Cubs' depth fails early

PITTSBURGH -- Depth was supposed to be a strength of the Chicago Cubs in 2013, in the form of a group of newcomers. So far it’s been anything but.

In dropping a 3-0 decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday those new guys came up short.

Both Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge struck out looking in the seventh inning -- the only inning in which the Cubs mounted a rally against Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez. It ended with three runners stranded.

“Worst case scenario is at least get something in the air,” Lillibridge said after his 10-pitch at-bat. “I knew 3-2 he wasn’t just going to lay a fastball in there. I saw breaking ball up. I thought it was a little up.”

The home plate umpire, Ron Kulpa, saw it different, just as he did with Hairston two batters earlier.

“It wasn’t a good pitch. Neither of them were good pitches,” Hairston said about strikes two and three.

Alberto Gonzalez -- another newcomer - flied out to end the threat.

But if he keeps struggling, it’s Lillibridge who might hear it from the fans when the Cubs get back home next week,. He’s 0-2 so far in two games with men in scoring position. Just as important are his four strikeouts in six at-bats this season.

“The cold weather matched with the intensity of the season starting,” Lillibridge explained of his hitting so far. “The last at-bat, I thought it really locked me in going forward.”

It was a good one in which he just missed on a couple of foul balls down the line, but that’s forgotten when he takes strike three a few seconds later.

“We don’t have a hit with men in scoring position,” manager Dale Sveum lamented after the game. “We need to get better at that.”

And after Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo helped win the first contest the three-game series in Pittsburgh on Monday, someone else needed to step up. The newfound depth of the Cubs couldn’t do it. Injuries at second base (Darwin Barney) and third base (Ian Stewart) have forced Lillibridge and Gonzalez into more prominent roles. In their first chances to come through, they came up short.

“It could be a 2-1 or 2-2 score if I get one,” Lillibridge said. “It changes the game.”

Jackson debut

Edwin Jackson was about the lone new Cub who played well on Wednesday. He had one hiccup, in the fourth inning, when he gave up two runs. It’s all the Pirates needed.

“It wasn’t bad,” he said. “There are always things you can improve on. Probably ran my pitch count up.

“I made one mistake and that was on the double [to Andrew McCutchen].”

Jackson didn’t have total command of his fastball, but he limited the damage. He sailed through the first three innings, even striking out the side in the first. The cold weather -- 35 degrees at game time -- probably affected the hitters more than the pitchers.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Jackson said. “Couple times it was tough to feel the ball. Both teams had to experience the same thing.”

Jackson threw 92 pitches in five innings giving up just three hits and one walk. He struck out five, but his rough fourth inning was the difference.


--Hector Rondon made his major league debut pitching the sixth inning. Although he looked shaky -- he walked two -- and took a long time to get through the inning, he did so without any damage.

-Castro made his first error of the season trying to backhand a short hop ball in the fourth inning in order to throw a man out at the plate.

--Pitcher Matt Garza is expected to join the team in Atlanta this weekend as he rehabs from a lat injury. The Cubs are hopeful he can throw off a mound soon.

Key quotes:

“It was about as cold as it was going to get without any wind.” --Sveum, on the decreasing temperatures throughout the night

“He was working both sides of the plate to most guys. We fought there in the 7th and just didn’t come up with it.” -- Rizzo, on the Cubs being shut down by Wandy Rodriguez

“It was tough for me to go after those pitches.” -- Hairston, on not swinging on two borderline strikes in the seventh.