Pirates notebook: Hit batters hint at bad blood between Cubs, Pirates
CHICAGO — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s chosen walk-up song in the sixth inning Saturday was Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” also an appropriate theme for the continuing drama in the rivalry with the Pirates.
Two pitches after Francisco Cervelli’s two-run single briefly gave the Pirates a lead over the Cubs in Saturday’s 8-2 loss, Cubs ace Jake Arrieta drilled Jung Ho Kang in the upper back with a 92 mph fastball.
It was the first batter Arrieta has hit this season. He rarely misses so far off the plate. Arrieta tallied six called strikeouts during his final four innings, though he also walked Jeff Locke on four pitches in the fifth.
“I think anytime someone like Arrieta hits somebody you have to assume, automatically, that that one just didn’t get away,” Locke said. “When he misses like that, maybe you raise an eyebrow. Jung Ho is as talented as anyone. You want to make good pitches. Maybe it got away going in.
“It got him pretty flush, though. It just seems like a guy like that with the pinpoint accuracy he has he doesn’t miss in.”
Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “I’m not good on judging intent.”
The man calling Arrieta’s pitches saw things differently.
“Come on, really? You guys see him, he was wild. He walked the pitcher on four pitches,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “Seriously, that’s stupid to say. He doesn’t want to hit him. I guarantee that he doesn’t want to hit him.”
The Pirates entered the day ranked first in hit batsmen (22) in baseball, and the Cubs ranked third (20).
Since 2013, the Pirates (278), Cubs (233) and Cardinals (212) rank 1-2-3 in being hit by pitches. Part is tied to the Pirates’ inside-pitching philosophy and collateral damage but also to retaliation.
Kang’s doubled over in pain after being hit. His season ended last year at PNC Park when former Cubs infielder Chris Coghlan aggressively slid into Kang, injuring his knee and leg.
Kang left the clubhouse before speaking to reporters Saturday.
In the sixth inning, Locke hit Montero with a pitch. Home-plate umpire Brian Knight warned both benches. Locke tossed his arms up in the air in a public declaration of innocence and indignation.
“I don’t see where he could feel there is any intent on that pitch — eight hole, 0-2 pitch, pitcher on deck,” Locke said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he didn’t think there was any intent to hit Montero and felt the benches should not have been warned. Still, the Pirates’ history with Arrieta dates to last October’s wild-card game when Arrieta hit two batters before Tony Watson responded by hitting Arrieta, clearing the benches.
This month at PNC Park, Maddon scolded Pirates pitcher Kyle Lobstein from the dugout after Lobstein hit Ben Zobrist with a pitch, but Maddon didn’t think that should factor into Saturday’s game.
“The only people who are going to read into that are someone who wants to. Why would we want to ever want to hit him based on what happened last year? That makes no sense whatsoever. There’s no dots to be connected there,” Maddon said.
Hurdle was asked about the heated nature of the rivalry.
“If you’re not appreciative of something someone else does, you just beat them,” Hurdle said.
Going with the wind
At no ballpark is more attention focused on the flags than Wrigley Field. When the wind is blowing in off Lake Michigan, Wrigley is a pitching paradise. When a strong wind is blowing out, it becomes hitting-friendly confines.
Saturday marked the third time winds have been blowing out this season, and Rizzo’s fourth-inning homer was pushed 51 feet by the wind, according to ESPN, the second-most wind-aided home run this season at Wrigley.
The Cubs front office paid particular attention to the radical conditions when building their roster this offseason, adding players like Zobrist and Jason Heyward. The Cubs focused on improving their contract rate and on-base skills to become less dependent on the home run on days where the wind is blowing in.
The Cubs entered Saturday with a 12.8 percent walk rate, and only three teams since 1900 have finished with better walk rates for a season: the 1948 and ’49 Boston Red Sox and ’49 Philadelphia Athletics.
“What happened this year is we’ve been more contact-oriented, which I think you need here,” Maddon said. “When I came here with the Rays a couple years ago … I was astonished by how difficult (Wrigley can play) because some balls were really well hit and just barely got to the warning track.”
Streak is over
Josh Harrison’s error on a Jorge Soler ground ball in the fourth inning ended a 52-inning errorless streak for the Pirates. The Pirates led the NL in errors last season.