; Underwood was the first pitcher after Kuhl failed to go five, and the Pirates were ahead when he left and stayed ahead.

So the Pirates will be undefeated for at least one full day.  They go at 2:20 on Saturday.