Cardinals avoid shutout in 4-1 opening day loss to Pirates
PITTSBURGH — Adam Wainwright felt and looked a little more like the Adam Wainwright of old. The St. Louis ace’s curveball looped. The fastball cut. Neither happened often enough or well enough to fend off the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pittsburgh chipped away at Wainwright in six solid if not spectacular innings as the Cardinals fell 4-1 in the 2016 Major League Baseball season opener on Sunday. In his first regular season start since tearing his Achilles last April, Wainwright gave up three runs on six hits, walking three and striking out three in his fifth career opening day start.
"I certainly got better as I went along," Wainwright said. "But I’m still a little off timing or something, there’s something that has not clicked yet. I feel it at times and I know I’m very close to it.
Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano left Wainwright little margin for error. Liriano tied a Pirates franchise opening day record by striking out 10 and the Cardinals left 10 runners on base, including two in the ninth when Matt Adams, representing the tying run, flied out to center.
"When you pitch against a quality pitcher like Liriano you’ve got to have your stuff rolling," Wainwright said. "I was the definition of average today, which is the opposite of what I expect to be."
Liriano and John Jaso touched Wainwright for RBI singles in the second and Josh Harrison added a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
"I thought he did a nice job of keeping it together," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Really it was a bloop fly over the infield and a grounder that cost him early. But after that, he was very good."
Just not good enough to keep up with Liriano. St. Louis tested him in the second, third and sixth only to come up empty each time.
"We had guys in scoring position with less than two outs more than once and that’s something we take a lot of pride in figuring out how to get it done," Matheny said. "It just didn’t happen today."
The Cardinals tried to rally in the ninth against Mark Melancon, who led the majors in saves last year. Matt Carpenter hit an RBI single with two outs but Adams hit a shallow fly to center that Andrew McCutchen tracked down while the sun-splashed if frosty capacity crowd at PNC Park roared.
While the teams may have been ready for the MLB opener, the replay system at PNC Park was not. The start was delayed 10 minutes due to an issue with the replay equipment in the visitor’s dugout. The difficulties persisted, and both teams were allowed unlimited crew chief reviews, which are usually limited to the seventh inning or later or potential home runs.
A replay in the first inning confirmed that McCutchen was hit by a pitch from Wainwright.
"I told them, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to play this game but anything that doesn’t look right, we’re going to stop and take a look because there can’t be a competitive advantage there," Matheny said.
David Freese, who won the 2011 World Series MVP for the Cardinals, had two hits in his debut with the Pirates. Freese signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent in March after spending part of the winter working out with Wainwright in Florida.
"When he has history with our team like he does, it’s hard not to think about that kind of stuff going into the game and remembering his great moments here," Wainwright said. "At gametime, you’ve got to start competing. I was out there, I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I did not throw him very many good pitches, that’s why he got a couple hits."
Freese later made a nifty stop at third base, and Pirates reliever Neftali Feliz pointed his glove at him in appreciation. In Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against Texas, the Cardinals were down to their last strike when Freese hit a tying triple off Feliz.
Cardinals: Left fielder Tommy Pham left in the middle of the second inning with tightness in his left oblique. Matt Holliday, who was making his first career start at first base after more than 1,663 games in either left field or as a designated hitter, moved back to left to replace Pham. Adams took over at first for Holliday. … Reliever Jordan Walden will be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with a Grade 2 strain of his right latissimus dorsi muscle. He missed the final five months of the 2015 season with a right rotator cuff injury.
Pirates: All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole threw six innings and 97 pitches without incident in Florida on Friday. The team has not yet announced when Cole, who dealt with a rib issue during spring training, will make his first 2016 start. … Reliever Jared Hughes, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left lat, ran the steps at PNC Park on Sunday but has not yet been cleared to throw.
Cardinals: Michael Wacha starts Tuesday vs. the Pirates. An All-Star last season while going 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA, Wacha is 6-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 10 April starts during his career. The 24-year-old went 2-1 with a 3.97 ERA in 2015 against Pittsburgh.