Cubs Not Able to Locke Down the Pirates – Cubs 1, Pirates 3

Game One Hundred Forty-Six – Cubs 1, Pirates 3

WP – Jeff Locke (10-5) LP – Chris Rusin (2-4) Save – Mark Melancon (14)

The Cubs offense was pretty much non-existent for the second day in a row while all three of the Pirates’ runs scored on two-out hits and the Cubs dropped the opener of the four-game series in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

Chris Rusin was very good on Thursday night, just not good enough. Rusin limited the Pirates to two runs on four hits in seven innings and bounced back nicely from his previous outing. Rusin had a very good changeup and threw strikes. Rusin did not walk a batter and the only two runs he allowed came in the fourth inning on two-out singles from Marlon Byrd and Pedro Alvarez. After Rusin hit Josh Harrison to start the game, Rusin retired the next nine batters in a row. Rusin settled down after the fourth inning, kept his team in the game and set down the last 10 batters he faced. Rusin threw 79 pitches, 56 for strikes, over seven solid innings against a very good baseball team.

The Cubs’ bullpen had issues in the eighth. Blake Parker replaced James Russell with the bases empty and two down. Clint Barmes reached on a single and scored on a double by Jordy Mercer. Parker intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen before turning the game over to Zac Rosscup. The young southpaw issued a four-pitch walk to Justin Morneau that loaded the bases. Sveum was forced to use his fourth pitcher of the inning and Justin Grimm responded by striking out Marlon Byrd swinging to end the inning.

The Cubs offense managed only four hits on Thursday night and just one went for extra bases. Starlin Castro (1-for-4 with a RBI) drove in Darnell McDonald (1-for-3 with a double and a run scored) with a two-out single in the third inning and Junior Lake (1-for-4) extended his hitting streak to nine games with an infield single in the fourth. Anthony Rizzo (1-for-4) snapped his 0-for-17 slide with a single in the ninth. The Cubs walked one time and finished the game 1-for-7 with RISP and left five men on base.

With Thursday’s loss, the Cubs dropped to 62-84 on the season.

The game was scoreless after two innings. Chris Rusin was sharp the first time through the lineup and needed only 20 pitches, 12 for strikes, to complete two frames.

Darnell McDonald led off the third with a ground rule double to left center. In any other park, the ball would have left the yard but it hit the warning track near the 410 sign and hopped over the wall. Ryan Sweeney lined a 1-0 pitch back up the middle. The Pirates were in the shift. Jordy Mercer fielded the ball behind the second base bag and threw out Sweeney at first. McDonald advanced to third on the play. Chris Rusin tried to check his swing on a ball in the dirt on a 2-2 pitch. Rusin went, but Martin could not find the ball. Once he did, Martin checked on McDonald and threw out Rusin at first.

Starlin Castro put together a very good at bat and ripped a 2-2 pitch into left on Locke’s seventh offering of the at bat. Castro’s single plated McDonald, 1-0 Cubs. Darwin Barney lined out to Morneau at first to end the inning.

Chris Rusin set down the Pirates in order in the third (30 pitches, 18 strikes) and after three complete, the Cubs led 1-0.

The Cubs could not add to their lead in the fourth. Junior Lake extended his hitting streak to nine games with a two-out infield single to third. Alvarez fielded the ball behind the bag but his throw to first was off line and Lake was given a hit. Welington Castillo walked. With runners on first and second, Darnell McDonald hit a blooper into shallow right. Morneau made a running, over the shoulder catch to end the inning. The Cubs made Jeff Locke work, 63 pitches after four, 42 for strikes.

Chris Rusin retired Josh Harrison on a grounder to short for the first out in the fourth. Jordy Mercer singled to left (1-2 pitch), the first hit off Rusin. Andrew McCutchen followed and pulled a 2-0 pitch down the third baseline. The ball hit the bag and the Pirates had runners on second and third with one out. Rusin jammed Morneau with a 0-1 pitch. Morneau shattered his bat and tapped back to Rusin. Mercer broke on the pitch and was tagged out (1-2-5). McCutchen advanced to third on the play.

Marlon Byrd drove a 0-1 pitch back up the middle. Barney got a glove on the ball in shallow center but it hit off the tip of his glove and ended up in centerfield. McCutchen scored, game tied at one. Pedro Alvarez stepped in with runners on first and second and lined a 1-2 pitch over McDonald’s head in right. The ball short-hopped the wall, Morneau scored and Byrd ended up at third on a long single … 2-1 Pirates. Russell Martin lined out to Lake in left center to end the inning. Rusin threw 51 pitches, 34 for strikes, over his first four frames.

The Cubs trailed 2-1 after four complete.

Both teams went down in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Locke and Rusin each retired 10 batters in a row. The game went to the eighth with the Cubs down 2-1 and both starting pitchers were lifted. Tony Watson took over on the hill for Jeff Locke and Dioner Navarro hit for Rusin with one out in the eighth.

The Cubs went down in order in the eighth. James Russell walked pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez to start the Pirates’ eighth. Starling Marte ran for Sanchez and Russell picked him off first base. Pinch-hitter John Buck popped out to Rizzo and Dale Sveum went to his pen for Blake Parker.

Clint Barmes singled to left (1-2 pitch). Parker then served up a double to Jordy Mercer. The ball rolled all the way to the wall in right center, Barmes scored and the Pirates took a 3-1 lead. Parker fell behind McCutchen before intentionally walking him. With runners on first and second, Dale Sveum went to his pen for Zac Rosscup.

Rosscup walked Morneau on four pitches and loaded the bases for Marlon Byrd. Sveum went back to his pen. Justin Grimm struck out Byrd swinging to end the inning.

Darwin Barney tried to check his swing on a 1-2 pitch in the dirt. The ball skipped under Martin and Barney reached first to start the ninth. Anthony Rizzo followed with a single to center. With runners on first and second with no outs, Donnie Murphy popped up a bunt attempt on the first pitch from Mark Melancon. And Russell Martin caught the ball for the out. Junior Lake popped out to McCutchen in center and Welington Castillo grounded out to short (2-2 pitch) to end the game.

Jake Arrieta faces Charlie Morton on Friday night in the Steel City.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO and @TheCCO_Minors

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax