Here’s what Opening Day taught us about the Pirates | TribLIVE.com
Pirates/MLB

Here’s what Opening Day taught us about the Pirates

Jerry DiPaola
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Pittsburgh Pirates’ Josh Bell hits a single off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo in the sixth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Unless you expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to post a 162-0 record this season and Jameson Taillon to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day, you should not judge the team harshly after its two-run loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

After all, they were one extra-base hit by Corey Dickerson and a scoreless bottom of the ninth by closer Felipe Vazquez from a 6-5 victory, instead of a 5-3 loss.

Those are difficult accomplishments, but we’re talking about two of the Pirates’ most accomplished players. Not unreasonable expectations.

Did we learn anything from the game? Did its events bolster what we had been thinking?

Here are three thoughts (keeping in mind the team has played only 6/10th of 1 percent of the season):

1. Reaching deep into bench

Starting your third-string right fielder on Opening Day is not the preferred way to go, but injuries forced Melky Cabrera into the lineup.

The Pirates were pro-active in the offseason, acquiring Lonnie Chisenhall to patrol right field while Gregory Polanco rehabs from shoulder surgery. But when Chisenhall was hit by a pitch Monday and suffered a broken right index finger, 34-year-old Cabrera, who is in his 15th big-league season for his eighth team, got the call to start.

The Pirates were also without center fielder Starling Marte, who was scratched because of a migraine headache.

Cabrera was 0 for 4 with a strikeout, but Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were 0 for 3 with two strikeouts on the same day for a lot more money. So, let’s not make any snap judgments.

Cabrera has a lifetime .285 batting average and hit .280 for the Cleveland Indians last year. He has played on a National League team in only two seasons, but the most recent time was 2012 when he hit .346 for the San Francisco Giants.

Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Cabrera, whose glove may not be entirely reliable, could be replaced in late innings by Pablo Reyes. That happened Thursday, and Reyes contributed to the near-rally in the ninth inning by drawing a walk.

The third right-field alternative (fifth string?) is JB Shuck, who has played 874 minor-league games, Hurdle was quick to mention. What he didn’t say is Shuck, 31, hit .192 and .205 in abbreviated duty with the Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins the past two seasons.

To be fair, few teams can find riches when they dip into their third string. The injuries are just a matter of bad luck.

But, even if Polanco and/or Chisenhall only miss April, that’s 28 games.

2. Did defense get better?

That’s not certain because there were good and bad signs in Cincinnati.

First basemen Josh Bell botched a ground ball, but he made a solid throw to second base when the next batter hit a grounder that he gobbled up (even though the Pirates couldn’t complete the double play).

Also, second baseman Adam Frazier stumbled while fielding a routine grounder and didn’t get the out or an error.

But Dickerson in left field, Marte in center and Jung Ho Kang at third base should field anything close to them, and there’s talk shortstop Erik Gonzalez will get to more balls than Jordy Mercer did.

Taillon said after the game that inducing groundballs is his specialty. The infield needs to turn that into an advantage.

3. What about bats?

The Pirates were one of the best teams in baseball last season for putting the ball in play, leading the NL in fewest strikeouts (1,229) and standing sixth with a .254 batting average.

With Marte out with a migraine and Polanco’s power unplugged, the Pirates were baffled Thursday by Luis Castillo’s changeup and struck out 11 times, including two each by Kang and Josh Bell. That goes on the scouting report of every opponent.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pirates
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