Sanchez outdueled by Greinke in Bucs debut
LOS ANGELES -- The Pirates keep playing the same game over and over. Perhaps they will until they get it right. Right now, their pitchers lead the league in hang-with-'ems and their hitters are tops in befuddled looks.
The Bucs dropped their road opener to the Dodgers, 3-0. No, seriously, that was Friday night's final.
The 3-1 and 3-2 losses were to the Cubs earlier this week. The Bucs' lone win, by 3-0, was in between. Try to keep up.
"It's been basically the same game the first four of the season," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle nodded. "Similar to what we saw out of the chute last year."
The 2012 Bucs had an extended silent spring, averaging fewer than two runs through their first 11 games. They eventually came out of that with a bang, reviving memories of the old Pittsburgh Lumber Company in June and July. Nobody wants to squirm through another two-month wait.
Through four games, the Pirates have scored six runs and gotten 15 hits. Hurdle was reduced to finding encouragement in the eight times they could stretch Zack Greinke to a three-ball count -- although, not once could they coax a fourth ball out of him.
"On three-ball counts, he'd come with the fastball every single time. He was able to sneak it in there, and keep pounding the zone," said Andrew McCutchen, whose seventh-inning single was one of two hits Greinke allowed in 6 1/3 innings.
Greinke found a worthy mound adversary in Jonathan Sanchez, with each pitcher making his first start for his new club. Both had been offseason free agents, with slightly different resolutions. Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million deal. Sanchez signed a Minor League deal that got him to Spring Training and, when he made the club, vested at $1.375 million.
On the mound, if not at the teller's window, they were peers, until back-to-back RBI doubles by Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez chased Sanchez in the sixth.
Greinke's departure was less dramatic: He was lifted after McCutchen's single.
"He's pounding the zone, getting ahead, using his offspeed pitches," McCutchen said. "We were aggressive, were making contact, hitting the ball hard. But he stuck with it, and threw a pretty good game. It's about making adjustments -- and I did. You have to adjust throughout the game, or he'll just continue to do the same thing."
With both pitchers dealing, there would be no sustained attack in this game. The sense that the Pirates would need a flash of power -- to counter Andre Ethier's solo homer in the second inning -- set in early.
The Pirates' cannons remained jammed, however. They remained without a home run through four games, their longest season-beginning silence since 1998, when they didn't go yard until Game No. 6.
When threatened at first, Sanchez toughened. He faced a hazard in the fifth, signaled by A.J. Ellis' one-out double. The next two batters also hit the ball flush, but left fielder Starling Marte charged up to snare Justin Sellers' liner and also charged Greinke's single to stop Ellis at third. Sanchez then fanned Carl Crawford to end the danger.
"Just being aggressive, trying to make them swing the bat and give the team a chance to win," Sanchez said modestly.
"It was more of what we saw in Spring Training," Hurdle said of the 30-year-old's effort, reflective of how he had earned his spot. "He was pretty sharp. I'm very encouraged by his outing. He's soft-spoken, but there is a very fierce competitor inside. I like the fact that his fire is lit again."
Sanchez often faced the Dodgers for the rival Giants, with exceptional results. The guy to whom he gave the most trouble, however, got one back on him in the second inning, when Ethier picked on a high fastball to launch his first homer of the season into the right-field pavilion.
Ethier had come in hitting .133 (4-for-30) against Sanchez. After that shot, his .161 average against Sanchez looked better.
The Bucs' offensive misery briefly had some Dodgers company, as they kept Kemp still looking for his first hit of the season through two at-bats, which made him 0-for-12. Having a lot to do with that was third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who laid out for Kemp's fourth-inning smash between him and the foul line, sprang to his feet, and fired a throw in the dirt short-hopped by first baseman Garrett Jones.
The Dodgers returned the favor a few minutes later: Sellers smothered Jones' grounder to the right of short and threw a one-hopper to Gonzalez at first to keep Greinke's one-hitter intact.
As for Kemp, his response was the sixth-inning double to score Mark Ellis -- who had begun the inning by drawing the first walk off Sanchez -- and double the Dodgers' lead to 2-0. Gonzalez followed with another RBI double -- even louder -- into the right-field corner.
That ended Sanchez's night. He departed the mound with pats on the back. Morse code for "Hang with 'em."