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Pirates-Cubs Sunday pregame: morning after for Hague's walkoff HBP

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Notebook: Matt Hague starts again, Bedard throws more changeups and Jeff Karstens will make another rehab start.

Matt Hague knew he was going to take a strike. It was his first time facing the Cubs' Rafael Dolis, and what a time to face him with the bases loaded, tie ballgame, with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.


"I kind of prepared myself in the on-deck circle -- calm my nerves and not think about the situation," the Pirates first baseman said. said. "Just try to shoot a ball up the middle."

 

He did take strike one, a 97 mile-per-hour fastball. But four pitches later, Dolis hit Hague in the side with a 2-2 fastball. Game over. Pirates win. Hague heard the sellout crowd loud and clear.

 

Hardcore baseball fans are always hoping to witness a player doing something historic. They will hold out hopes for a pitcher crafting no-hitter, or a player hitting for the cycle. But how about watching something even more rare than either of those? How about a walkoff hit by pitch?

 

"It was exciting in a way, we just got the game-winning run," Hague said. "Hearing the fans cheer was pretty cool too."

 

It was just the 56th time since 1952 that a team won on a walkoff hit-by-pitch, according to Baseball-Reference. It only happens about once every 2400 Major League games.

 

But Hague is not the only player at PNC Park on Sunday to have experience the anticlimactic thrill of a game-winning hit by pitch. The other is starting for the Chicago Cubs on Sunday: Reed Johnson.

 

He remembers every last detail when asked by a reporter. It was in 2008 against the Atlanta Braves, and Johnson got hit on a first-pitch slider from Jeff Ridgway.

 

"Everything is spinning through your head when you step up there," Johnson said. "And then… you won. Game over."

 

And those 38,132 in attendance can one day gather their grandkids around the recliner, and regale them with the tale of Matt Hague ending a game with one turn of the waist.

 

Hague Starts For Third Straight Day

 After "game over" comes another game for Hague, who is making his third straight start at first base since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis.

 

"They have faith in me, to put me in the starting lineup and see what I've got. It boosts the confidence a little," Hague said.

 

Hague, 26, started the 2012 season in Pittsburgh. But after going 3-for-15 to start the year, he returned to Triple-A. The struggles continued in Indianapolis, as Hague hit for a .222 average in April.

 

"When I first got down there, I was trying to do too much… but I settled down and tried to put together good at-bats and let the rest take care of itself," Hague said.

 

And the results improved. Before being called up, Hague was hitting .311 in 23 May games, with a solid .744 OPS. And now he wants to help the Pirates get their MLB-worst offense going.

 

"My goal isn't just to be in the starting lineup," Hague said. "I want to put together at-bats and help the team win."

 

Karstens Will Make Another Rehab Start

 Manager Clint Hurdle said starting pitcher Jeff Karstens "cruised through four" innings in a rehab start with the Altoona Curve on Saturday night, all without allowing a base hit.

 

The trouble happened in the fifth inning, when he gave up five runs, three of them earned. 

 

"Nothing out of the ordinary," Hurdle said. "Command got a little bit sideways on him. He threw all his pitches, so it was a step in the right direction."

 

Hurdle says the team will wait and see how Karstens feels today before planning the next step, but that it will likely involve throwing 80 pitches, which is 20 more than he threw Saturday night.

 

Sunday's Starting Pitcher: Erik Bedard

It's his first season in the National League, but Erik Bedard looks very much like the strong American League version of last year. Along with the same delivery, Bedard is posting similar results.

 

2011: 3.62 ERA, 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.60 strikeouts per walk, 7.9 percent swing-and-misses, 1.28 baserunners per inning

2012: 3.52 ERA, 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.67 strikeouts per walk, 8.5 percent swing-and-misses, 1.39 baserunners per inning

 

One noticeable difference in his approach? He seems to be throwing changeups about twice as often as last season, according to PITCHf/x and Brooks Baseball. Hurdle says Bedard has been using that changeup "extremely well."

 

But Hurdle still knows where Bedard's offspeed bread is buttered.

 

"His curveball has been a good command pitch," Hurdle said. "He throws it behind in counts. He throws it for strikes. He throws it for putaways."

 

And that curveball has put batters away, generating a swing-and-miss in 11.2 percent of pitches, while also generating plenty of groundballs and limiting hard-hit balls.

 

The concern for Bedard has always been his health, which is likely part of the reason the Pirates could acquire such an effective pitcher for $4.5 million. He missed the 2010 season with a shoulder injury and hasn't record 25 starts or more since 2007. But that doesn't mean the team is babying him.

 

"He hasn't backed away from anything. He went through the rehab time, where he followed the doctor's orders," Hurdle said. "From that standpoint, no other precautionary measures."

 

And now Bedard will look to secure the Pirates' first sweep of the season.

 

Starting Lineups:

Chicago Cubs (15-31)

RF David DeJesus

SS Starlin Castro

3B Joe Mather

LF Alfonso Soriano

1B Jeff Baker

CF Reed Johnson

2B Darwin Barney

C Koyie Hill

RHP Matt Garza (2-2, 3.72 ERA)

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (22-24)

LF Jose Tabata

SS Josh Harrison

CF Andrew McCutchen

3B Pedro Alvarez

2B Neil Walker

RF Garrett Jones

1B Matt Hague

C Michael McKenry

LHP Erik Bedard (2-5, 3.52 ERA)
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