The day awaited by several Pittsburgh players who have spent the early season in purgatory finally arrives on Thursday: A left-hander, specifically the Cubs' Travis Wood, finally starts against the Pirates.
Thus far, right fielder Jose Tabata and first baseman Gaby Sanchez have been in a platoon at their positions only theoretically. Lefty-hitting Travis Snider and Travis Ishikawa have each started seven of eight games.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged being happy to finally come across a southpaw. Any manager's must-do list includes keeping players sharp coming out of Spring Training, and Hurdle has not been able to do that with certain key personnel.
"I am glad, especially when you look down the road," Hurdle said, "and don't see another lefty for eight, nine days. We had the fewest games against left-handers last year, and it doesn't seem to be changing.
"I want to help [Josh] Harrison, Gaby, Jose [Tabata] and [Clint] Barmes stay sharp. It might mean picking spots to start them against a righty."
Along the same lines, Neil Walker has been a switch-hitter only in theory. Not, as some of his harshest critics would say, because he can't really hit right-handed, instead because he seldom gets to try.
Entering Wednesday's game against Jason Hammel, 25 of Walker's 28 at-bats this young season had already been against righties. Small sample size. But across the 2013 season, Walker had nearly five times more plate appearances from the left side (457) than the right (94).
"Walker's in a comfortable place from the right side," Hurdle said. "I've moved past having to think about sitting him when we face a lefty."
With Gerrit Cole taking the mound for Pittsburgh, Hurdle's first chance to field a righty-laden lineup against Wood comes with a bit of irony, given how the lefty fared in his first start of the season, Friday against the Phillies. Philadelphia's right-handed hitters were 1-for-9 against Wood, while lefties went 5-for-17 with a home run (by Chase Utley).
"I missed with a pitch, and he made me pay for it," Wood said of Utley. "I'd like to have a couple pitches back -- but other than that, I thought I kept them pretty off-balance."
Pirates: Gomez working through a glitch
Jeanmar Gomez was arguably one of the Pirates' most valuable pitchers in 2013 because of the many roles he filled well. Thus, it was worrisome for the Bucs to see him enter Wednesday's game in the sixth and promptly give up three runs that proved pivotal in the 7-5 loss.
"Nobody is happy when you come in as the long man and give up three runs in the first inning," Hurdle said. "He's working through some things. We'll look at some video and have a talk, and try to help him through it."
Gomez has been scored on in each of his three appearances this season for a total of six runs in seven innings. That's a far cry from his '13 excellence, which saw him post an ERA of 3.35 in 34 games, including eight starts. Gomez was never scored on in consecutive relief outings last season.
Cubs: Bonifacio bids Bucs farewell
One has to assume the Pirates will be happy to be rid of Emilio Bonifacio -- at least until early June -- following Thursday's series finale.
The Cubs' hope is that Bonifacio can keep imagining he is facing Pittsburgh pitchers when he steps into the batter's box.
"He had a great start, and we hope it continues," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "His mentality is to try to get on base every single time. It's a unique skill to have, and he's using it to the best of his ability and we're glad we have him out there as often as we can."
According to Elias, Bonifacio is the first big league player in the modern era (since 1900) to record games with one hit, two hits, three hits, four hits and five hits all within a team's first seven games of a season. The one-hit game came against Philadelphia, all the others against Pittsburgh.
• A win in Thursday's rubber game would give the Pirates three straight series wins to start the season for only the fourth time in the last 50 years; they did it in 1966, '76 and '92.
• Bonifacio's 19 hits through eight games tie Randy Jackson's 1954 club record.
• Anthony Rizzo is hitting .526 (10-for-19) in the Cubs' first five home games of the season.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.