LOS ANGELES -- Jonathan Sanchez had no guarantees that he would make the Pirates' opening-day roster when he signed on as a minor league free agent this winter. For the first five innings Friday night, Sanchez went toe to toe with Zack Greinke on a night when the Los Angeles Dodgers starter had everything working.
"There's a very fierce competitor inside this guy," manager Clint Hurdle said of Sanchez.
"I like the fact that the fire's lit."
Sanchez matched Greinke until the Dodgers broke through in the sixth. Greinke, meanwhile, kept the Pirates off the bases and dominated their lineup in a 3-0 loss at Dodger Stadium Friday night.
Sanchez (0-1) allowed three runs on six hits in five-plus innings. Other than a home run allowed to Andre Ethier in the second inning, Sanchez limited the Dodgers' damage through five.
After Garrett Jones singled with two outs in the second inning, no Pirates hit safely until Andrew McCutchen hit a one-out single in the seventh. Greinke (1-0) allowed two hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out six without walking a batter.
"We got into three-ball counts, we couldn't push him over the edge," Hurdle said.
Greinke would serve as an ace on most teams but happens to share a roster with Clayton Kershaw. Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million contract as a free agent during the offseason but did not make his Dodgers debut until Friday because of pain in his elbow this spring.
Greinke joined Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood as opposing starters who stifled the Pirates' offense thus far.
"We're not in the best place offensively, but that can be compounded when a guy is throwing strikes and he's giving you four pitches that you've got to be able to react to," Hurdle said.
Sanchez looked like a long shot to make the rotation at the start of spring training. Jeff Karstens was the fourth starter, and Sanchez had to battle Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson for the final spot.
Karstens suffered from biceps and shoulder pain all spring and started the season on the disabled list, opening a spot for Sanchez.
Multiple occurrences of biceps tendonitis limited the left-handed Sanchez, 30, to 15 starts in 2012, and he pitched poorly when on the field. He had an 8.07 ERA in 64 2/3 innings and walked more batters than he struck out while pitching for the Royals and the Colorado Rockies.
Sanchez struggled at the start of spring training but improved as he pitched deeper into games. He walked only three batters combined in his final four spring outings.
"Jonathan's made as good of strides as anybody we've had in camp throughout the spring with the command, the four-pitch mix," Hurdle said before the game.
Sanchez left a 2-2 fastball up in the zone to Ethier, who hit his first home run to right field in the second inning and gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
"I think he was just cheating," Sanchez said. "He was looking for a fastball. He got it up. He swung early and he got it."
Greinke allowed one hit through six innings, a single by Jones that short-hopped Mark Ellis in shallow right field, but no other Pirates reached base. Greinke struck out four consecutive batters between the third and fourth innings.
Sanchez found himself in trouble in the fifth but prevented the Dodgers from scoring. A.J. Ellis hit a one-out double, and after Justin Sellers lined out, Greinke singled to put men on first and third. Sanchez struck out Carl Crawford swinging with a pitch well outside the zone and kept the Dodgers' lead at 1-0.
Sanchez, who walked 7.4 batters per nine innings last season, did not walk his first Dodger until the sixth, when he put Mark Ellis on to lead off the inning. Matt Kemp doubled to the wall in right-center field, scoring Ellis. Adrian Gonzalez followed Kemp with another RBI double, driving Sanchez from the game and giving the Dodgers a 3-0 lead.
The Pirates have scored six runs in their first four games and have not yet hit a home run.
"It has been basically the same game the first four games of the season," Hurdle said. "It's similar to what we saw coming out of the chute last year from an offensive standpoint."
They face Kershaw today.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published April 6, 2013 5:00 AM