Cubs observations: Bats frigid in Opening Day loss to Pirates

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Tim Stebbins
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Observations: Cubs drop opener, bats cold on frigid day originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Cubs lost 5-3 in their season opener Thursday against the Pirates, snapping a three-season winning streak on Opening Day.

Here are 10 observations from the game.

1. There would be no Opening Day shutout for Kyle Hendricks this year. The Cubs ace dealt with command issues to pitch just three innings. He threw 38 of his 63 pitches for strikes and walked the leadoff hitter in the first two innings, allowing three free passes on the day.

"From Pitch 1, I was battling myself," Hendricks said postgame. "It was a fight."

Interestingly, the last time Hendricks walked three in a regular season outing was exactly two years ago, Thursday, against Atlanta. He also walked three in his postseason start against Miami in 2020.

2. Despite struggling with his command, Hendricks was able to limit the damage. He allowed three runs on four hits, but two of those tallies came on a first-inning home run by Ke’Bryan Hayes.

The right-hander worked out of a first and second, nobody out jam in the third by inducing a lineout and two strikeouts.

3. On a frigid day at Wrigley Field, Hendricks wasn’t the only pitcher to battle his command. Brandon Workman, Rex Brothers, Jason Adam, Dan Winkler, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera combined to walk eight in five innings. Alec Mills was the only Cubs hurler not to issue a walk.

"That's the tough thing to watch," manager David Ross said of the 11 walks Cubs pitchers allowed. "Twelve free passes, [counting] the hit batter.

"Gotta fill up the zone, especially [on a] cold day at Wrigley Field. The walks are going to hurt you."

Craig Kimbrel and Dillon Maples were the only two Cubs relievers not to pitch Thursday.

4. For all the walks, the Cubs were in striking distance throughout Thursday's game. Pittsburgh left 15 runners on base, failing to break things open time and time again.

5. The weather wasn’t the only thing that was cold Thursday. The Cubs offense managed two hits — doubles by Anthony Rizzo (first inning) and Eric Sogard (eighth). They added four walks with 13 strikeouts.

"The Pirates have to play through it and there's a lot of other teams playing through cold weather," Rizzo said. "It's part of it. We know it's a different mindset in April and May here, and you've got to be tough."

On the bright side, Saturday’s forecast calls for weather in the 60s, so we could see a 30-degree difference between the Cubs’ first two games.

6. One pitcher that impressed is former Cub Duane Underwood Jr. Chicago traded Underwood, their 2012 second-round pick, to Pittsburgh last month after designating him for assignment.

Underwood pitched a scoreless fourth inning, striking out Javy Báez, Jason Heyward and David Bote.

7. Speaking of Bote, his day ended early. With the universal DH gone this season, Ross executed a double switch in the fifth inning. Sogard entered to play second base, and Adam replaced Brothers on the mound. 

Bote, who won the starting second base job out of camp, went 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout in two plate appearances.

8. Joc Pederson made his Cubs debut and went 1-for-2 with a walk and RBI sac fly. The new Cubs outfielder is getting the chance to play every day, including against left-handed pitchers — which he’s struggled against in his career.

Pederson struck out on four pitches in his lone plate appearance against a southpaw.

9. Fans returned to Wrigley Field for the first time since 2019 on Thursday at 25 percent capacity and gave the North Siders a warm welcome. Jake Arrieta, back for a second stint with the club, got plenty of cheers during pregame introductions.

Báez, who has been outspoken about how difficult it was playing without fans in the stands last season, received several "Ja-vy, Ja-vy” chants while at the plate.

“I personally just took an extra moment when I took the field to appreciate them being here and their cheers and being able to play in front of them," Rizzo said of the fans. "It was definitely something I'll never forget."

10. Hopefully Theo Epstein was watching Thursday's game. The former Cubs president is now an MLB consultant looking for solutions to the game's issues, pace of play among them. 

First pitch Thursday was 1:20 p.m. Last pitch was 5:22 p.m. 

Next up: The Cubs are off Friday before returning to action Saturday against Pittsburgh. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. Arrieta and Tyler Anderson are the probable starters.

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