By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by The Associated Press
CHICAGO — Andrew McCutchen was sending a text when I walked up to him in the clubhouse after yesterday’s 8-7 victory against the Cubs. He said he was trying to find the right emoji to use. Which one did he settle upon? “I’d rather not say,” McCutchen said with a grin. “A lot of different ones.”
It was a big win and, as often happens at Wrigley Field, it was a signature moment for McCutchen. He fought back from an 0-2 count to smack a go-ahead, three-run, two-out home run in the seventh inning.
The Pirates are 5-6 and are still trying to find their stride. Winning the first two games of this series against the defending World Series champs is a good start. The pitching remains a bit unsettled — the bullpen has been overworked (again) and the rotation has produced in fits and starts. To get by for now, the Pirates need to produce at the plate like the did early last season. McCutchen, who’s hitting .250 with a .707 OPS, could use a jolt, too. Will yesterday’s homer be a spring board?
“I don’t know,” McCutchen said. “It gets me where I am right now. I don’t think too much into it. You’re going to have ups and downs. I’m battling right now, getting my hits here and there. It’s only a matter of time before I get real hot.”
And the rest of the team? “I don’t know if anyone’s ever looked at the track record in April for the Pirates, but it’s not always that good,” McCutchen said. “I don’t know what’s behind it. It’s April. We play in Pittsburgh. It’s kind of cold sometimes.”
On Saturday, it was 81 degrees with a 24 mph wind blowing out to center field. That’s gotta help an offense, right? “It’s a different ballgame, definitely,” McCutchen said. “We were able to throw it out there. We had some good at-bats and it paid off.”
>>> UPDATE: 11:28 a.m. — Trevor Williams gave up social media for Lent. Now that it’s Easter, he’s back on Twitter, starting with this hot take:
Digimon is so much better than Pokémon
— Trevor Williams (@MeLlamoTrevor) April 16, 2017
>>> UPDATE 12:22 p.m. – Tyler Glasnow took baby steps forward on Saturday in his five-inning outing against the Chicago Cubs. That’s enough for him to keep his spot in the starting rotation.
“He has to earn it here,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We can’t just give it to him if the results aren’t cooperating and he’s not giving us the innings we need and it’s starting to complicate things. He knows that.
“However, I’m a firm believer, as I believe everybody else is, that the greatest opportunity for growth is for him to pitch at this level and meet the challenges of the game at this level — and to understand the consequences of not being able to do the things you need to do at this level. You feel a lot more here than you do at Triple-A. There are games in the minors that nobody knows about. You don’t care. Up here, there’s a different care.”
Which was the bigger gain for the #Pirates on Saturday v Cubs?
— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) April 15, 2017
>>> You want links? I’ve got links:
Pirates 8, Cubs 7: Cutch’s homer was the sexy part, but Glasnow’s baby steps also were important.
Notebook: In which Mercer sits (for a bit), Polanco limps and Rivero slides to the right.
>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM
Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, David Freese 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 5, Phil Gosselin 4, Adam Frazier 7, RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38)
Cubs: Kyle Schwarber 7, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ben Zobrist 9, Addison Russell 6, Jason Heyward 8, Willson Contreras 2, LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64), Javy Baez 4
Gamecast: Lester is one of the game’s more durable starters, having strung together nine seasons of at least 30 starts and 190 innings pitched. Although he doesn’t yet have a win, Lester gave up just one earned run and struck out seven in each of his first two starts. … David Freese is 5 for 14 (.357) with an .828 OPS vs. Lester. Andrew McCutchen has a .174 career average vs. Lester, although one of his four hits was a home run. … Jordy Mercer has reached base in eight straight games and in nine of his 10 starts this season.
>>> UPDATE 11:31 a.m. — Gregory Polanco (right groin discomfort) is out of the lineup for the second day in a row. “I believe he needs another day to rest,” Hurdle said during his pregame media scrum. “We’ll find out if he can be a player off the bench today. That’s the best I can give you right now.”
>>> UPDATE 11:34 a.m. — I asked Hurdle if the bullpen is where it needs to be, health-wise and stuff-wise. “Not stuff-wise. Close,” Hurdle said. “I think we’ve got some guys who are sharpening, for sure. Healthy-wise, it was big for us to get five (innings) out of Glas yesterday. That’s why we let him hit in the fourth, to let him empty his pockets with the pitches and push through the fifth. There was some growth. (Antonio) Bastardo needs work; we’ve got to sharpen him up. I thought (Juan) Nicasio was better. We’ve got to be mindful of mixing pitches and pitching to our strengths and not just to our power. I thought (Daniel) Hudson‘s secondary pitches were better yesterday. (Tony) Watson is getting sharper as we go along. I like the work (Wade) LeBlanc has been able to do and I like the work Williams is showing, even though they both got dinged. I think they’re going to provide us just what we need in support, long if needed and being able to pick up an inning from time to time. Trevor had more gas in the tank yesterday, but I’m a big believer i getting guys in (late-inning) situations who’ve been in those situations.”
Nicasio was the goat on Thursday against the Red Sox (0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB). Hurdle did not hesitate to put the righty on the mound in the seventh inning yesterday with a two-run lead. ” I wanted to give Nicasio a shot to get some redemption. I’m a big believer in that. When those guys hiccup, you get them back in there and show the belief you have in them and let their teammates rally around them.”
>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM
Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25) Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23)
>>> Tuesday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM
Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 2.38) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 0.60)
>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM
Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29) Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00)
>>> Thursday: Off
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.