The Chicago Cubs’ red-hot bats cooled off in their series opener against Pittsburgh, but Lou Piniella’s team figures to have a good shot at bouncing back immediately.
The Pirates’ Charlie Morton(notes) takes the mound Wednesday night looking to lower his major league-worst ERA against the visiting Cubs, who had two rather contrasting experiences against the right-hander last season.
Chicago (13-14) came into PNC Park having scored 33 runs while taking three of four at home from Arizona, but didn’t generate much offensive momentum in the series opener. Alfonso Soriano(notes) and Geovany Soto(notes) hit solo homers off Paul Maholm(notes), but Ryan Church’s(notes) two-run shot off Ryan Dempster(notes) proved to be the difference in the Pirates’ 3-2 win.
“We finally took the lead and they hit the two-run homer and that was the end of that,” Piniella said. “Too many wasted opportunities.”
Soriano homered for the fourth straight game, a stretch in which he’s hit five total and driven in 11 runs.
He’s struck out in all three career at-bats against Morton (0-5, 12.57 ERA), but the right-hander didn’t have an easy time getting anyone out in five April starts.
Morton’s ERA is the highest of any pitcher to have made at least four starts, but he felt he made some strides in his latest appearance. Only three of the six runs Morton allowed in Saturday’s 6-2 loss at Los Angeles were earned, and he struck out six over six innings.
“Having a game where I can honestly look back and make some minimal corrections as opposed to feeling like it was a disaster is a huge step forward,” Morton told the Pirates’ official website. “The whole attitude going into this game was that it couldn’t get much worse. I might as well go back to basics and try and have fun and let the ball go. It just helped to simplify it.”
Morton had vastly different results in two starts against the Cubs last season, both at Wrigley Field. He allowed 10 runs and seven hits before being lifted without recording a second-inning out in a 17-2 loss on Aug. 14, but came back Sept. 30 to pitch his lone career complete game, striking out eight in a 4-0 victory.
Lilly began 2010 on the disabled list recovering from left shoulder surgery, but pitched six scoreless innings in his season debut, a 5-1 win at Milwaukee on April 24. He wasn’t nearly as sharp Thursday against the Diamondbacks, allowing six runs and seven hits - including three homers - in a 13-5 loss.
Piniella seemed unconcerned about the left-hander, particularly given Wrigley’s windy conditions that day.
“It’s his second start of the year—he’ll get better,” Piniella told the Cubs’ official website.
The Pirates have scored three runs or fewer 12 times in their last 14 games, and their lineup was without one of their better hitters Tuesday. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen(notes) was held out with a sore right ankle, but was available to pinch hit and could return Wednesday.
McCutchen, however, may want to wait a day. He’s 0 for 9 with four strikeouts lifetime against Lilly.