PITTSBURGH -- Travis Wood allowed one hit over six innings and the Chicago Cubs held off the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 on Thursday.
Wood struck out four and walked two as the Cubs won a season-opening series for the first time in four years. Wood also scored the game's first run, racing home on Starlin Castro's single in the third inning. Nate Schierholtz smacked a two-run homer in the ninth to give the Cubs some breathing room.
Chicago needed it after another shaky outing from Carlos Marmol. The closer picked up his first save of the season, but only after the Pirates drew within one.
The loss spoiled a stellar season debut for Pittsburgh starter James McDonald. The right-hander gave up just two hits in seven innings, striking out four and walking two.
Marmol struggled in Chicago's 3-1 win on Monday, getting pulled after retiring just one of the three batters he faced. Chicago manager Dale Sveum insisted he was sticking with the volatile Marmol for now.
Might be time to reconsider.
Starling Marte singled and Russell Martin walked to start the inning. Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez followed with consecutive run-scoring singles. Sveum stuck with Marmol and he responded by whiffing Alvarez on three pitches then getting Walker to ground sharply to second base, allowing the Cubs to turn the double play.
McDonald's start provided a welcome return to form for the enigmatic 28-year-old, who nearly made the All-Star team last season before stumbling during a bumpy second half. He went just 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA after the July break as the efficiency that led to his breakout first half vanished.
There were no such problems on a chilly 45-degree afternoon. His only hiccup came in the third. Wood singled with one out, moved to second on a groundball then scored on Castro's single to centre field. The hit marked the first by the Cubs with a runner in scoring position this season, ending an 0-for-13 start.
After Marmol survived a hectic ninth, Wood improved to 4-1 in his career at PNC Park.
The Pirates simply couldn't get going. Clint Barmes was stranded at second in the third inning following a one-out double off Wood, the only base hit Wood allowed all day. He retired 10 straight at one point to give the Cubs an early boost. The left-hander is considered an X-factor for a team trying to climb out of the NL Central basement, and he showcased a superlative slider while handcuffing Pittsburgh.
The Cubs didn't run into trouble until after Wood gave way to Shawn Camp in the seventh. McCutchen reached on an error then showcased his newfound aggressiveness on the base paths.
Despite being one of the fastest players in baseball, McCutchen is a so-so base stealer. He swiped just 20 bags in 32 attempts in 2012 but made the running game a point of emphasis during the off-season.
He's certainly off to a fast start. Shortly after reaching he took off for second to collect his third stolen base in three games. Two batters later -- after Sanchez and Alvarez failed to move him over -- he bolted for third.
Reliever James Russell, however, struck out Neil Walker looking and the Pirates wasted a golden opportunity in the ninth as the Cubs improved to 2-1 for the first time since taking two of three from Houston to open the 2009 season.
NOTES: Pirates RHP Charlie Morton threw 28 pitches during a simulated spring training game at the team's complex in Bradenton, Fla., on Wednesday without issue. Morton is coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and is out until at least late May ... Sveum says he's in no hurry to see the National League adopt the designated hitter. Cubs general manager Theo Epstein said recently he could see the NL adopting it at some point ... The Cubs play in Atlanta on Friday. Scott Feldman will start for Chicago against Mike Minor ... The Pirates begin a six-game road trip in Los Angeles on Friday. Jonathan Sanchez will face Zack Greinke.