For six innings Wednesday night, Wandy Rodriguez slid his way through the Chicago Cubs lineup with ease.
Even when the Cubs gummed up the works in the seventh, Rodriguez wriggled free, with some help from his bullpen. He helped the Pirates to their first win of the season, a 3-0 victory against the Cubs at PNC Park.
Rodriguez, who started preparing for the season a month early so he could pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, appeared to be in top form Wednesday night. He pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings, walking one and striking out six.
He made excellent use of his breaking ball to elicit poor swings from right-handed batters. He also located his fastball high and outside to force batters to chase.
Rodriguez had a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 innings for the Dominican Republic, which won the WBC.
Cubs starter Edwin Jackson burned through the first three innings in one batter over the minimum, allowing a single to Neil Walker with two outs in the second. He needed 47 pitches through three innings.
Garrett Jones singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Andrew McCutchen worked the count full and turned on a hanging breaking ball from Jackson, ripping it down the left-field line for a double. Jones, who was running on the pitch, scored.
Pedro Alvarez's grounder moved McCutchen to third and the Cubs brought the infield in to cut off the run. Gaby Sanchez grounded to short, but Starlin Castro came up empty on the backhand attempt, allowing McCutchen to score and give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
Jackson exited after five innings and 92 pitches. He allowed the two runs, three hits and one walk, striking out five.
Rodriguez pitched his way into trouble in the seventh, hitting Anthony Rizzo to lead off the inning. Alfonso Soriano singled. Rodriguez struck out Scott Hairston looking, but he hit Welington Castillo to load the bases. He got Brent Lillibridge to watch his curveball for strike three before manager Clint Hurdle pulled him, bringing in the left-handed Tony Watson to face the right-handed Alberto Gonzalez. Watson ran the count to 3-0, but forced Gonzalez to pop up and end the inning.
Clint Barmes led off the bottom half of the inning with a double, and Watson, who stayed in to hit, sacrificed him to third. Starling Marte's grounder snuck through the drawn-in infield and scored Barmes to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published April 4, 2013 2:15 AM