With manager Clint Hurdle preaching the word "finish" after his club's second-half collapse last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not facing an ideal team to get this year started on the right foot.
After the NL Cy Young Award runner-up blew them away, the Pirates must face the pitcher who placed third in last year's voting as Cliff Lee takes the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night at PNC Park.
These teams got a day off after opening the season Thursday, when the only hits Pittsburgh mustered were two first-inning singles off Roy Halladay in a 1-0 defeat. Halladay didn't issue a walk in his eight innings, and Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth in his debut as closer for the five-time reigning NL East champions.
The Pirates, who were five games over .500 into late July last season before closing 18-41, were handed their first opening-day loss since 2006.
"We just didn't get many pitches to hit," Hurdle said.
It could be a similar story against Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA). He had a major league-best six shutouts last year and finished behind only Halladay and winner Clayton Kershaw in Cy Young balloting.
Lee looked sharp this spring, posting a 2.45 ERA with four walks and 20 strikeouts in 25 2-3 innings - including six scoreless against Pittsburgh on March 27.
"I am ready to go," Lee said after his final exhibition outing Sunday. "I started a little stiff but it's been a long spring and I am just ready for the season."
His last meaningful outing wasn't a good one as he allowed five runs and 12 hits in six innings of a 5-4 loss to St. Louis in Game 2 of the NL division series, which the Phillies lost in five. It was fairly surprising considering Lee was dominant during the final two months of the regular season, going 7-1 with a 0.93 ERA.
He's faced the Pirates twice, going 1-0 with a 3.68 ERA. His presence could result in a different Pittsburgh lineup than Thursday, with Hurdle possibly using more right-handed bats against the left-hander.
That might lead to Casey McGehee making his Pirates debut at third base to replace lefty-hitting Pedro Alvarez. McGehee was acquired from Milwaukee after a disappointing 2011 in which he hit .223 with his power numbers way down from a year earlier when he had 23 homers and 104 RBIs.
Another new bat in the lineup could be rookie Matt Hague, who tied for the major league lead during spring training with seven homers.
Jeff Karstens (9-9, 3.38) will start for Pittsburgh after posting a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings during the spring. This is his first time opening a season as part of a rotation, though he did make 26 starts last year.
"It's my first year I've really trained to be a starter," said Karstens, who had the lowest ERA on the starting staff in 2011. "I don't think I trained with the mentality I have now. I think it's a little different this year, knowing the expectations."
He was solid in two starts against the Phillies last year, going seven innings in each and allowing a combined four runs.
Jimmy Rollins, a .462 hitter against Karstens, is generally Philadelphia's leadoff hitter but went 1 for 4 from the No. 3 spot Thursday and could remain there while Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are out.
Carlos Ruiz had three hits with an RBI in the opener while new starting left fielder John Mayberry added two hits.
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Roy Halladay
- Cliff Lee