Pirates' 5 solo home runs go for naught in a setback against Cubs
CHICAGO — After missing most of last season with chronic forearm pain, Pirates left-hander Wandy Rodriguez seemed to catch a break by having his first two starts of 2014 come against the Chicago Cubs.
It didn't work out that way.
The Cubs, a popular pick to finish last in the NL Central, beat Rodriguez last week at PNC Park. On Wednesday, they knocked him around at Wrigley Field for a 7-5 victory.
The Pirates got three hits — all solo homers — in seven innings off right-hander Jason Hammel.
With a strong breeze blowing out to center, the Pirates had five solo homers among their six hits. Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez homered twice each as the Pirates tallied five runs without ever putting a runner in scoring position.
“You can chalk that up to Wrigley Field,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “A lot of crazy things can happen here.”
Rodriguez (0-2) gave up five runs and nine hits. He walked three and struck out six. His toughest inning was the sixth, when Mike Olt hit a two-run homer and Junior Lake followed with a solo shot.
“I had one big mistake: the home run (by Lake) on a changeup,” Rodriguez said. “Everything felt very good. My curveball was good. My changeup was great, and I used it a lot.”
Despite the two losses, Hurdle is encouraged by what he has seen from Rodriguez.
“The line doesn't look as good as what we think we saw,” Hurdle said. “You've got to remember how long he's been away from the mound. He needs innings. You can pitch all you want in spring training, it's not the same beast as (in the season).”
Hammel retired the first 12 batters he faced. Alvarez broke the spell in the fifth inning by catching hold of a sinker and launching it into the left field bleachers.
Alvarez's leadoff shot tied it at 1-1. But the Cubs pounced on Rodriguez for three runs in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs, Anthony Rizzo dropped a single into left center. Olt hit the next pitch for a high fly ball to left. Starling Marte drifted back ... and back some more ... then turned and watched the ball barely clear the wall.
Three pitches later, Lake blasted a 400-foot homer that landed on Waveland Avenue beyond left field.
That was plenty of cushion for Hammel (2-0), who dominated the Pirates for his second straight start.
Travis Snider and Martin homered for the Pirates in the seventh inning. Alvarez and Martin hit back-to-back home runs in the ninth.
Rodriguez's fifth-inning collapse was surprising, considering he won a battle in the fourth when Emilio Bonifacio came up with two outs and runners on second and third.
Normally, a pitcher won't convene a meeting to decide whether to intentionally walk a him. However, Bonifacio's major league-leading .514 batting average gave Rodriguez pause.
Rodriguez and catcher Martin talked it over. They knew Starlin Castro, who homered twice Tuesday, was on deck.
Martin went back to the plate and got down in his crouch. Rodriguez got strike one, then fired a pitch in the dirt. Martin blocked it, saving at least one run. Rodriguez then got Bonifacio to strike out swinging.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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