Pregame: Cutch sore, but will play



CHICAGO — There was some discussion this morning about keeping Andrew McCutchen, whose neck is stiff and painful, out of the lineup. But McCutchen told the coaches he’s OK to play, so he’s in the lineup

“My neck’s a little sore,” McCutchen told me after spending a few minutes in the trainer’s room. “It’s from diving on that cement out there (in the outfield).”

The warning track and outfield at Wrigley Field are notoriously rock-hard. McCutchen plays all-out, and missed six games last season with neck pain after making a diving catch.

»»» The Cubs were aggressive at the plate Saturday and that made the job easier for Pirates starter Paul Maholm. The lefty tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings, gave up five hits and two walks and struck out three.

“For me, it was be aggressive, keep (the ball) down and let the defense work,” Maholm said. “Just go at them.”

Third baseman Pedro Alvarez struggled in the field Friday in the season opener. He failed to catch two pop-ups, made a throwing error and couldn’t corral a hard grounder.

However, Alvarez made a quick turnaround Saturday. He was dazzling defensively in the sixth inning, with the Pirates clinging to a two-run lead.

Jeff Baker led off with a double. Left fielder Jose Tabata played the carom off the wall well and made a strong throw, but the ball short-hopped second baseman Neil Walker and Baker was safe.

Speedy Starlin Castro lashed a grounder between third and short. While on the run, Alvarez picked the ball cleanly, looked Baker back to second and fired a strike to get Castro.

Marlon Byrd followed with another hard ground ball toward third. Alvarez slid on one knee to make the stop and made another accurate throw.

Aramis Ramirez walked, putting runners on the corners with two outs. But Geovany Soto hit a hopper to Alvarez, who calmly threw to second base to force Ramirez and end the inning.

“I have confidence in every one of those guys out there,” Maholm said. “That’s my game. I’m going to get ground balls and let those guys work. Those guys picked me up.”

»»» Alfonso Soriano was in an 0-for-7 funk until the eighth inning Saturday, when he lined a two-out, game-tying single off Evan Meek.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (1-1) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen, 4. Lyle Overbay 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Matt Diaz rf, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf, rhp

Cubs (1-1) – 1. Starlin Castro ss, 2. Darwin Barney 2b, 3. Marlon Byrd cf, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Carlos Pena 1b, 6. Geovany Soto c, 7. Alfonso Soriano lf, 8. Tyler Colvin rf, 9. Matt Garza, rhp