With an excellent bullpen and a solid rotation, it seemed the Pittsburgh Pirates wouldn’t be asking too much of Wandy Rodriguez early as he works his way back from a fairly serious injury.
Given the circumstances of their latest game, they might ask for a bit more Thursday.
Less than 12 hours after his team won the longest game in Pittsburgh baseball history, Rodriguez takes the mound for the first time since June hoping to lead the Pirates to a sweep of the visiting Chicago Cubs.
Rodriguez made 12 starts down the stretch for Pittsburgh (2-0) in 2012 after coming over from Houston, then went 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA in his first 12 of 2013 before exiting his June 5 start just four batters into the game. He was placed on the disabled list with chronic left forearm pain six days later and didn’t pitch again while the Pirates went on to make their first postseason appearance since 1992.
The left-hander showed no ill effects in the spring, posting a 3.09 ERA in four outings and needing only 89 pitches to get through 11 2-3 innings.
Catcher Russell Martin was encouraged with Rodriguez, who is 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in his past 10 starts at PNC Park.
"He’s a special pitcher, because he can locate his curveball on both sides of the plate, and he can throw a changeup pretty much at any time he wants to," Martin told the team’s official website.
Rodriguez is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in three starts against the Cubs (0-2) since joining Pittsburgh.
The Pirates didn’t have him go longer than 4 2-3 innings in the spring, but they’ll be looking for more than that Thursday after using six relievers over the final 10 innings of a wild 4-3, 16-inning victory that featured three replay delays. The five-hour, 55-minute game was the longest ever played in Pittsburgh.
"We did everything we could possibly do," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "The guys kept coming back and that’s a good sign for all of us. As long as we keep going out there and playing the way we’re playing right now, good things are bound to happen."
Renteria’s club might be even more desperate for a lengthy starting effort after using eight relievers, and it will give the ball to Jason Hammel hoping he’s ready to bounce back from a rocky 2013. The right-hander had a 3.47 ERA prior to the 2012 All-Star break with Baltimore but missed time down the stretch with a knee injury, then went 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA in 23 starts last season.
The Cubs signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal in January.
"I like proving people wrong," Hammel told the team’s official website. "I like the out of nowhere type stuff. That’s how my whole career has been. There were a lot of naysayers who said, ‘Oh, he’s pretty good, but not one of the best,’ and that’s just fuel, and that just fuels this whole clubhouse."
Chicago has to like what it’s seen so far from another journeyman offseason pickup. Second baseman Emilio Bonifacio is 9 for 12 after collecting five hits Wednesday, becoming the first player in the modern era with nine hits through the first two games of a season.
Those nine hits are just five fewer than the Pirates have as a team through their first 82 at-bats.
Pittsburgh’s current stable of position players is 11 for 54 (.204) against Hammel, who hasn’t faced the Pirates since 2011.