PITTSBURGH -- Opening Day provided a lot of meat on the bone to pick at as the Chicago Cubs were shut out in 10 innings, 1-0. From replay challenges to a player making a memorable debut let's review Game 1 of 162:
The Cubs did a lot right on Monday. They had better and more scoring chances than their opponent and their starter lasted longer and threw fewer pitches. But like last year, the Cubs bullpen failed. It wasn't a monumental meltdown but Cubs relievers gave up a run in three innings while the Pirates bullpen gave up none in four innings. Game over. In close games -- the Cubs played a lot of them last April -- that can be the difference between winning and losing. Still, it's hard to ask an entire pitching staff to be perfect. The Cubs need some more hits with men on base.
Those who worried during the winter that expanded replay might diminish manager/umpire feuds could be correct. When Rick Renteria went out to challenge an out call at first base on Jeff Samardzija in the fifth inning, he wasn't exactly looking for a base to throw or dirt to kick. Instead, he was looking into the Cubs dugout, waiting for the signal to challenge from his people who were looking at the replay in the clubhouse. The Cubs lost that one, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle won his in the 10th inning when Emilio Bonifacio was initially declared safe on a pickoff play at first base. In that case, Hurdle didn't stall by talking with the umpires, he simply had pitcher Bryan Morris take his time getting back on the rubber. Morris walked around the mound for several seconds waiting for word from the dugout. By then, Hurdle had seen enough -- of the replay that is -- and came out to challenge. He won and eventually the Cubs lost.
He had four hits to tie a franchise record for a player appearing in his first Cubs game. He also stole a base, nearly got picked off once, started a double play from center field, got into a rundown going from third to home and then got picked off in the 10th. It was a busy day for the newcomer who might play nearly every day but at a different position. He showed great instincts in center tracking everything down and doubling up a runner on a hit-and-run, but getting picked off in a scoreless game is a no-no. Still, you have to love his ability to disrupt a game with his speed.
Cubs fans will learn with the rest of the baseball world what Renteria is all about in regards to in-game strategy. We know he doesn't mind bunting as he did it several times in Game 1. He even thought about it with Starlin Castro at the plate and Bonifacio at third base with less than two outs. There's nothing wrong with playing small ball in the cold month of April, especially against one of the better pitching staffs.
"I don't mind sacrificing to put us in a position to score," Renteria said. "I don't mind getting some opportunities to see if we can get some guys behind them to drive them in."
Another strategic move involved a pitching decision. In hindsight it could have been a curious call to go to pitcher Carlos Villanueva to start the 10th inning. He had right-handers Hector Rondon and Brian Schlitter along with lefty Wesley Wright available. Villanueva is a long man/starter type of pitcher. His stuff and mentality can lend itself to giving up some runs over the course of a few innings. In this case he happened to give up a run in his first inning of work as Neil Walker took him deep to end the game.
It's just not his strength to come in and shut the door like a late man has to do. There's nothing to say the other pitchers would have gotten the job done, but it's a role Villanueva hasn't performed in often. If we're nitpicking, he may not have been put in the best position to succeed, the No. 1 goal of any manager for a player.
• Hitting coach Bill Mueller's biggest task might be getting players to relax with men on base. Castro just needed to get a ball to the outfield for a run. He failed. Anthony Rizzo could have used a ground ball just to get runners over. He failed. Even Bonifacio's lone out came with a man on second base. The Cubs have had an ongoing problem driving in runs that don't come via the long ball.
• Mike Olt had a rough debut striking out twice while leaving two men on base.