Bucco Blog: A Lot To Like From Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day

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Bucco Blog: A Lot To Like From Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day
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Could you have asked for a better opening day at PNC Park?

The sun was shining, the stadium was filled to capacity, and the Pirates came away with an 11-5 thwomping of the Los Angeles Dodgers, their fourth straight opening day victory.

Oh, to have competitive baseball back in the ‘Burgh!  Well, we got that for at least a day, and there was plenty to like about what transpired on the diamond of PNC Park yesterday, as well as some not-so-great things. Let’s take a look.

 

The Good

 

Garrett Jones

Where do we begin? This guy had so many lofty expectations thrust upon him by the Pittsburgh public after his stellar 2009 season (21 home runs in just 82 games) that you began to think that there’s no way this guy could possibly live up to them, right? Wrong.

With his first at-bat of the season, he picked up right where he left off, blasting a fastball from the Dodgers' Vicente Padilla into the Allegheny River (granted, it bounced in, but it’s still no small feat) and then connecting again in his second at-bat for an opposite-field dinger.

Jones’ two home runs have Pirate fans enthusiastic about a possible power bat in the lineup that’s been missing since Jason Bay’s departure, but even more encouraging was Jones’ two defensive gems in right field. His combination of bat and glove was the high point of the first game of 2010.

 

Ryan Doumit

When not injured, Doumit is among the best catchers in the National League, maybe in all of baseball, and he proved that on opening day. His three-run shot in the eighth sealed the deal for the Buccos, and if he can stay healthy, the top of the Pirates' batting order is going to be pretty formidable for opposing pitchers.

 

Octavio Dotel

While it wasn’t a save situation, Dotel took the mound in the top of the ninth and wasted no time declaring himself the Pirates' closer.

His one-two-three inning, in which he took on the heart of the Dodgers' lineup, including Manny, Kemp, and Loney, was impressive to say the least. He threw hard and he threw strikes, the two biggest things you could want from your closer.

It’ll be more interesting to see Dotel in a save situation, when the Pirates lead by just one or two, and how he handles that pressure, but for a first outing, it was everything you could ask for.

 

The Crowd

While home-openers are always a hot ticket in town, as well as Skyblast nights and other silly promotions that usually draw big crowds, it never ceases to amaze me how much better PNC Park looks, already considered one of the best in the Bigs, when it’s overflowing with people.

The crowd was psyched, the atmosphere was terrific, and the battlin’ Buccos delivered with an entertaining win. Here’s hoping that despite the small payroll and all of the other negative attributes the Pirates are facing this year, that they can compete long enough to keep the fans coming, because baseball is so much better when it’s enjoyed the way it was on opening day.

 

The Bad

 

D.J. Carrasco

This was not a pretty debut. Taking the reins in the top half of the seventh, Carrasco lasted just one-third of an inning, walking his first batter, beaning his second, and then giving up a two-run single to Manny Ramirez before being yanked.

In all, he gave up three earned runs, as Manny would score later in the inning.

Carrasco looked uncomfortable on the mound and couldn’t seem to control where his pitches were going.

This is disconcerting considering that Carrasco had a pretty decent spring. Although his walks were somewhat troubling (six in 11 innings pitched), his lack of control nearly allowed the Dodgers to claw their way back into yesterday’s game. With any luck, this was just opening day jitters.

 

Andy LaRoche

Andy went 0-3, and Pirate fans are praying that this isn’t the beginning of another miserably slow start that plagued LaRoche last year.

With Pedro Alvarez’ arrival imminent, LaRoche can’t afford too many games like this. Perhaps the fact that the days of his starting job are numbered is creeping into the back of his mind, but whatever the case, LaRoche can’t have the same dry spell he had at the beginning of last season.

His solid defense was lacking as well, as he allowed a sharply hit ball, one that he would normally grab, to get past him, which allowed a run to score in the process.

 

The Rest

 

Zach Duke

After a rough first inning in which he allowed two runs, Duke settled down and kept the Dodgers potent lineup at bay for the rest of his outing. Unfortunately, that outing lasted just five innings, something that cannot become commonplace with the subpar bullpen that the Pirates currently roster.

While Duke was good enough to get the win, he registered just one strikeout while allowing seven hits, which aren’t the most promising of numbers from your supposed “ace."

All things considered, though, Duke should be content with his performance. Let’s just hope future nods result in longer outings.

 

The Bullpen

Speaking of the bullpen, with the exception of D.J. Carrasco, the Pirates bullpen, believed to be their biggest Achilles' heel this season, looked pretty good in their debut.

Taschner got the job done, and while Meek wasn’t outstanding, he inherited an unenviable position from Carrasco, so I won’t put too much stock in his performance. What I was happy about was Donnelly’s two-strikeout excursion and Dotel’s lights-out ninth inning.

 

The Bats

For all the glory that Garrett Jones and Ryan Doumit will receive, and deservedly so, some other notable at-bats took place.

Andrew McCutchen came within a foot of hitting his first home run, and Ryan Church’s pinch-hit, bases-clearing double in the fifth was a huge momentum swing in the Pirates' favor.

With the exception of Andy LaRoche’s 0-3 day and Delwyn Young’s nonchalant three-pitch strikeout, the entire Pirate order did their jobs today, and the results were evident in the score. 

 

Coming Up…

The team is off Tuesday, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Bucco bats fare on Wednesday night against Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' 22-year-old southpaw whom I’d consider their real “ace." 

While 11 runs shouldn’t be expected from this lineup, or any lineup for that matter, every night, the fact that the team meshed so well together on opening day is encouraging, especially considering the tough stretch the team has to begin the season.

Check back Thursday for more Bucco Blog, and let me know what you think/what you’d like to see covered during the season.

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