PITTSBURGH -- Both Charlie Morton and Edwin Jackson are eager to get the season started, and the two right-handers will square off Wednesday at PNC Park in the second game of the season-opening series between the Cubs and Pirates.
In December, Morton received a three-year, $21 million contract extension, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said it was well deserved.
"He's got the stuff to get it done," Hurdle said of Morton. "I think he's finally aware of it, and has bought into it."
"He's very focused on the mound," Pirates catcher Russell Martin said of Morton. "He's a competitor. When you talk to him, you have no idea [because he's very soft-spoken]. Nothing that he throws out there is easy to hit. You don't really feel threatened as he's coming at you, you think you can get the barrel on the ball. Then, you got nothing."
The Cubs struggled to get anything going Monday in the opener against lefty Francisco Liriano, who struck out 10 over six innings. Neil Walker smacked a walk-off home run in the 10th to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 victory in front of 39,833 at PNC Park. Chicago was 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight.
"I thought we had some good at-bats, but we weren't able to get them in," Chicago manager Rick Renteria said after his first game at the helm.
Jackson is coming off a season he'd rather forget. The right-hander led the National League with 18 losses last season, which is not how one wants to start the first year of a four-year, $52 million deal with a new team.
"Last year was a crazy year and it wasn't a year I wanted to have," Jackson said. "I'm going to go out and play the way I know I can play. I haven't lost any confidence -- I never lost any confidence last year. It was a tough season, but at the end of the day, I came in the clubhouse the same person, day in and day out. I'm ready to go out and show what I can do."
The Cubs will find out quickly how they stack up against NL Central teams. They'll face division foes in 21 of first 30 games. Renteria likes the versatility of his roster, which includes switch-hitting Emilio Bonifacio, who was 4-for-5 in the opener. According to Elias, Bonifacio is the first player to collect four hits in his first game with the Cubs since Jack Doyle did so on April 19, 1901.
"There are plenty of players with upside on this roster," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "We have some increased flexibility, versatile guys on the roster and a chance to have a more dynamic bullpen."
Hurdle was hoping all the work in Florida will result in a strong start for the Pirates.
"We just need to play better baseball early than we did the last two seasons -- we worked extremely hard this spring, the hours we put in and the focus on execution," Hurdle said. "That will take care of us getting out of the blocks clean."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.