PITTSBURGH—The Cubs' rotation goes on trial this weekend at PNC Park with three starters trying to prove they belong there for the long haul.
Rookie Sean Marshall made his opening statement Friday night in an 11-6 victory over Pittsburgh, pitching five solid innings to earn his first major-league victory.
"It's a big weekend for [all of them]," manager Dusty Baker said. "We definitely have to get some guys going, and we have to preserve our bullpen."
With You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who-Else rehabbing from their arm problems in Mesa, Ariz., and with designated ace Carlos Zambrano winless in his first three starts, Greg Maddux has been the only ray of sunshine in the Cubs' rotation.
That's why it was so important Friday for Marshall to get the nine-game trip off to a good start. The 6-foot-7-inch left-hander performed as well as could be expected, pitching into the sixth before tiring and leaving with an 8-3 lead. He also contributed an RBI single with his first big-league hit.
"I know I can have success," Marshall said after the game. "I made a couple of mistakes, and they punished me for it but, for the most part, I'm real comfortable out there."
Once Marshall exited, the roof caved in on reliever Michael Wuertz, allowing the Pirates to creep back into the game. But Scott Williamson, Bob Howry and Ryan Dempster combined for four scoreless innings to preserve the victory.
"That's a tribute to Scott and Bobby, coming back and putting the momentum back on our side," said Todd Walker, who contributed four hits and scored three runs.
Marshall pitched three perfect innings before the Pirates broke through with a pair of runs in the fourth to tie the game 2-2, then settled down after the Cubs' offense knocked Victor Santos out of the game with a four-run fifth.
After giving up a solo home run to Nate McLouth and a single to Jack Wilson in the sixth, Marshall was lifted and Wuertz resuscitated the lifeless Pirates, giving up a two-run homer to Craig Wilson, who came in for the injured Sean Casey in the third inning, and a solo shot to Jason Bay.
But Williamson settled things and the Cubs took advantage of Joe Randa's throwing error to put up three runs in the ninth.
The Cubs wound up with 14 hits against five Pirates pitchers, including Matt Murton's double and bases-loaded triple. Ronny Cedeno also had a two-run single and made a spectacular backhanded play to rob Humberto Cota in the ninth inning.
But in the end, the day belonged to "the kid."
"Which kid are we talking about?" Walker said facetiously. "Ronny? Marshall? He's poised, man. His first big-league start is on 'Sunday Night Baseball' [against the Cardinals], and he was throwing strikes. He looks really good."