Aug. 01-- CHICAGO-Tyler Chatwood's resurgence has come at a perfect time for the Chicago Cubs.
Now they just have to hope the season doesn't get shut down by the influx of coronavirus outbreaks.
Chatwood was dominating again in his second start since returning to the Cubs rotation, tossing 6 2/3 shutout innings and tying a career high with 11 strikeouts in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber all homered, and the Cubs improved to 6-2 for their third straight series win to open the 60-game season.
The Cubs came into the day with 12 home runs and passed the Tigers for the major league lead. They've homered in their first eight games for the first time since 1958, when they were led by Ernie Banks' 47 homers.
After Adam Frazier doubled leading off the game, Chatwood struck out the side and didn't allow another hit until Kevin Newman's infield chopper to start the seventh. Chatwood faced the minimum 18 batters during that stretch, thanks in part to a second-inning walk that was wiped out on the basepaths.
In his two starts against the Milwaukee Brewers and Pirates, Chatwood has allowed one earned run on six hits over 12 2/3 innings for an 0.71 ERA. He has struck out 19 in that span while walking only four. In the first two games of the series, Yu Darvish and Chatwood have combined for 12 2/3 shutout innings.
This was what the Cubs had hoped for when Chatwood signed a three-year deal before the 2018 season, only to lose his spot in the rotation and move to the bullpen in 2019.
The decision to let Cole Hamels leave over the winter opened up a spot for Chatwood in the 2020 rotation, and after the return from the shutdown he moved into the No. 3 spot ahead of Jon Lester because Lester wasn't as stretched out.
Chatwood since has made manager David Ross look prescient, pitching like an ace in the early going and giving the rotation a shot in the arm. Despite offseason doubts after the Cubs stood pat over the winter and let Nicholas Castellanos sign with the Cincinnati Reds, a patient lineup combined with the starters' dominance have made the Cubs one of the best early-season stories.
Now if they can only fix the bullpen.
Happ, who moved into the leadoff spot at the last minute Saturday when Kris Bryant was a late scratch because of gastrointestinal issues, homered to the bleachers in left-center to give the Cubs the lead in the third. Two batters later, Baez cranked his third home run, outdoing Happ with a monster shot off the roof of the batter's-eye suite in center.
Trailing 2-0 in the seventh, the Pirates put two on with two outs before Chatwood walked Gregory Polanco on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases for third baseman Phillips Evans, who had struck out in his previous two at-bats. But with Chatwood at 96 pitches, Ross called on Jeremy Jeffress, who induced a grounder to David Bote on a splitter to end the threat.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo helped save Jeffress in the eighth with a diving stop of a shot down the line by Cole Tucker. Jeffress then retired Frazier looking at a called third strike to end the inning, then danced his way to the dugout.
Ross hedged before the game when asked if he'd go to the embattled Craig Kimbrel in a save situation, telling a reporter: "I'll get back to you." Schwarber appeared to make it a moot point, at least for one night, jacking an opposite field, two-run homer off Michael Feliz to give the Cubs a seemingly comfortable four-run cushion.
Of course, there is no such thing as a comfortable lead with this Cubs bullpen. The Pirates spoiled the shutout bid in the ninth on Colin Moran's two-run home run off Kyle Ryan, and a Bryan Reynolds double brought the tying run to the plate.
Ross then called on Rowan Wick, who allowed Reynolds to score from third on a Polanco groundout before walking Evans to put the tying run on. After a chat with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, Wick got Jose Osuna to hit into a force play to notch the save.
We still don't know who will be the new closer-or if there will even be one.
But at least we know Jeffress has the moves.
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