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Chicago at Pittsburgh

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Chi. Cubs (1-0) «200001000361
Pittsburgh (0-1)000000001131

Cubs 3, Pirates 1

CBSSports.com wire reports
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PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Samardzija began the season as the Chicago Cubs' No. 1 starter practically by default thanks to injuries to veterans Matt Garza and Scott Baker.

Don't expect the quickly improving Samardzija to give up the spot anytime soon.

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The lanky right-hander allowed just two hits and struck out nine over eight nearly flawless innings as the Cubs held off the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1 on Monday for their first opening day victory in four years.

"He stuck to his game plan," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "That was probably as good of a game that he's pitched in his starting career."

Samardzija's only real issue came in the first, when a walk and an error put two runners on with nobody out. A fielder's choice and two strikeouts later Samardzija was out of the jam. At one point he retired 14 straight batters, almost all of them on strikeouts or routine groundballs.

"When they're making plays behind you it gives you the confidence to really kind of make stuff up out there, keep the ball down in the zone and you know they're going to make some plays for me like they did all day for me," Samardzija said.

And the Pirates were only too happy to oblige Samardzija as he worked both sides of the plate and kept the Pirates off-balance with a two-seam fastball clocked in the mid-90s and a changeup that didn't break 80.

Pittsburgh only managed two balls out of the infield while Samardzija was on the hill as he improved to 4-0 in his short career against the Pirates.

"The last two times we've seen him, he's been a beast out there," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had command of everything out of his hand."

Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer in the first and Wellington Castillo added an RBI double for the Cubs. Kyuji Fujikawa got the final out to earn a save in his major league debut after closer Carlos Marmol struggled.

A.J. Burnett, making the first opening day start of his lengthy career, gave up three runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out 10. Pittsburgh however began a season of high expectations with a thud.

Burnett said it was an honor to get the call in the opener, but the 15-year veteran showed some nerves early. Castro singled with one out and Rizzo followed with a towering two-run shot to center field that landed on the concourse behind the seats for one of the longest homers in the park's 13-year history.

The ball left the park so fast even center fielder Andrew McCutchen -- a Gold Glove winner last year -- trotted only couple of steps before stopping.

Rizzo hit just .229 in spring training with just three extra base hits, but his blast gave the rebuilding Cubs an early shot of adrenaline.

"I don't really remember the pitch or where I hit it or whatever," Rizzo said. "It was just kind of blacked out there for a second but it was nice to get the win and get on a good note."

Chicago threatened to expand the lead in the fourth, putting runners in scoring position with no outs. Two strikeouts and a harmless chopper to third ended the threat, but the Pirates could muster little fight against Samardzija.

It continued a troubling trend at home for the Pirates when Burnett takes the mound. Pittsburgh failed to score a single run in Burnett's final three starts at PNC Park in 2012, part of a miserable collapse that sent the ballclub to its 20th straight losing season.

Burnett couldn't even catch a break while attempting to keep his pitching hand dry. The rosin bag literally exploded while he was tapping it against his hip during the top of the fifth, showering the back of the pitcher's mound and Burnett's leg with dust.

"The pitch to Rizzo and the rosin bag, that was my day," Burnett said.

Pittsburgh's offense was just as faulty against Samardzija.

Still, the Cubs nearly gave it away in the ninth when Marmol came in to wrap things up. It didn't happen. He hit McCutchen with one out and McCutchen promptly stole second then scored on Pedro Alvarez's single up the middle. Gaby Sanchez followed with a walk, ending Marmol's afternoon.

He couldn't blame Sveum.

"If you're struggling to get people out, that's what you have to do," Marmol said.

James Russell entered and managed to get Neil Walker to line out to right before Fujikawa, who had 219 saves in the Japanese League before arriving in Chicago in the offseason, forced Russell Martin to pop to center to end it.

"I was thinking about making something special happen," said Martin, who was making his Pittsburgh debut after coming over in the offseason from the New York Yankees. "I just didn't get it done."

Sveum insisted Marmol's job is not up for grabs, at least at the moment.

"Not making any changes or anything like that," Sveum said. "He just didn't have it today."

