It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Baseball is back.  

The Pittsburgh Pirates opened up their season on Monday with a 5-2 loss to their division rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

Let’s take a look at the three things you need to know following Monday’s opener.  


McCutchen‘s Track Record of Success in Game 1 

Trailing 2-0 with two innings left to play, the Pirates leaned on franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen, who knotted the game up at two with his first home run of the season.  

McCutchen is no stranger to hot starts to the season. In six Opening Day starts, the former MVP is 7-for-21 at the plate, which equates to a .333 average. In fact, the only game in which he did not collect a hit in that span was in 2012 against the Philadelphia Phillies, when Roy Halladay shut the Pirates down and the Phillies won 1-0.  

McCutchen had a solid spring training, where he batted .375 in 32 at-bats. However, he failed to hit a home run during that time. Any fears (though there shouldn’t have been any) about his power should have flown out the window faster than his batted ball flew out of the park yesterday.


Watson’s Rough Start to the Season

With the game locked at two runs apiece in the bottom of the eighth inning, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called on his lockdown setup man Tony Watson.  

Watson has become arguably one of the best relief pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons, and he is coming off a 2014 season in which he went 10-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 78 games.  

What we saw Monday was completely uncharacteristic of Watson, as he was dealt the loss after giving up a three-run home run to Reds third baseman Todd Frazier.  

Watson’s first loss last season did not come until July 11, when he coincidentally gave up three earned runs against the Reds.  

Chalk Monday’s loss up to a rare bad outing by Watson, as there is nothing to worry about yet. Watson had a fantastic spring, yielding just three hits, one walk and zero runs in eight innings pitched.  


Leadoff Walks (Especially to a Pitcher) Loom Large

The Pirates were able to retain ace Francisco Liriano during the 2014-15 free-agency period this winter, and through one start, it is looking like general manager Neal Huntington made the right move.  

Liriano looked shaky early on in the game before settling down for a no-decision and allowing just two earned runs in seven innings pitched.

If there’s one rule to live by as a pitcher, it is this: Never allow the first baserunner to get on in a given inning via a free pass. More importantly, never allow that batter to be the opposing team’s pitcher, who is almost always a sure out.  

However, that is just what Liriano did in the third inning, walking Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto to start the inning. With Billy Hamilton at the plate, Cueto was erased with a force out at second base.  

After a single off the bat of Joey Votto landed runners on the corners with one out, Liriano allowed his first earned run of the season by balking on the mound, which again is a mistake you simply cannot afford to make.  

The disappointing part about Liriano’s shaky third inning is that the next batter struck out, and the batter after that popped out to end the inning. So, without Liriano’s balk, the run never would have scored. More importantly, however, without the leadoff walk, there wouldn’t have been a baserunner to score from third on the balk.  

Overall, it was a solid outing for Liriano, who earned the quality start. The Pirates will need him to perform at that level throughout the season if the team has any real visions of winning the National League Central Division.

Over a 162-game schedule, one loss is not going to hurt the Pirates. There were a lot of positives to take from the opener, and although Watson was dealt a rare loss, it doesn’t look like it is going to be the new trend for him this season.  

Pittsburgh has the day off and will resume play tomorrow night in Cincinnati at 7:05 p.m. EDT. Gerrit Cole will get the nod for the Pirates as they look to bounce back and erase the zero from the wins column.  


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