April 1, 2013
What You Need to Know
Opening Day Madness
The Sunday Takeaway
Fittingly, the Rangers’ designated hitter, the first designated hitter employed against the Astros in their history as a junior-circuit club, was longtime Houston fan favorite Lance Berkman, who went 2-for-4. Unfortunately for Ron Washington’s club, Berkman and Nelson Cruz, who went 2-for-3, accounted for nearly all of its offense, as the other seven starters combined to go 2-for-25.
More trivia? The Astros’ own designated hitter, the first one that they have ever used in a home game, was Carlos Pena, who went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts. With Pena scuffling against left-hander Matt Harrison, Justin Maxwell and Rick Ankiel picked up the run-scoring slack. Maxwell, who came into the game with four career triples in 612 big-league plate appearances, delivered a 2-for-3 effort with a pair of three-baggers on Sunday night. Ankiel, who produced a torrid .413/.463/.826 triple-slash line during spring training, buried the Rangers with a pinch-hit, three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning, putting the Astros ahead 7-2, just moments after Texas halved Houston’s 4-0 lead.
The three-hour-long contest went into the books as an 8-2 Astros victory, but the comfortable margin did not preclude one of manager Bo Porter’s pitchers from earning a save. No, not Jose Veras—or, for that matter, Hector Ambriz or Rhiner Cruz. The first save of the 2013 season belongs to Erik Bedard, Houston’s fifth starter, who worked 3 1/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief after bailing starter Bud Norris out of a sixth-inning jam.
And, after all of that, the Astros—almost universally picked to finish with the worst record in the league—are over .500 for the first time since the fifth game (April 10) of last season and atop their division for the first time since April 20, 2007.
Matchup of the Day
In their most recent meeting, on September 8, 2012, Samardzija did something that only two starting pitchers managed to do all year: deal McCutchen a hat trick without allowing him a hit. The other starter who accomplished the feat was Max Scherzer, who fanned Pittsburgh’s number-three hitter three times as part of a 15-strikeout outing on May 20.
In order to exact revenge this afternoon, McCutchen likely will need to find an answer for hard stuff on the outer half of the plate. As the afore-linked matchup analysis page shows, Samardzija fed McCutchen a steady diet of fastballs, cutters, and splitters that day, after relying more heavily on his slider in their previous encounters. And, it appears that was a sound strategy, because McCutchen has struggled (in relative terms) against right-handed heaters in that part of the zone throughout his career.
McCutchen will be right back in the three hole of manager Clint Hurdle’s order for the season opener, hoping to improve on his 3-for-10 lifetime line in 13 plate appearances versus Samardzija. The 28-year-old Cubs northpaw earned a victory in both of his 2012 starts against the Pirates, holding the Bucs to five combined hits over 17 innings of work along the way.
What to Watch for on Monday