Kang's big hit not enough as Pittsburgh's bullpen struggles in 9-8 loss to Chicago Cubs

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PITTSBURGH — Mark Melancon knows the fastball that made him an All-Star two years ago is off a bit. He's just not worried about it. At least, not yet.

Might be time to start.

The Chicago Cubs touched Melancon for three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night to rally for a 9-8 victory. Melancon (0-1) surrendered a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo, a double to Jorge Soler and walked Kris Bryant before giving up a game-tying two-run single to Starlin Castro. Wellington Castillo followed with an RBI groundout as the Cubs won their second game when trailing heading into the ninth this season.

"What is the drop in velocity?" Melancon asked. "I don't pay attention to that. I'm worried about results."

At the moment, they're not so hot. Melancon's ERA ballooned to 8.53 after his first blown save. He's given up nine hits and allowed 12 baserunners in just 6 1-3 innings so far.

"I like when teams are aggressive," Melancon said. "I think that only helps me normally but you get a night like tonight where two pitches you've got a guy on second and third. That's part of it. That's part of throwing strikes and going after guys, which is what I do."

Castro finished 3 for 5 with 4 RBIs. Edwin Jackson (1-0) picked up the victory in relief. Hector Rondon worked a perfect ninth for his third save.

Chicago rookie Addison Russell went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts in his major league debut. The club called the highly touted 21-year-old infielder from Triple-A earlier in the day.

Pittsburgh's Jung Ho Kang went 2 for 4 with a bases-clearing double in the seventh for the first RBIs of his career. Starling Marte hit his fifth homer of the season for the Pirates. Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with his second home run and Francisco Cervelli added two hits and two RBIs.

The Pirates appeared to finally take control when Kang, a 27-year-old infielder who is the first position player to jump from the Korean Baseball Organization directly to the majors, smacked a double to center off Jason Motte to put Pittsburgh in front 8-5.

It was a breakthrough moment for Kang, who hit .356 with 40 home runs in the KBO last season. Playing time has been hard to come by, though general manager Neal Huntington insisted over the weekend that Kang was better served getting spot duty in the majors than regular at bats in Triple-A.

The Cubs walked Marte intentionally in the seventh to get to Kang, who sent the ball to the wall.

"I felt like it was an opportunity to prove myself and show who I am," said Kang.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle believes the hit — and the standing ovation that followed — will put Kang at ease as he continues his transition.

"It was fun to watch," Hurdle said. "It's going to help his confidence moving forward. Worked another ball through the left side of the infield, put some better swings on things."

Normally a three-run lead going into the eighth is enough for the Pirates, who have ridden the strength of their bullpen to consecutive playoff appearances. Castillo drew the Cubs within two with a solo shot off Tony Watson in the eighth before things got away from Melancon in the ninth.

Rizzo and Soler made quick work of Melancon's fastball and when his breaking stuff couldn't find the strike zone, the Cubs sat on a heater that's not packing quite so much heat.

"We tried with the curveballs," Cervelli said. "This kid (Castro) he's got a good at bat and the bases loaded and the next was a groundball but too high. We had a double play there. That's it. This is baseball."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: To make room for Russell on the 40-man roster, the Cubs transferred third baseman Mike Olt to the 60-day disabled list. Olt fractured his right wrist after being hit by a pitch from Colorado's Adam Ottavino on April 11.

Pirates: SS Jordy Mercer played catch during pregame but missed his second straight start after getting hit in the ribs by Milwaukee's Jeff Garza on Sunday. ... A fan struck by a foul ball behind home plate on Monday was released from the hospital after she was evaluated by doctors.

UP NEXT

Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (1-0, 5.11 ERA) makes his third start of the year as the teams play the third game of a four-game set. Hammel is 2-2 with a 4.19 ERA in four appearances at PNC Park. Vance Worley (1-1, 5.5.84) starts for Pittsburgh. Worley is 2-0 in four career starts against the Cubs.

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