Cubs hand Pirates first loss of season, 3-2, at PNC Park

Apparently, Jason Hammel had seen the weather forecast.

Chicago's right-handed starter knew rain was on the way. After Hammel's teammates granted him a lead, he locked down the Pirates, burning through quick inning after quick inning so the game would be official and the Cubs could get out of town with a victory.

That's what it seemed like, anyway, as the Pirates struggled against Hammel in a 3-2 loss Thursday at PNC Park. They managed one run on two hits against him, and the lone run against him scored when the Cubs bullpen allowed an inherited runner to cross the plate.

"We've got to keep working, manage our at-bats, connect some dots better," manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates won the series, but did so by winning two one-run games and scoring a combined seven runs in three games. They are batting 20 for 114 (a .175 average).

In an effort to manufacture runs, the Pirates turned to the bunt, but that proved costly. Trailing by one with a runner on first in the eighth inning, Starling Marte bunted foul with two strikes, resulting in a strikeout. Hurdle said Marte decided on his own to continue to bunt with two strikes.

"He chose to be confident and thinks he could pull it off," Hurdle said.

"When he came back we had a chat. I said, 'I'm confident you can get a hit with two strikes. I'm confident you can drive a ball in the gap with two strikes.' "

In the ninth, Gaby Sanchez also tried to bunt with a runner on first. He fouled off his first attempt.

Hurdle said he let Sanchez swing away after that, but Sanchez bunted again and popped out.

The Pirates scored in the seventh after Hammel walked Neil Walker with two outs. Cubs manager Rick Renteria summoned left-hander James Russell to face Travis Ishikawa, so Hurdle countered with pinch-hitter Sanchez. Sanchez doubled to put runners on second and third. Tony Sanchez, who drove in the winning run in the 16-inning marathon that started a night earlier, singled up the middle to score two runs.

Though Wandy Rodriguez was the loser, he showed promise. Making his first start in the majors since June 5 after missing the final four months of 2013 due to an injury to the flexor tendon in his left forearm, he followed a healthy spring training, overcoming early issues to allow three runs in six innings. He struck out five.

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring single in the first, Mike Olt's solo homer in the second and a fielder's choice that allowed a run to score in the third represented the Cubs' three runs. After that, Rodriguez stifled them. He did not allow a hit in his final three innings and retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. He credited better location of his curveball in his later innings for the improvement.

"On the last three innings, I feel like I threw it wherever I want, in the dirt, and I used more of my changeup," Rodriguez said.

The Pirates have had about enough of Emilio Bonifacio, who had a hit and scored in each of his first two at-bats. He finished the three-game series with 11 hits in 16 at-bats.

Thursday also represented a positive step for right-hander Edinson Volquez, who made his Pirates debut in relief after signing for $5 million in the winter.

The outing served as Volquez's side session.

He is scheduled to start Sunday against St. Louis, Hurdle said, although the Pirates will monitor how he feels today.

Volquez had made one relief appearance in 2013 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.Before that, he had not appeared in relief in the majors since 2008.

"I need more time to get ready in the bullpen," Volquez said. "I didn't throw too many pitches [Thursday] to get ready to jump in the game."

He pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out two. Plus, he retired Bonifacio.

"I liked the fact that he was all in for the appearance, based on what happened [Wednesday] night," Hurdle said. "He was in the bullpen last night, he was ready to go. This guy just wants to pitch and compete and do well for the team he's on.

"That was a good step forward for him."

Almost all the Pirates' pitchers performed well during the opening series.

The offense has lagged behind, but with less than 2 percent of the season in the books, Hurdle said the time to tinker had not arrived.

"My goodness, no," he said. "Let them play. Let them swing it.

"Let them have some fun."

Bill Brink: and on Twitter @BrinkPG.

First Published April 3, 2014 3:40 PM

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