Cubs hang on in Cincinnati nail-biter
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After a rain delay that stretched nearly 2 hours, the Cubs and Reds played a wild one in Cincinnati.
Jon Lester threw 5 no-hit innings, the Cubs offense continues to hum along like a finely tuned machine and David Ross is still sorting through his bullpen options as the Reds offense refused to quit.
The Cubs jumped out to a big lead early, but narrowly hung on to an 8-7 victory as Joey Votto lined out to center field to end the game with the bases loaded.
Willson Contreras doubled home a run in the 1st and Steven Souza Jr. and David Bote followed with RBI knocks in their first plate appearances of the season as the Cubs scored 4 in the opening frame.
“We can’t have too long of a lull and just let these guys sit over there not getting to face live pitching,” Ross said. “And with the limited spring training, getting them consistent at-bats, they were great at-bats. David going the other way, [Albert Almora Jr.] had some really good at-bats.
“Souza — his emotion after he got that hit and the way the dugout was clapping for him, I mean that’s real. This guy didn’t know if he was every going to play baseball again. For him to get that big knock his plate appearance, everybody was fired up for him. He had great at-bats.”
The Cubs followed the big 1st inning with another pair of runs in the 2nd inning on a Javy Báez RBI double and a wild pitch that plated Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs first baseman later added a solo shot in the 6th inning to increase the Cubs’ lead to 7-0.
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Lester got through 5 innings with 76 pitches, allowing only a walk. But he’s still working on building up his strength and stamina and Ross didn’t want to push it with the 36-year-old this early in the season.
“I definitely was losing my legs there in the 5th a little bit,” Lester said. “I thought Rossy could tell, Willy could tell. But all in all, getting to that point felt great. I was glad I got to that point even though my pitch count was fairly manageable. It kinda sounds like spring training talk right now, but it was nice to get that pitch count where now we can build off that and now we don’t have to worry about it hopefully after my next one.”
Six Cubs relievers followed and combined to allow 7 runs in the ensuing 4 innings, allowing the Reds to climb back into the game.
Bote’s RBI double in the 7th inning proved to be a huge insurance run as the Reds scored once in the 6th, twice in the 7th and twice more in the 8th.
Still, the Cubs held on as Jeremy Jeffress nailed down his first save to help his team improve to 3-1 on the season.
Jeffress had to come in to relieve Craig Kimbrel, who began the 9th inning. But the Cubs’ closer struggled with his command, walking 4 batters and hitting another to surrender 2 runs and put the tying run on third base with only 1 out. Jeffress came on to get a big strikeout and then battled back to induce Votto’s lineout.
Ross insisted he isn’t concerned about Kimbrel’s outing and chalked a lot of it up to rust, given the veteran closer hadn’t worked since last Monday in an exhibition game against the White Sox.
“Get him back to being who he is. I want him to trust himself,” Ross said. “A big thing about baseball is confidence. When you get that confidence and you get a couple good outings under your belt, things seem to roll a little bit better. You trust yourself a little bit more.
“You saw JJ tonight — he came in and was humongous for us. Really big outs there to pick up this win, that was nice.”