Jon Lester makes his fourth start of the season on Friday night when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. This will be a rematch of last week when Lester faced Mike Leake at Wrigley Field.
For manager Joe Maddon, it will help to see one of the NL Central teams again so he can familiarize himself with the players.
“Seeing these teams the next time through and watching how they do their thing helps,” Maddon said. “When I read 9a report) and can put a mental picture with the data, it really helps me a lot.”
Maddon also likes how tough the Central Division is.
“You want to play the toughest division — you get the young guys on board sooner,” Maddon said.
Here’s Friday’s Cubs lineup:
— Carrie Muskat
Chris Valaika hit a two-run homer but it wasn’t enough as Iowa lost, 9-2, to New Orleans. Jeffry Antigua gave up four earned runs on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings.
Kyle Schwarber had three hits, including a home run and a double, to lead Tennessee to a 9-2 victory over Jackson. Felix Pena picked up the win, giving up two runs over 5 2/3 innings. For Schwarber, it was his third straight multi-hit game.
Daury Torrez threw seven shutout innings in Myrtle Beach’s 6-0 win over Winston-Salem. Jacob Hannemann had three hits and one RBI.
Erick Leal threw five shutout innings in South Bend’s 10-0 win over Lake County. Yasiel Balaguert had two hits, including a triple and double. Gleyber Torres had two hits, two RBIs and two stolen bases.
Kyle Hendricks gave up three runs over 5 1/3 innings Thursday in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss to the Pirates. The two teams split the series at PNC Park, and the Cubs now have lost two in a row for the first time this season. Jonathan Herrera hit a two-run triple in the second and Addison Russell collected his first extra-base hit and RBI with a run-scoring double in the fourth, but that was about it. The Cubs loaded the bases in the fifth and Kris Bryant drew a walk to force in a run.
Bryant made his first start in center, and did OK. He had a tough time chasing down Josh Harrison’s double in the seventh. Harrison eventually scored the game-winning run.
“It took a left turn on him,” Joe Maddon said of Harrison’s hit. “It was like a two-iron. It hooked left and he had no chance with that.”
The Cubs needed Hendricks to go deeper to give the bullpen a breather.
“He’s still not as sharp as he can be,” Maddon said of Hendricks. “It would’ve been really nice to get six out of him today. The bullpen was a little short.”
Up next: The Cubs head to Cincinnati for a three-game series. Jon Lester opens it Friday against Mike Leake.
* Third baseman Kris Bryant played center field, catcher Welington Castillo nearly switched to third base, and pitcher Travis Wood, always eager to pinch-hit, was one run away from playing the outfield. Manager Joe Maddon has had to be clever this season, and that trend continued Wednesday night when Bryant made his Major League debut in center for a half inning. On Thursday, Bryant started in center to give Dexter Fowler another day to heal from a tight right groin.
“When you say ‘all hands on deck,’ we’re not kidding,” Maddon said. “They’re seeing it to be true and they like it. They like that they could show up at the ballpark and be put in the game at any time at various positions. I think they like that.”
No one has asked Maddon if he could switch positions, with the exception of Wood, who is ready for anything.
“I can’t tell you how alive that bench is in the latter part of games,” Maddon said. “They’re all ready to go. [Bench coach Dave Martinez] does a wonderful job of giving them advance notice. It’s a wonderful vibe that we have to nurture.
“I’ve been involved in it before and involved successfully before,” Maddon said. “Necessity is the mother of invention, so rock and roll.”
* One of the reasons the Cubs wanted veterans like David Ross, Miguel Montero and Jon Lester is because of the impact they have in the clubhouse. On Wednesday, Maddon saw Ross greet Starlin Castro after the shortstop had grounded out in the second inning to applaud him for running hard to first base on the play.
“You don’t see that every day,” Maddon said of Ross. “Those guys are like chemistry majors. They know what they’re doing and they set a different tone.”
* Dexter Fowler was available to pinch-hit if needed on Thursday. He was pulled from Wednesday’s game as a precautionary measure because of a tight right groin. Said Fowler: “If I had to play, I probably could.”
* Javier Baez, who has been on bereavement leave following the death of his sister, was to report to the Cubs facility in Mesa, Ariz., to get work in before he joins Triple-A Iowa. Baez has not played for the Minor League team this season.
