It didn't take long for a Cubs hitter to christen the new right-field bleachers with a home run (although, truth be told, the spot where the ball landed was in seats that had been open in right-center field all along).
After Anthony Rizzo doubled with one out in the first and Kris Bryant worked yet another walk after going down 0-2, Miguel Montero hit a ball that at first didn't look like it would make it through a strong wind blowing off Lake Michigan. But Montero's blast nestled into the first row of the bleachers and the Cubs had a 3-0 lead after Tsuyoshi Wada breezed through the top of the first inning on 10 pitches.
This was a great indicator, I thought, on a night when everyone in the park knew that rainshowers were on the way. Wada, unfortunately, could not replicate his first inning. He struggled through a 33-pitch second, allowing two runs on a triple by Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen. The Cubs extended the lead to 4-2 on Dexter Fowler's home run leading off the bottom of the third, that one actually landing in one of the newly-opened areas.
But when Chris Dominguez homered off Wada leading off the fourth, Joe Maddon had seen enough Wada for one night (we'd all see enough water later on). Maddon called on his bullpen and they responded with six shutout innings with just two hits allowed and the Cubs had a 6-3 win to open up a six-game homestand. The only quibble I'd have, and it's minor, with Maddon's bullpen usage is that when he brought Justin Grimm in with one out in the sixth and Travis Wood breezing, he could have double-switched Chris Denorfia into the game, since Junior Lake, the hitter just above the pitcher's spot in the order, had made the last out in the previous inning. This could have allowed Grimm to throw another inning, as he threw just six pitches.
But it worked out just fine, with James Russell, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (11th save) all throwing quality innings, with the only blemish on those three being a ninth-inning, two-out single off Rondon. Rondon was much more effective than he had been in recent outings, throwing 10 strikes in 14 pitches. His first out was a sharp line drive to Chris Coghlan in left field, but after that he recorded a strikeout, gave up a dribbly little infield hit and got pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker to ground to Rizzo to end the game.
The Cubs put this one away in the fifth inning, not long after a soft but persistent rain began to fall. Addison Russell singled and Rizzo was hit by a pitch for his major-league-leading 14th time (but first in his last 12 games). Bryant laced a double into the right-field corner, scoring Russell and putting runners on first and third. Montero was intentionally walked, loading the bases, but Starlin Castro then struck out.
With two out, Coghlan hit a ball about six feet in front of the plate. Maybe it was the grass getting wet or the ball being wet, but Reds catcher Brayan Pena couldn't pick it up and everyone was safe, Rizzo scoring the Cubs' sixth and final run of the evening.
The rain got heavy at times, but no severe weather hit the area, no lightning nor thunder, so the teams played through it. As noted above, the Cubs' bullpen was excellent and the Reds' pen held the Cubs scoreless, though the Cubs did load the bases again in the seventh on two hits and a walk before pinch-hitter Denorfia was called out on strikes on a questionable call. Plate umpire Ron Kulpa's strike zone seemed odd at times, sometimes benefiting the Cubs, other times not. Broken record time: "interpretation" of the zone really needs to end, or bring on the robot umpires.
So the Cubs open their homestand on a successful note and go to 5-1 this year over the Reds, who were playing with a depleted lineup. Brandon Phillips has a strained groin and Billy Hamilton is nursing a minor wrist injury; both could miss Friday's game, too. Marlon Byrd and Zack Cozart are on the DL and Devin Mesoraco is... somewhere , so the Reds team that took the field Thursday night had three regulars and a bunch of Triple-A guys. Still, wins are wins no matter how you produce them. The victory pushed the Cubs past the Pirates into sole possession of second place in the N.L. Central, six games behind the Cardinals, and also tied the team's season high at six games over .500.
They're going to have to consider doing something about that fifth spot in the rotation. Wada did not look good Thursday night, though Joe Maddon says no changes right now:
Is #Cubs Maddon thinking about making a change in the rotation with Wada? "I'm not even thinking that right now."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 12, 2015
More Maddon on Wada: "I see him trying to be too complicated -- let's simplify this whole thing, trust your good stuff" #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 12, 2015
#Cubs Maddon on Wada: "It's not a mechanical adjustment, it's more a mental adjustment going into his next start."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 12, 2015
If that all works, fine, but if not, the Cubs will have to consider other options, including acquiring someone by trade.
Some rain is in Friday's forecast but most of it is expected to be out of the area by game time, 3:05 CT. The Reds send their ace, Johnny Cueto, against Jason Hammel. BCB's David Sameshima was at Thursday's game and we should have photos of the re-opened right-field bleachers later this morning.