Even after 17 consecutive losing seasons, opening day can be a source of hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who used an impressive offensive onslaught to win their fourth straight season opener.
Clayton Kershaw(notes) can quickly end the Pirates’ good feelings on Wednesday night, when the young left-hander tries to steady the Los Angeles Dodgers as they continue their three-game series in Pittsburgh.
Low expectations prevail again for the Pirates, who have the lowest payroll in the majors at around $34 million and have not finished over .500 since 1992.
But that didn’t stop Pittsburgh from showing some power in its opener, an 11-5 win over the Dodgers on Monday. Garrett Jones(notes) homered twice and Ryan Doumit(notes) also went deep, with each player finishing with three RBIs.
Jones has spent most of his pro career in the minors, but he was a revelation for the Pirates last season with 21 home runs in 82 games.
“It’s only one game, but it feels good,” Jones said. “It’s a long season and there’s a lot of games left, but I’m going to try to keep the same approach.”
Any sustained success for Pittsburgh may also require help from Doumit, a promising catcher who battled injuries in 2009. Doumit is now one of the leaders on a team that has been decimated by trades in recent seasons.
Few outsiders expect the Pirates to turn things around in 2010.
“We had a team dinner and got a chance to air some things out, we’re focused and not paying too much attention to all that stuff that’s outside and we can’t control,” said newcomer Ryan Church(notes), who had a pinch-hit three-run double in his first at-bat with the Pirates. “I think a lot of guys on this team have heart and a lot of pride in what we’re doing, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself, so give it everything you got.”
The Dodgers are trying to win the NL West for the third straight season after reaching the NL championship series in each of the last two, but they got off to an ugly start behind Vicente Padilla(notes), who allowed seven runs in 4 1-3 innings.
“We’re not going to have a losing season, we’re not going to lose this season because of this one game,” Padilla said.
Manager Joe Torre may have been shielding Kershaw (8-8, 2.79 ERA) from the pressure of an opening day start after the 22-year-old’s impressive 2009 season, which featured 185 strikeouts in 171 innings.
“He’s just growing,” Torre told MLB’s official Web site. “It’s unfair to say, ‘Kershaw, lead us.’ That’s a little early to take it for granted.”
Kershaw, a big reason the Dodgers led the majors with a 3.41 team ERA last year, has faced Pittsburgh twice without getting a decision, allowing six hits and three runs while striking out nine in nine innings. Jones has faced him twice, striking out each time.
Ross Ohlendorf(notes) (11-10, 3.92) will take the ball for the Pirates. The right-hander, who pitched for Torre as a member of the New York Yankees in 2007-08, is hoping to put a difficult spring behind him and build on a solid 2009 campaign during which he had 18 quality starts in 29 outings.
In his only previous start against the Dodgers, Ohlendorf lasted three innings, allowing three runs, five hits and four walks in an 8-2 loss on Sept. 15, 2008.
The Pirates, who’ve followed their last two opening day wins with losses, had dropped nine of 11 against Los Angeles before winning the last three games in the series.