* Looking ahead to Cubs vs. Reds:
Friday: LHP Jon Lester (0-2, 6.89) vs. RHP Mike Leake (0-1, 3.92)
Saturday: RHP Jake Arrieta (2-1, 1.74) vs. RHP Anthony DeSclafani (2-0, 0.86)
Sunday: LHP Travis Wood (1-1, 3.24) vs. RHP Jason Marquis (1-1, 7.20)
— Carrie Muskat
Kris Bryant ended Wednesday’s game in center field and that’s where he will start on Thursday in the Cubs series finale against the Pirates. Bryant said he prefers center to left or right because it’s easier to read the ball off the bat. The Cubs are trying to fill in while Dexter Fowler nurses a tight right groin. Fowler was available to pinch-hit Thursday if needed.
“Obviously, it’s not my position,” Bryant said. “It’s Dexter’s spot out there. I’m just going where they tell me. I’ll have
fun with it.”
Told that players like Willie Mays and Andrew McCutchen played center, Bryant laughed.
“Don’t even put me in the same sentence with those guys — I’m not there,” Bryant said. “Third base is the position I want to get better at. When guys go down, other guys step up, and I’m here to fill that hole when needed and Dexter will be back soon.”
If the Cubs had tied Wednesday’s game in the ninth, Bryant would’ve played first base.
“That would’ve been cool to play three positions in one game,” Bryant said.
Here’s the lineup:
— Carrie Muskat
* It was 42 degrees at game time at PNC Park. Manager Joe Maddon is doing everything he can to stay warm. There’s only one heater in the dugout and it’s at the opposite end from where he’s standing.
“We need two of them,” Maddon said. “There was one at the other end of the dugout. I kept taking my walks back and forth.”
* Edwin Jackson, moved from the rotation to the bullpen this season, has done well enough that he will be used in tougher situations in games, Maddon said Wednesday. Jackson picked up his first win of the season in relief on Tuesday, throwing one inning against the Pirates. He struck out one of the three batters faced.
“Jacks is starting to take to it,” Maddon said of the right-hander’s switch after eight seasons as a starter.
The Cubs have to make sure Jackson has enough time to warm up, and will most likely continue to have him start innings rather than enter in the middle. The move is not a reflection on how Brian Schlitter (9.64 ERA) or Jason Motte (6.43 ERA) are doing, Maddon said.
“I’m not saying you’re not going to see Schlitter or Motte,” Maddon said. “You always kind of like when it first starts out, you play it like it was first drawn up and don’t try to make too many adjustments too soon until you need to try something differently. More than anything, I think Jackson has earned the right or opportunity to pitch in more opportune moments or more difficult moments for him.”
* The Cubs are carrying 13 pitchers but Maddon hasn’t felt a need yet for an extra bench player.
“It’s an American League kind of group offensively speaking,” Maddon said of the Cubs regulars. “Whatever speed we have, we’ve been taking advantage of. If you don’t have to pinch-hit for a lot of guys, you’ll have less guys on the bench than in the bullpen.”
Plus, the Cubs can count on pitcher Travis Wood, who hit two pinch-hit home runs this spring.
* Anthony Rizzo has been hit by a pitch six times in 13 games, setting a franchise mark for the month of April. Maddon isn’t going to caution the first baseman.
“Maybe he should wear a pad,” Maddon said. “Get the Barry Bonds autographed elbow pad, something like that. You can buy that — I guess Walmart is selling them right now very inexpensively. That’s something I would encourage him to wear.”
* Last year, when the Cubs employed a defensive shift, the third baseman normally moved between the second baseman and shortstop. This season, the Cubs infield simply shifts collectively to the left.
“Part of it is I don’t want [third baseman] Kris Bryant turning double plays,” Maddon said. “He’s not used to it. You could take Kris Bryant and put him all the way over in that hole but that’s not necessarily his best spot to be that nimble, deep kind of guy. … My biggest concern is putting a guy in the potential double play slot who is really not used to it or comfortable with it.”
* Justin Grimm, on the disabled list with right forearm inflammation, threw a bullpen at the Cubs complex in Mesa, Ariz., where he is rehabbing. There is no timetable for his return, or for reliever Neil Ramirez, who also is at the facility. Ramirez is on the DL with right shoulder inflammation.
