Pirates starting pitcher Rodriguez leaves no doubt in disposing of Braves
If there were lingering doubts about the health of Wandy Rodriguez's left hamstring entering Friday, the Pirates left-hander removed all uncertainty against the National League's hottest team.
Rodriguez, who had not started a game since leaving his April 8 start in Arizona in the third inning, returned Friday and faced the minimum through seven innings to lead the Pirates to a 6-0 win over Atlanta at PNC Park.
Rodriguez allowed just a one-out single to Jason Heyward in the fourth. Other than that, he was perfect. He also was efficient, needing just 82 pitches — 55 for strikes — to get through seven innings. He struck out five.
He had superb command — he did not walk a batter — and possessed normal velocity, his fastball sitting between 88 and 93 mph.
“Eleven days down? That's as sharp as you ever want to see a guy,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Fastball command, downhill plane, breaking ball, both sides of the plate. … He knows how to pitch. He knows the league. He knows where he can go.
“Getting him back is a big, big plus for us.”
Big indeed. The Pirates need Rodriguez to be the guy who is second only to Philadelphia's Cole Hamels among NL left-handers in wins (87) and innings (1397 2⁄3) since 2005.
The Pirates entered Friday with just four quality starts in 15 games. James McDonald's velocity is down, Jonathan Sanchez has struggled, and Jeff Locke got knocked out of Thursday's game after four innings and three home runs, including two to the Upton brothers.
Rodriguez had no such problem with the Uptons.
Rodriguez made the game's hottest hitter, Justin Upton, who entered leading baseball with nine home runs, look like mortal.
He blew a 93-mph fastball by a swinging Upton in the first inning, which seemed to erase any remaining question about the health of his hamstring. Upton finished 0 for 3.
“I was a little bit scared about getting sore or hurt again, but then (I) just moved on,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter. “I felt comfortable.”
Not only did Rodriguez have his typical velocity but he also had superb command. B.J. Upton swung and missed at a 90-mph fastball that painted the outside corner in the fourth. Rodriguez struck out B.J. Upton looking in the seventh with a fastball at the knees. Upton was tossed from the game for arguing with home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.
“He thought it was a strike, I can live with that,” Upton said. “But the shooing away part? No. I'm a grown man. You just don't do that.”
Rodriguez also had a sharp curveball, getting Dan Uggla to swing and miss at a hook to end the fifth.
Rodriguez continued his career-long trend of thriving in his home ballpark. He entered with a career ERA of 3.43 in home games and 4.65 on the road. Last season, Rodriguez had a 3.59 ERA at PNC Park and a 3.99 mark on the road.
While the weather cooled — Friday's first-pitch temperature was 49 degrees and Thursday's was 83 — Pedro Alvarez continued his warming trend.
A night after launching his first home run of the season, Alvarez followed a Neil Walker triple to begin the second by depositing an 85-mph Tim Hudson pitch into the right-field seats to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Russell Martin followed with a double, and Jose Tabata — spelling Starling Marte, who was given the night off following his five-strikeout performance Thursday — doubled home Martin for a three-run inning.
Hudson, seeking his 200th win, was chased from the game in the fifth after allowing a two-run single to Garrett Jones.
“(The Pirates) were pretty good tonight, and they had a guy on the mound who was giving us fits,” Hudson said. “I had to be pretty good, and I wasn't.”
Rodriguez will take the run support, but he needed little as there was no doubt among the 18,705 at PNC Park that the lefty was at full health and at the top of his game.