Thanks to some early, timely hitting and a stellar debut by Jason Hammel the Cubs will head into the home opener tomorrow afternoon with a win under their belts. The right-hander gave up only one run in 6 2/3 innings, the bullpen held on late, and the Cubs escaped with a 3-2 nail-biter over the Pirates in front of a sparse crowd at PNC Park.
Less than 12 hours after using every arm in the bullpen, first-year skipper Rick Renteria was able to sit back and enjoy the efforts of his starting pitcher for most of the afternoon. Hammel spent much of the day in pitcher’s counts and worked with a great pace. He only threw 98 pitches and continued a string of outstanding performances from the starting rotation. Cubs starters have amassed an ERA of 0.95 in the first three games, giving up only two earned runs in 19 innings.
Chicago scored one run in each of the first three innings to help Hammel settle in. Mike Olt contributed with his first career home run – an opposite-field pop-up-looking drive that cleared the fence by a couple of rows, giving the Cubs a 2-0 advantage.
Emilio Bonifacio led off the third with his tenth hit of the season – a double to the right. He eventually scored on a double play grounder back to the mound by Justin Ruggiano. That was it for the Cubs offense – and it was barely enough.
Reliever Justin Grimm followed James Russell in the bottom of the seventh and gave up a two-run single to Tony Sanchez before getting Jordy Mercer to fly out to right to end the inning. With a beleaguered bullpen and a closer that was unavailable, Renteria turned to Pedro Strop in the ninth to close it out.
It took only seven pitches for Strop to get his fifth consecutive save dating back to last season. He got Sanchez to hit into a broken-bat lineout that Strop turned into the game-ending double play.
Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez took the loss, giving up three runs in six innings. The Pirates (2-1) will host the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend at PNC Park.
Meanwhile, the Cubs (1-2) will head home to take on Ryne Sandberg and the Philadelphia Phillies in the season opener at Wrigley Field tomorrow afternoon. The Phillies will send Roberto Hernandez to the mound. Travis Wood will take the hill for the Cubs. First pitch is slated for 1:20 pm CST.