By Nate Barnes
PITTSBURGH — Chris Rusin entered Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates knowing he would have a bear of a task to contend with. That bear, of course, was the Pirates’ recently-revamped lineup that mashes left-handed pitching.
Ask Dale Sveum. After the Cubs were able to neutralize Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips for much of their recent series in Cincinnati, he identified Andrew McCutchen and Marlon Byrd as two bats Rusin needed to keep in the dugout as opposed to on the bases.
“Whenever there’s a left-hander on the mound, you’re trying to take McCutchen out of the scenario,” Sveum said.
By all accounts, Rusin didn’t do too bad of a job.
“He did a great job against a lineup that kills left-handers, so to me that was his most impressive outing,” Sveum said. “Like I said, their numbers against left-handers are pretty impressive.”
Those numbers certainly are. Against left-handed pitching this season, McCutchen owns a 1.145 OPS while Byrd came in to Thursday night’s game with a .942 clip.
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McCutchen and Byrd combined to go 2-for-5 against Rusin, with the base hits coming as a double for McCutchen that bounced off the third base bag and an RBI single by Byrd that Sveum described as “seeing eye.”
Regardless, Rusin’s seven innings of two-run baseball were a marked improvement after he didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in his last start against Milwaukee.
“If I had the stuff I had last game, I probably wouldn’t have lasted near as long,” Rusin said. “But I was able to keep the ball low and keep them off-balance, keep the ball on the ground and attacking the zone.”
The game-to-game improvement mirrors the improvements Rusin has made this season, as Sveum says the lefty has been one of his most dependable arms in the rotation since he joined it alongside Travis Wood.
Thursday, two of the four hits Rusin allowed came from the bats of McCutchen and Byrd. Through the first three innings, Rusin had a no-hitter going with his only blemish coming when he hit Josh Harrison in the first inning.
“If you leave the ball up, those hitters will take you deep,” Rusin said. “I was able to mix and match, and I guess I picked the right combination today without the double down the line by McCutchen.”
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On the back end of Rusin’s pitches, Welington Castillo has noticed a major change in Rusin’s mentality between this season and last.
“He just wants to show everybody he can pitch here. I think he tried to do more than what he can do last year,” Castillo said. “This year he’s a little bit more calm, more mature, he knows what he’s doing. He does his homework too, with his reports, that’s the reason why he’s been good this year."