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. He pitched 62/3 scoreless innings, walking one and striking out six.
"The fastball had a lot of late life," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He stayed aggressive. The breaking ball was a good pitch for him."
Chicago Cubs vs. Pirates, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7)
LHP Travis Wood (6-13, 4.27 ERA in 2012) vs. RHP James McDonald (12-8, 4.21.
- Key matchup:
Wood vs. Andrew McCutchen, who is 1 for 11 in his career against Wood.
- Hidden stat:
McDonald is 0-3 with a 5.71 ERA in seven career games against the Cubs.
He made excellent use of his curveball, both for looking strikes and in the dirt to elicit poor swings from right-handed batters. He also located his fastball high and outside to force batters to chase with two strikes.
Rodriguez had a 0.96 ERA in 91/3 innings for the Dominican Republic team that won the WBC.
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 Lillibrigde to watch his curveball for strike three before Hurdle replaced him with the left-handed Tony Watson to face the right-handed Alberto Gonzalez.
"He's a pro," Hurdle said. "That's a pro pitch. No kid's going to throw that pitch. He had the conviction. We talked about it in spring training. Intent, conviction, he executed."
Rodriguez said he lost his fastball command in the seventh, and when catcher Russell Martin asked him what he wanted to throw, he opted for the breaking ball.
"There was a lot of drama, as it played out, in the seventh inning," Hurdle said.
Watson ran the count to 3-0, but forced Gonzalez to pop out and end the inning.
"Tony's been good for us," Hurdle said. "Tony's pitched in tight situations. It's not the way you draw it up for the first outing of the year, you bring a kid in with the bases loaded like that."
"I knew I had nowhere to put him so I didn't want to go 3-0 there," Watson said. "I wanted to throw a strike and get some weak contact."
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.
Hurdle said the fact that Barmes reached second didn't change his decision to send Watson to the plate. He wanted Watson to face left-handed David DeJesus, who led off the next inning, and felt Watson was the best choice if someone reached base and left-handed Rizzo came to the plate.
"He said, 'You're up second, bunt him over if he gets on,' " Watson said.
Jason Grilli earned his first save of the season, striking out two in the ninth.
"Being three runs up, you can be a little bit more aggressive," Grilli said. "You don't want to create a situation, so that's what I did. I was aggressive."
Garrett Jones singled to lead off the fourth. Andrew McCutchen worked the count full and turned on a hanging breaking ball from Cubs starter Edwin 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, giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
Jackson allowed the two runs on three hits and struck out five in five innings.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published April 4, 2013 4:00 AM