PITTSBURGH (AP) - The images were jarring. Snow flurries swirling at PNC Park and Andrew McCutchen jogging out to right field instead of center in Pittsburgh for the first time following an offseason position switch.
Yeah, things got a little weird for the Pirates on Friday.
Not that McCutchen appeared bothered by the flurries or his new spot in front of the 21-foot high Clemente Wall. The five-time All-Star picked up his first three hits of the young season and drove in a run , Ivan Nova put together six solid innings and the Pirates held on late for a 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves, their fourth straight victory in a home opener.
“It was cool,” said McCutchen, ordered during the winter to slide from center to right, a move he didn’t exactly agree with but embraced nonetheless. “I don’t know. It’s my ninth year. The outfield is the outfield.”
McCutchen made a sliding grab on a liner by Dansby Swanson to save a run in the fifth then watched second baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer team up for a lovely double play in the eighth to put a stop to a late Atlanta rally. Brandon Phillips’ two-run single off Daniel Hudson pulled the Braves within one when Harrison made a diving stop on Adonis Garcia’s chopper up the middle then flipped the ball to a pirouetting Mercer to preserve the lead.
“I just knew if I fielded it clean, we had plenty of time,” Mercer said.
David Freese and Francisco Cervelli went deep off reliever Josh Collmenter leading off the fifth inning. That gave Nova the cushion he would need at PNC Park, where the game time temperature was 37 degrees.
Nova (1-0) permitted just an unearned run over six innings in his first start since signing a three-year deal in the offseason to stay with the Pirates, who acquired him from the New York Yankees last summer. Tony Watson worked the ninth for his first save as Pittsburgh’s offense broke out after mustering just three runs in 21 innings during two losses in Boston.
“That’s what’s fun,” Freese said. “Just seeing the guys whack it around a little bit. It starts with Nova. I played with a lot of professionals. You ask me, he’s a pro in this clubhouse. He showed it today.”
Nova gave up six hits, walked none and struck out four. He coaxed Phillips to hit into a double-play with the bases loaded in the fourth then struck out Phillips with two runners in scoring position in the sixth to improve 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA at PNC Park since coming to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s game in Boston on Thursday was postponed due to poor conditions and things weren’t much better at home. The temperature at first pitch was colder than games involving the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas and New Year’s Day. While officially a sellout, there were pockets of empty seats during a day featuring squalls that made the ball tough to pick up and wind that made popups treacherous.
“It was not a good day for baseball, I’ll tell you that,” Phillips said. “I felt like we should have played some football, had some pads on.”
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker swapped Mike Foltynewicz and R.A. Dickey’s spot in the rotation so Dickey and his knuckleball could avoid the chill, which tends to seriously hamper the ability of his signature pitch to flit and flutter.
Foltynewicz (0-1) walked three in 3 2/3 innings, ending streak of nine starts without a loss (5-0) dating to Aug. 2. Foltynewicz hit Marte in the third, setting up an RBI single by McCutchen, who had started the season 0 for 9.
“It just kind of got away from him,” Snitker said of Foltynewicz. “He was missing a little bit. He’s still got to keep working at going pitch to pitch.”
Braves: Atlanta LF Matt Kemp left following a sixth-inning single after experiencing tightness in his right hamstring. Kemp made a diving catch on a sinking line drive by Harrison in the fifth. Kemp will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
Pirates: Freese, playing third, took a line drive from Swanson off the chest in the eighth. He appeared to be in serious pain but stayed on to finish the inning before being replaced by Phil Gosselin. Freese said afterward he is fine.
Braves: Dickey makes his return to the NL on Saturday. The 42-year-old went 10-15 with a 4.46 ERA last season with Toronto.
Pirates: Chad Kuhl makes his first start of the season after going 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA as a rookie in 2016.
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