Matt Clement needed this. So did his teammates.
While the Cubs right-hander was allowing just two infield singles through six innings Wednesday, his offense scored eight runs in the first four innings on the way to an 8-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
For a pitching staff still without Mark Prior, Clement's performance was exactly what the Cubs want, demand and expect out of the healthy arms and Achilles' tendons on the mound.
"I'm glad to get the first win and I felt real comfortable," said Clement, whose pitching in spring training was a source of concern. "I think the last start [in Cincinnati] I felt good. I didn't execute as well as I wanted, but I could tell it was starting to turn around from the rough time I had in spring training.
"You just have to keep the faith. You can't dwell on things that have happened, especially things that happened in spring training when it didn't mean anything."
Eight of the nine Cubs starters had at least one hit through five innings, including Clement (1-1). Todd Walker had three hits and three RBIs, Aramis Ramirez collected his first two home runs to go with a single and Moises Alou hit his second homer of the year.
Clement, 0-3 with an 8.82 ERA in Arizona and a loser in his first start at Cincinnati, had some location problems early. He put six men on in the first three innings before he gradually began to overpower the Pirates. He ended the second through the fifth innings with strikeouts and allowed just one ball out of the infield after the first.
"He made pitches when he needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "He threw a few more (103) than he probably would have liked, but his concentration was good and he helped himself with a hit. That's the Matt Clement we want to see."
Pittsburgh's two hits during Clement's six innings totaled less than 200 feet and never left the infield. Kyle Farnsworth came on to pitch the seventh and was battered for two singles and Raul Mondesi's home run.
By that point it meant little because of the offense. Walker showed exactly why the Cubs coveted him as an alternative to Mark Grudzielanek last off-season. Walker doubled and scored in the first on Sammy Sosa's double, then singled in a run in the second and two more in the third as the Cubs built a 7-0 lead.
Alou and Ramirez hit consecutive drives onto Waveland Avenue in the third inning off Pittsburgh starter Ryan Vogelsong (1-1). For Ramirez it was his second two-homer game against his former team since he was traded to the Cubs last year.
"That's fine with me," Baker said. "He can hit two more [Thursday] if he wants to."
If there was a turning point, it came in the Pittsburgh third inning when Walker's error and two walks loaded the bases. Clement struck out Craig Wilson to end the kind of inning that not long ago more likely would have ended with some sort of disaster.
"It was a big out and turning point, and you want to pick up your team," Clement said. "Then we came in and scored [four] runs, so it was a huge out."
Cubs 8, Pirates 3