By Jeff Arnold, The Sports Xchange – UPI
If their bats can remain as hot as they have been over the past four games, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ torrid start to the season might just turn into much more.
The Pirates have won eight of their first 10 games thanks largely to an offense that has produced 31 runs over the past four games. And coming off an 8-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Tuesday’s rescheduled home opener for the two-time defending National League Central champions, the Pirates’ run production isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as Pittsburgh is off to its best start since 1992.
On Wednesday, Chicago’s Jon Lester will become the latest opposing starting pitcher to attempt to keep the Pirates in check. But as good as his team has been so far, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle won’t put too much stock in Pittsburgh’s success given the small sample size.
“I think this can get overcooked,” Hurdle told reporters Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’ve played 10 ballgames and we’re going out there wanting to make plays, wanting to make pitches and wanting to have good at-bats. That’s basically the plan.”
Starling Marte and Francisco Cervelli homered for the Pirates (8-2), who overcame an early deficit and got a solid start from Ivan Nova, who allowed three runs over seven innings. The offense backed Nova up and kept rolling and who touched up Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood for three runs in the third game before breaking the game open.
“Right now, I’m really impressed with their team,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters after Tuesday’s loss, which dropped Chicago to 5-5 on the season.
Added Chatwood: “They’re hot right now. It seemed like whenever they put the ball in play, good things happened for them.”
Javier Baez powered the Cubs’ offense in Tuesday’s loss with a pair of home runs on a day when the Cubs officially placed All-Star third baseman Anthony Rizzo on the disabled list with a back injury. The move is retroactive to April 6 and Rizzo, who had missed four games with lower back tightness before Tuesday, is expected to return in time for the Cubs’ series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Rizzo told reporters Tuesday he would prefer to be playing but isn’t taking any chances.
“You got to stay smart and that’s what we’re doing,” Rizzo said.
Steven Brault (2-0, 1.13 ERA) will start for the Pirates after beginning the season in the bullpen. Brault made a spot start last week for Joe Musgrove, who is on the disabled list with a right shoulder sprain. Musgrove threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, but at least for now, Brault will remain in the starting rotation.
Hurdle told reporters over the weekend that he was impressed with Brault’s start when he pitched five innings and allowed a run on three hits against the Cincinnati Reds. Brault is 0-0 in two career starts against the Cubs with a 7.90 ERA.
“Steven pitched well, Steven competed,” Hurdle said Saturday, according to the Post-Gazette. “I think he’ll have more confidence the next time out.”
Lester (1-0, 2.89 ERA) will make his third start of the season for the Cubs looking to build off a strong six-inning effort against Milwaukee when he allowed just three hits and struck out six. Lester is 5-5 in 12 career outings against Pittsburgh with a 3.23 ERA.