Notes

  • Burnett's 10 strikeouts tied a club record for strikeouts on opening day. It was accomplished twice before, the last time by John Candelaria on April 5, 1983 against the St. Louis Cardinals
  • The series continues on Wednesday when Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.76 ERA in 2012) faces Chicago's Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03)
  • There were snow flurries during batting practice but things "warmed up" to 41 degrees under sunny skies by first pitch.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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The Cubs' Jeff Samardzija allows two hits and strikes out nine over eight nearly flawless innings to earn the win. (Getty Images)
The Cubs' Jeff Samardzija allows two hits and strikes out nine over eight nearly flawless innings to earn the win. (Getty Images)

Players of the Game
Chicago

J. Samardzija
IP 8.0
H 2
ER 0
BB 1
K 9
Pittsburgh

A. Burnett
IP 5.2
H 6
ER 3
BB 1
K 10
 
Chicago Cubs
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
David DeJesus, CF4000020 .000
Starlin Castro, SS4120010 .500
Anthony Rizzo, 1B4112011 .250
Alfonso Soriano, LF4000021 .000
Nate Schierholtz, RF2110100 .500
Welington Castillo, C4021012 .500
Luis Valbuena, 3B4000023 .000
Brent Lillibridge, 2B3000032 .000
    Alberto Gonzalez, 2B1000011 .000
Jeff Samardzija, P3000022 .000
    Carlos Marmol, P0000000 .000
    James Russell, P0000000 .000
    Kyuji Fujikawa, P0000000 .000
Totals33363115  
Batting
2B - Welington Castillo 2 (2, Burnett, Burnett)
HR - Anthony Rizzo (1, Burnett)
RBI - Anthony Rizzo 2 (2), Welington Castillo (1)
SB - Starlin Castro (1, 2nd base off Burnett/Martin), Nate Schierholtz (1, 2nd base off Melancon/Martin)
Team LOB - 5
Fielding
E - Brent Lillibridge (1, Misplayed grounder)
Chicago Cubs
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Jeff Samardzija (W,1-0) 8200190 0.00
Carlos Marmol (H,1) 0.1111110 27.00
James Russell (H,1) 0.1000000 0.00
Kyuji Fujikawa (S,1) 0.1000000 0.00
HBP - A. McCutchen (by Carlos Marmol)
Pitches-Strikes - Jeff Samardzija 110-71, Carlos Marmol 19-9, James Russell 5-3, Kyuji Fujikawa 2-2
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jeff Samardzija 13-3
Batters Faced - Jeff Samardzija 28, Carlos Marmol 4, James Russell 1, Kyuji Fujikawa 1
Pittsburgh Pirates
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Starling Marte, LF3000110 .000
    John McDonald, SS0000000 .000
Garrett Jones, RF4000010 .000
Andrew McCutchen, CF3110011 .333
Pedro Alvarez, 3B4011013 .250
Gaby Sanchez, 1B3000112 .000
    Josh Harrison, PR0000000 .000
Neil Walker, 2B4010012 .250
Russell Martin, C4000003 .000
Clint Barmes, SS2000011 .000
   a- Jose Tabata, PH-LF1000000 .000
A.J. Burnett, P2000021 .000
    Justin Wilson, P0000000 .000
    Jared Hughes, P0000000 .000
   b- Travis Snider, PH1000010 .000
    Mark Melancon, P0000000 .000
Totals31131210  
a-grounded out for Barmes in the 8th
b-struck out for Hughes in the 8th
Batting
2B - Andrew McCutchen (1, Samardzija)
RBI - Pedro Alvarez (1)
SB - Andrew McCutchen (1, 2nd base off Marmol/Castillo)
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
Outfield Assists - Garrett Jones 1
E - John McDonald (1, Throwing)
Pittsburgh Pirates
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
A.J. Burnett (L,0-1) 5.26331101 4.76
Justin Wilson 1.1000020 0.00
Jared Hughes 1000010 0.00
Mark Melancon 1000020 0.00
HBP - Schierholtz (by A.J. Burnett)
Pitches-Strikes - A.J. Burnett 98-61, Justin Wilson 19-15, Jared Hughes 13-7, Mark Melancon 9-8
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - A.J. Burnett 5-1, Jared Hughes 2-0, Mark Melancon 1-1
Batters Faced - A.J. Burnett 24, Justin Wilson 4, Jared Hughes 3, Mark Melancon 4
Game Information
Attendance - 39078
Game Time - 2:59
Temperature - 41
Umpires - Home - Tom Hallion, First Base - Ron Kulpa, Second Base - Phil Cuzzi, Third Base - Chris Guccione