* Tsuyoshi Wada threw 89 pitches over 5 1/3 innings Wednesday in his second rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. The left-hander, who is on the disabled list with a groin injury, gave up two earned runs on six hits and four walks while striking out five.
— Carrie Muskat
Jason Hammel gets the start Wednesday night at chilly PNC Park in the third game of the four-game series against the Pirates. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 4.19 ERA at PNC Park. Here’s the Cubs lineup:
* The Cubs have won seven of their last 10 games, and the 8-5 record is their best through 13 games since an 8-5 start in 2009.
* The Cubs are one of two MLB teams to not drop back-to-back games this season, joining the Tigers. According to Cubs historian Ed Hartig, this is only the third time since divisional play began that the Cubs have not lost back to back games in their first 13, joining the 2006 Cubs (who made it to games 15 and 16) and the 1969 Cubs (who made it to games 13 and 14). The 1907 Cubs hold the franchise record. They made it all the way to games 33 and 34.
* With two more hits and two more RBI last night, Kris Bryant has eight hits and six RBI through his first five games. According to Elias, Bryant is only the third player in Cubs history with at least that many hits and RBIs in the first five games of their Major League career, joining Andy Pafko in 1943 (11 hits, eight RBI) and Jorge Soler in 2014 (10 hits, seven RBI).
* According to ESPN Stats and Info, Anthony Rizzo is only the second player in the last 100 seasons to be hit at least six times within a team’s first 13 games. The Reds’ Shin-Soo Choo was hit seven times through 13 games in 2013.
* Also, ESPN Stats and Info says the Cubs were the first team in the last 20 years to start an infield entirely of players 25 years old or younger and be at least two games above .500 at the time.
* According to Elias, Tuesday’s game marked only the third time since 1976 that the Cubs had a starting infield in which each member was 25 years old or younger. It also happened in one game in 2014 (Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara, Starlin Castro and Mike Olt) and in several games in 1976 (Pete LaCock, Manny Trillo, Dave Rosello and Bill Madlock).
* According to Baseball Reference, Addison Russell became the second non-pitcher since 1914 to make his Major League debut batting ninth in a non-designated hitter game, joining Mark Little from the 1998 St. Louis Cardinals.
Did you know the Cubs lead the NL in batting average in close and late situations this season, batting .305. It helps to have a healthy middle of the lineup. In Monday’s 5-2 win over the Pirates, the Cubs’ Nos. 2-4 hitters, Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, were a combined 9-for-12 with three RBIs. On Tuesday, Rizzo, Soler, Bryant and Starlin Castro were 9-for-18 with six RBIs.
“The strength of our lineup is that we believe anyone can do it at any time,” Rizzo said. “We’re really happy with the way we’re grinding out at-bats early. We’re making pitchers work — that’s what we want to do every time, every at-bat be stressful for the pitcher.”
The Cubs scored three runs in the ninth off the Pirates’ Mark Melancon Tuesday night for a 9-8 victory.
“That’s the best one I’ve been a part of,” Rizzo said of the rally. “Coming back like that, seesawing back and forth all game — this is what we do, we don’t quit.”
It was fun for Addison Russell, too, who was making his Major League debut at second base for the Cubs.
“They played this game just like little kids — they had fun,” Russell said. “I’m happy to be part of it.”
— Carrie Muskat
Last year, the Cubs were 0-79 when trailing in the ninth inning. In the first eight games this season, they’ve already won four games in their last at-bat, including Tuesday’s 9-8 come from behind win over the Pirates.
“Talking with [Chris] Coghlan, [we said] we wouldn’t win that game last year or the year before,” Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro said. “We quit [last year]. If we were losing after seven innings, we quit. Now, we never quit. If we get extra innings, we play hard, we never quit.”
The Cubs scored three runs in the ninth off Pirates closer Mark Melancon, with Castro delivering a two-run single. The Cubs shortstop finished with four RBIs.
“Right now, he is engaged,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Castro. “He is engaged on every pitch offensively and defensively. When he did not get it done early in the game, he was upset with himself. He’s totally invested right now. It’s really fun to watch.”
Castro is batting .352 in the first 13 games, and finally playing for a team with a winning record. The Cubs have finished fifth in his first five seasons in the big leagues.
“This is the time I’ve waited for,” Castro said. “I put in my mind, every day you can’t be good, but you try 100 percent. This is the moment I’ve waited for in my life.”
— Carrie Muskat