CHICAGO - Hidden in the 30 starts made by A.J. Burnett last season that produced a career-low 3.30 ERA with Pittsburgh and a $16 million contract from the Phillies was a trend not lost on Cubs manager Rick Renteria.
He stuffed his Sunday lineup with seven lefthanded hitters, and the move paid off before Burnett completed an inning of an 8-3 Phillies loss.
"I'm used to that," Burnett said. "It's throwing strike one. It doesn't matter if it's a righty or a lefty."
Chicago blasted an erratic Burnett for four first-inning runs to avoid christening Wrigley Field's 100th season with an opponent's sweep. The quick hole was too deep for a Phillies team that headed home with a .500 record.
Manager Ryne Sandberg lamented Burnett's ineffectiveness. He said his team was "a little dead coming out of the chute." The Phillies stranded two runners in the top of the first against Carlos Villanueva. Chicago struck in the bottom half.
"We just came up a little bit short setting the tone on the offensive side of things," Sandberg said. "With their four-run first, that held up on a day when it looked like we were going to put some numbers up after the first inning."
The first three Cubs reached base against Burnett. Emilio Bonifacio walked, Ryan Kalish tripled to center, and Anthony Rizzo walked. Nate Schierholtz skied a sacrifice fly to deep left. Luis Valbuena walked. Starlin Castro - the first righty in the lineup - doubled to left-center, and that forced pitching coach Bob McClure to console Burnett just six batters into his outing.
Burnett staggered for 30 pitches, just 13 of which were strikes, in the first inning. Cubs hitters made loud contact with almost every swing. Burnett's sinker and curve were elevated.
Lefties always have hit Burnett better. The disparity was greater in 2013; lefthanded hitters posted a .735 OPS, which was 188 points better than how righties fared. He walked 11.3 percent of the lefties he saw, as opposed to 5.4 righties.
Chicago's lefties batted 23 times Sunday against Burnett. They reached base 11 times, including six walks and one hit batter. All three Cubs who walked in the first inning scored runs.
"That was the key to the whole game," Burnett said. "You aren't going to win games throwing balls - ball one, ball one, ball one. The first-pitch strikes are big, and coming out and setting the tone is big, and neither of those was done today."
Burnett lingered until his pitch count topped 100. He steadied after the first inning, only for the game to unravel in the sixth. Ben Revere dropped a liner hit to center. ("It was a Tim Wakefield knuckleball," he said.) Burnett plunked a batter. Jimmy Rollins misplayed an infield hit. Kalish smoked a two-run double to center for a 7-1 lead. That, finally, forced Sandberg to summon his bullpen.
The Phillies were not blessed with luck, and it was no more evident than in the fifth inning. Revere and Rollins each singled and stole a base. Chase Utley tapped one to shortstop, which scored Revere but eliminated Utley in a bang-bang play at first.
That prompted the first-ever Phillies replay challenge. Sandberg engaged first-base umpire C.B. Bucknor in a conversation but focused his attention on the dugout, and bench coach Larry Bowa relayed a signal for Sandberg to request a review. The call was upheld two minutes later.
Ryan Howard, the next batter, scorched a ball into short right field. Bonifacio, the Cubs second baseman, played a shallow outfield position on the shift and snared the liner with a leap. He flipped to second for the inning-ending double play.
Howard hit the ball hard all four times, and twice to the warning track in each of his first two at-bats. He, like the Phillies, had nothing to show for this day.
"Howard hit a ball to the ivy with two men on," Sandberg said. "All of that could have been a little different."
HOME OPENER POSTPONED
Because of rain in the forecast, the Phillies pushed back their home opener from Monday to Tuesday. D5
Brewers (Lohse, 0-1) at Phillies (Kendrick, 0-0), Tuesday at 4:05 p.m.