We're going to try to kick the in-game commentary up a notch this season, and this will be the blog post where we kick it. Check back throughout the the game for notes, observations and statistics. The newer stuff will be on top. Also, I'll participate in the comments section as often as possible.
PIRATES 2, PHILLIES 1 -- FINAL
There are exciting 2-1 losses, and then there is whatever you witnessed tonight at PNC Park. The Phillies have experienced plenty of these over the last year-plus, but this one felt a little different. Maybe it is just because we can't help but project our preconceived notions about this offense onto the action we see on the field. Still, whenever you watched the Phillies in one of these games over the past few seasons, you at least had the potential that a Ryan Howard or Chase Utley or Raul Ibanez or Jayson Werth would seize the momentum with one swing of the bat. Tonight? It was just ugly, plain and simple. The manager did not have his finest inning in the eighth, when he first tried to get Laynce Nix to lay down a bunt, then pinch-hit Jim Thome for John Mayberry Jr. At the same time, Manuel knows he is going to have to invent ways to score runs, and he doesn't necessarily have the personnel to do so.
Not a pretty couple of games of hitting for this team. Sure, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins can get hot. Otherwise, you look up and down the line-up and see very little to think that what you have seen will change in the near future.
More to come.
10:00 p.m. - Down on the farm, Domonic Brown's two-run single in the top of the sixth inning lifted the IronPigs to a 3-2 victory in the second game of a doubleheader. Here in the big leagues, it is extra innings. Joe Blanton is warming in the bullpen for multiple-innings duty. Blanton is scheduled to start on Thursday, meaning he can pitch tonight and still get normal rest. The Phillies offense has scored four runs in the last 35 innings of ball dating back to the first inning of Game 4 of the NLDS.
9:36 p.m. - Let the second-guessing begin. An interesting decision to have Laynce Nix attempt to lay down a bunt after Hunter Pence singled to lead off the ninth with the score tied at 1-1. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Nix had not attempted a bunt since 2010, when he was 2-for-2 on SAC bunt attempts as a member of the Reds. For his career, he was 4-for-5 on SAC bunt attempts and 1-for-2 on attempted bunts for hits. Nix popped out. Charlie Manuel then brought in Jim Thome to pinch-hit for John Mayberry Jr., taking his best defensive left fielder out of a tie game. Thome struck out. I'm guessing Thome or Ty Wigginton heads to first base with Laynce Nix heading to the outfield.
9:12 p.m. - Well, we're slowly getting a look at some of the new pieces to the puzzle. Like, for instance, Kyle Kendrick pitching out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game. Kendrick pitched a 1-2-3 frame, giving up three line drives, including one that Laynce Nix made a nice grab of. This was the eighth time in his career that Kendrick pitched in a tie game or save situation in the seventh inning or later. Half of those were extra innings appearances. We also saw Juan Pierre for the first time as a Phillie, wearing Ben Francisco's old No. 10. Pierre has one of the best strikeout rates in the majors, but he struck out against former IronPig Jason Grilli to lead off the eighth. The other option there was going to Jim Thome and then using a pinch runner if he reached base. Game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth.
8:49 p.m. - Cliff Lee does not appear to be thrilled with the strike zone tonight, and that's worth pointing out because in the bottom of the sixth inning he issued a one-out walk to Yamaico Navarro that came back to haunt him, as a two-out wild pitch tied the game. Meanwhile, Lee's night appears to be over after one run, two hits and two walks in six innings. Kyle Kendrick is warming in the bullpen to inherit a 1-1 game.
8:03 p.m. - Laynce Nix walked. It's worth mentioning because Laynce Nix only walked 23 times in 351 plate appearances last season. He did, however, draw some walks in spring training. Maybe he has turned over a new leaf. Doubtful that he's gained much foot speed, although it looked like he probably could have scored on a Carlos Ruiz singled through the right side of the infield. Nevertheless, Juan Samuel held him up, and Freddy Galvis flied out with runners on the corners to scuttle the scoring opportunity.
7:35 p.m. - Just posted this to Twitter, but it is interesting enough to post here, especially if this is going to be a boring game. Last year, Cliff Lee's .307 slugging percentage was higher than those posted by Brian Schneider (.256), Michael Martinez (.282) and Pete Orr (.250). It was just four points lower than the slugging percentage that Freddy Galvis posted at Double-A Reading in 2010 (.311). Galvis displayed a much stronger bat last season at Reading and Lehigh Valley, and did so again during spring training. Galvis appears to be a more powerful hitter from the left side of the plate. During his first at-bat he made good contact but flied out at the warning track. 1-0 Phils in the bottom of the second here.
7:20 p.m. - You wanted small ball? You got it. Jimmy Rollins lays down a SAC bunt from the three-hole to move runners to 2nd and 3rd with one out. Not sure how I feel about that one, although it did ensure that one run got home. Then again, only one run got home, putting the Phils up 1-0 on Hunter Pence's infield single.
Last year, Phillies three-hole hitters sacrificed twice: Placido Polanco in the bottom of the 19th of that epic game against Cincinnati, and Chase Utley against Josh Beckett in a late-June game.
PRE-GAME, 6:41 p.m. - Can't be a good feeling to be the Pirates coming off a shutout loss on Opening Day and having to face Cliff Lee in the follow-up. Lee hasn't faced Pittsburgh since 2009, so we're not even going to bother with his history against them.
Couple of random thoughts: Did anybody catch the Nationals' bullpen today? The unit tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and two walks with seven strikeouts after Gio Gonzalez was knocked out of the game in the fourth inning (3.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R/ER, 3 BB, 6 SO). We knew it was going to be a helluva 'pen, and they are off to a good start.
Also, the Braves have now lost seven straight games dating back to last season. They are off to an 0-2 start this year.
Anyway, we'll be underway here from PNC Park in about a half hour. You can find the line-ups in the two previous posts, as well as a breakdown of Jeff Karstens.