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Cubs 4, Pirates 2: Javy Baez makes his pitch to play the Masters

The Cubs shortstop practiced his golf skills and homered.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Javier Baez did something very, very rare Thursday afternoon at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Check out how low this pitch is! [VIDEO]

The Masters golf tournament began Thursday and that’s about as “golfy” a baseball swing as you’ll ever see that resulted in a home run:

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo also homered and the Cubs defeated the Pirates 4-2, ruining Pittsburgh’s home opener.

KB’s home run gave the Cubs a first-inning lead [VIDEO].

It was Bryant’s second homer of the season, and just the third time in the seven games so far this year that the Cubs had scored first.

Jake Arrieta had a solid first three innings, helped in part by this double play that was the result of a successful review challenge [VIDEO].

The Pirates pushed across a pair of runs in the fourth, taking a 2-1 lead, but the Cubs got them back in the sixth on Baez’ home run, taking the lead back.

Arrieta finished with another solid outing, six innings, seven hits, three walks, two runs, 84 pitches (59 strikes). He’s not going to be 2015 Jake but he’s doing perfectly well so far this year. Rex Brothers threw a 1-2-3 seventh and then Rizzo gave the Cubs an insurance run [VIDEO].

Brothers retired Colin Moran to begin the eighth and then Dan Winkler was summoned from the bullpen. Winkler walked the bases loaded, though he appeared to get jobbed on a couple of calls:

Pitch 1 to Phillip Evans (top) and pitch 4 to Gregory Polanco (bottom) sure could have been called strikes. Maybe those at-bats come out differently.

Here is a perfect example of why the three-batter minimum is a bad rule. It was clear by batter two that Winkler didn’t have it in this game. But by rule, he had to face the third guy. Forcing that, instead of letting the manager make a decision in what is an obvious pitching-change situation, isn’t improving the pace of play at all. Instead, it’s forcing the pitching team into a bad situation.

If they must have this rule, reduce it to two batters.

Anyway, Craig Kimbrel was summoned for a five-out save, likely made possible by Friday’s off day, for the first time in his career in a regular-season game. He had yet another outstanding outing— he’s been lights-out in the early going. He got out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam with a pair of strikeouts, then retired the side in order in the ninth, finishing up with a strikeout of Bryan Reynolds to end it.

So Kimbrel has now faced 14 batters this year and retired all of them, nine by strikeout.

Best of all, Kimbrel was hitting 97-98 on the Marquee pitch speed meter — excellent news going forward. Interestingly, Kimbrel got a couple of borderline strikes called in his favor, while Winkler did not. Strike one to Reynolds, for example:

Guess that’s the courtesy you get from umpires when you have 350 career saves, as Kimbrel now does.

The Cubs did not do themselves any favors offensively. They had 11 hits in this game, which is good — that’s two more hits than they had in the entire Milwaukee series at Wrigley Field and more than half as many as they had the entire season (21) entering this game. But they kept running themselves out of innings. Jake Marisnick was thrown out trying to steal second in the fourth, and Willson Contreras was nailed trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth. I understand wanting to be aggressive on the bases, but with the offense struggling, maybe a base at a time is a better idea?

On the other hand, this is why you shouldn’t worry about small sample sizes for the offense:

As noted above, the Cubs have Friday off and will resume the three-game series in Pittsburgh Saturday evening. Zach Davies will start for the Cubs and Mitch Keller will go for the Pirates. Game time Saturday is 5:35 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.