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PIT@BOS: Wandy tosses four quality frames

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates welcome back Wandy Rodriguez on Thursday, while the Cubs say hello to Jason Hammel.

While several teams had to fill in holes because of injuries to starting pitchers, the Pirates got to add Rodriguez, who will be making his first start since June 5. The lefty suffered a first-inning forearm strain in Atlanta that day, and that sidelined him for the rest of the season, despite various rehab attempts.

"I don't have a wait-and-see attitude," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Rodriguez. "We're going to run him out there, and he's been in a good place all spring. He's taken care of every building block throughout March. This will be the next step.

"He sure does feel good; the old Wandy is back," Hurdle said. "It's hard to be yourself when you can't compete, can't participate and can't help. He's looking forward to pitching, I do know that."

Rodriguez knows the Cubs well, having made 24 starts against them in his career, and he's compiled a 9-7 record and 3.60 ERA in those games. The lefty has won his last three games against Chicago, posting quality starts each time.

The Cubs are hoping for a little easier time against a lefty. On Opening Day, the Pirates' Francisco Liriano held them to four hits over six shutout innings, striking out 10. Last season, Chicago ranked last in the National League with a .232 average against southpaws, but the club was tied for first in home runs against them with 52.

But Rodriguez is not Liriano, who held opposing teams to a .224 average last season. Batters hit .240 off Rodriguez.

This will be the first time the Cubs have faced two lefties in a season-opening series since 2003, when they had to deal with Tom Glavine and Al Leiter.

The Cubs will counter with Hammel in his regular-season debut. The veteran on the pitching staff at 31, he will be making his second career start at PNC Park, having last done so for the Rockies on Aug. 6, 2010. A sinkerball pitcher, he needs to keep the ball down to be successful.

Hammel also battled some aches and pains last season while with the Orioles, missing all of August because of a right forearm strain. He did not sign with the Cubs until Feb. 13, just a few days before pitchers and catchers reported to Mesa, Ariz.

The right-hander has liked what he's seen of the Cubs. He's seen the Rays and the Orioles go through rebuilding phases.

"You need a little bit of veteran leadership, you need some young guys who don't give a you-know-what, and other guys in the middle who are at that level where they're becoming professionals, and we have that mix right now," Hammel said. "We just need a few guys in the clubhouse to take charge, and the other guys to follow suit, and everybody push in the same direction, and right now we're getting that. ... It's a good mix."

Hammel is much more optimistic than most preseason prognosticators about the Cubs.

"I like proving people wrong," he said. "I like the out-of-nowhere type stuff. That's how my whole career has been. There were a lot of naysayers who said, 'Oh, he's pretty good but not one of the best.' And that's just fuel, and that just fuels this whole clubhouse."

The two teams meet again next week at Wrigley Field with another three-game series, starting Tuesday. The Cubs are looking for their first winning season against the Pirates since going 10-4 against them in 2009. Comments