Schierhotlz homer helps Cubs survive shaky Marmol

John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Carlos Marmol could somehow still smile when it was over.
The Cubs closer had his second near meltdown in three games Thursday but Chicago survived to hold off the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 on the strength of Travis Wood's six scoreless innings and Nate Schierholtz's two-run home run in the top of the ninth.
The Cubs won two of three in the season-opening series but it was anything but easy because of Marmol's struggles.
Marmol was pulled from Monday's 3-1 victory in the opener and Kyuju Fujikawa wound up getting the last out for the save. On Thursday, Marmol gave up two runs before hanging on for his first save.
"I'm very happy because we won," Marmol said. "I knew I just had to keep fighting and that's what I did until I got the last out."
It seemed that Marmol might not get that final out.
Starling Marte hit a leadoff single, catcher Russell Martin walked and Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez followed with consecutive RBI single that sliced the lead to 3-2.
The Pirates seemed poised for a comeback victory as they had runners on the corners with no outs. However, after a mound visit from pitching coach Chris Bosio, Marmol struck out Pedro Alvarez on three pitches and got Neil Walker to hit into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
"Bos came out and told me to get a strikeout and a ground ball, so that's what I did," Marmol said with a grin.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said that Marmol remains the closer, even though Fujikawa, who signed a two-year, $12-million contract as a free agent in the offseason, had 219 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League. Fujikawa pitched a perfect eighth inning Thursday.
"Everyone's role is still the same," Sveum said. "Marmol makes it interesting sometimes but I rode him out for (19) straight saves last year. I still have confidence in him. He didn't pitch all that badly. It wasn't like he was throwing the ball all over the place, like it he usually does if he's struggling."
Both starting pitchers were outstanding but Wood (1-0) was just a touch better the Pirates' James McDonald in getting the win. Wood allowed just one hit -- a second-inning double by Clint Barmes - during his six-inning stint while walking two and striking out four.
"It felt really good to go out and throw like in my first start of the season," Wood said. "I felt like I had pretty good control of all my pitches and we played well as a team. The defense made plays and we got a couple of big hits."
McDonald (0-1) allowed only one run and two hits in seven innings. He also had four strikeouts and two walks.
"I was happy with the way I competed," McDonald said. "Every pitch meant something to me. I went after guys."
McDonald's strong first start of the season was encouraging to the Pirates. He dropped off to 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA in the second half last season after a sparkling first half that saw him go 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts.
"Really good outing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Good pace, followed the game plan, followed (Martin, the catcher), followed the glove. The curveball came into play really well. He was very aggressive and kept his foot on the gas. Used all four pitches, threw strikes, really good outing."
Both hits off McDonald came in the third inning when Wood hit a one-out single and scored on Starling Castro's two-out single to center. The Cubs had been 0-for-13 with eight strikeouts with runners in scoring position until Castro snapped that streak.
The Pirates had been 2-for-18 in those situations until the ninth inning.
Schierholtz, signed as a free agent in the offseason, hit his first home with the Cubs, a two-run shot to center field in the ninth inning off Jared Hughes that pushed the Cubs' lead to 3-0. That turned out to be pivotal when Marmol struggled in the bottom half of the inning.
"What was really impressive about that home run is that he lifted the ball in the air against a pitcher who doesn't let you do that," Sveum said, referring to Hughes, who has allowed nine home runs in 88 2/3 innings in his career. "Obviously, it turned out to be a very big home run."
NOTES: Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones was not in the lineup Thursday as the Pirates faced a left-handed starter for the first time this season in Wood. While Hurdle stopped short of saying Jones would never start again a lefty, he likely won't see much playing time against them. Jones has hit just .198 with a .237 on-base percentage and a .353 slugging percentage in 503 career plate appearances against left-handed pitchers but a .278/.347/.502 line in 1,594 plate appearances against righties ... Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton, recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery performed last June, threw 28 pitches in a simulated game Wednesday at the Pirates' extended spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. Morton is tentatively scheduled to pitch another simulated game Monday. ... Chicago opens a three-game series at Atlanta on Friday night with right-hander Scott Feldman facing Braves left-hander Mike Minor. ... The Pirates play the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Friday night in the opener of a three-game series with left-hander Jonathan Sanchez opposing right-hander Zack Greinke.

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