Jake Arrieta and two Cubs relievers threw eight innings and gave up only two hits and a walk Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field.
Unfortunately, games aren't eight innings long and in the other inning -- the top of the fourth -- Arrieta got hit hard and allowed five hits and three runs and that turned out to be the difference in the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the Reds.
It was inexplicable. Arrieta had breezed through the Reds' lineup the first time around, retiring all nine hitters with two strikeouts and just two balls hit out of the infield. But Billy Hamilton led off the fourth with a single and stole second, and four hits later the Reds had a 3-0 lead. It might have been bigger if not for a wacky play in which Brandon Phillips wound up on third base after a Jay Bruce single, but Bruce was caught in a 7-6-3-4-3-6 rundown. Phillips, for his part, got landed on by Starlin Castro in an attempted play at third base and was down for a long time, tended to by Reds trainers. An inning later he left the game and was reported to have felt "lightheaded." I'm not a big fan of Phillips, but you hate to see anyone get hurt that way. A report like that might indicate a possible concussion. Hope Phillips is OK.
The Cubs, meanwhile, could not do a thing with Anthony DeSclafani. He gave up two hits and two walks in seven strong innings and only one runner (Dexter Fowler, who singled and stole second) got past first base. That's why it was so surprising to see the Reds lift DeSclafani for the eighth inning after only 97 pitches. Being so dominant, you'd figure they'd at least let him start the eighth, especially since the Reds' bullpen apart from Aroldis Chapman has been so awful this year.
That's why it gave great hope when former Cub Kevin Gregg took the mound to start the eighth. He began the inning by walking Matt Szczur and then Welington Castillo, batting for Zac Rosscup, launched Gregg's first pitch into the left-field basket. That was the first pinch-homer of Castillo's career and it sliced through the teeth of a pretty strong wind blowing in.
Gregg, who was pretty bad for the Marlins last year, has been worse for the Reds so far in 2015. He's made four appearances and allowed home runs in three of them. I'd suspect a release is in Gregg's near future.
Gregg retired the next two hitters but was then replaced by Tony Cingrani, a starter last year for the Reds. He promptly gave up a bouncy single to Anthony Rizzo and walked Jorge Soler. Now, here's the situation where you absolutely, positively have to bring in your closer -- the game's on the line and Chapman is, after all, very very good. Not only that, the Reds still would have had the platoon advantage over the next hitter, Chris Coghlan.
Chapman wasn't even warming up. But Cingrani rose to the occasion and struck out Coghlan. The Reds got away with managing to the save stat instead of the situation.
Chapman was then summoned to pitch the bottom of the ninth, and though he touched 100 miles per hour a couple times on the new Wrigley boards, his velocity seemed ever-so-slightly lower than previous appearances at Wrigley. Throwing essentially nothing but fastballs, he gave up a single to Castro. Miguel Montero flied to left, and then Szczur walked for the second straight time, putting the tying run in scoring position.
Unfortunately, David Ross and Mike Olt both struck out to end it. Give the Cubs some credit for getting baserunners against Chapman, something they haven't done much of in the past. Five hitters is the most Chapman has faced in any of his six appearances so far this year. The crowd was also really into the game, standing and cheering on almost every pitch in the eighth and ninth innings. As I wrote after Monday's game, the vibe is very, very different at Wrigley Field this year. For lack of a better term, it feels like the Cubs can come back and win just about any game, no matter what kind of hole they've dug for themselves. They didn't win Tuesday night, but I still feel very good about this team.
Let's talk a bit about the persistent Kris Bryant rumors. Tommy La Stella was placed on the disabled list Tuesday (retroactive to April 9) with what was termed "right rib cage inflammation." But no position player replaced him; instead, Rosscup was recalled, likely due to some perceived overwork from some of the other relievers. Rosscup threw very well Tuesday night, retiring four of the five hitters he faced and striking out Jay Bruce to end the eighth. I'd have to think a position player will replace the eighth reliever soon, whether it be Rosscup returning to Iowa or Brian Schlitter riding the shuttle to Des Moines.
But will that be Bryant? I still have my doubts. The key would seem to be the health of Olt, who didn't start Tuesday but did pinch hit and then stayed in to play third base. If Olt is healthy enough to start, there's no need to rush Bryant to Chicago over the weekend; instead, perhaps Christian Villanueva -- already on the 40-man roster -- could get his cuppa coffee in the big leagues. Or, Chris Denorfia could be reinstated from his rehab assignment; he's 1-for-3 with a walk in two rehab games at Myrtle Beach. The fact that Joe Maddon didn't hesitate to play Coghlan at second base for an inning indicates to me that the team isn't rushing Bryant. Here's what Theo said on the subject before Tuesday's game:
Could Bryant join #Cubs this homestand? Theo: "It depends on what's happening w/the roster, what's happening w/his development."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 14, 2015
Pretty noncommittal, in my view. I still think we see Bryant on the road in Pittsburgh or (more likely) Cincinnati, instead of this weekend.
The Cubs will try to win the series against the Reds Wednesday night; Travis Wood gets the call against former Cub Jason Marquis.