PITTSBURGH (AP) — Kyle Schwarber found the quickest way to get back in his manager’s good graces: hit the ball hard and deliver in the clutch.
Done and done.
The Chicago Cubs left fielder responded to a very public benching by first-year manager David Ross by doubling twice and driving in two insurance runs with a shot to the gap in right-center field in the eighth inning to push the Cubs past the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates 5-0 on Monday night.
Ross pulled Schwarber early in a loss to Minnesota on Sunday for misplaying a ball in the outfield. Schwarber insists he took the benching in stride. He certainly didn’t look bothered while helping his team inch closer to its first NL Central title since 2017. Neither did Ross, who gave Schwarber a hug at one point.
“Yesterday wasn’t the most ideal day for me and today was a new day,” Schwarber said. “It is what it is. I spoke with (Ross) and we turned the page. There’s nothing personal. I didn’t take anything personal. Just talked to the guys too, talked to the team, reassured, hey let’s not make this a thing and move on to today.”
Jon Lester (3-2) struck out one and walked one in six efficient innings to pick up his first win since Aug. 11. Lester retired the first nine batters he faced and kept the lowest-scoring team in the majors in check. Only two of Pittsburgh’s four hits left the infield, and the Pirates managed to get to third base just once while losing for the 13th time in 14 games.
“Jon knew we needed a W today,” Ross said. “It felt that way to me. He was out there really competing, working his tail off, making pitches when he had to. That’s what he does. I know when he feels 100% or looks 100% or really sharp. He’s wavered in and out of that this year. Tonight was a nice sign for him to go six and not give up any runs.”
Javy Báez drove in a run with a surprise bunt and Victor Caratini added an RBI double for the Cubs.
It wasn’t all good news for Chicago. Third baseman Kris Bryant’s injury-plagued 2020 took another turn when he left in the bottom of the third with what the team called right lower oblique tightness. The three-time All-Star and 2016 NL MVP spent time on the injured list earlier this season with a sprained ring finger on his left hand while also dealing with a wrist problem. Bryant has appeared in just 32 of Chicago’s 54 games.
“I definitely feel like it’s frustrating,” said Ross, who described Bryant’s situation as day to day. “I try to put myself in his shoes with all the things he’s been dealing with and I’d be extremely frustrated. He was pretty emotional underneath. It’s a unique year and he’s dealt with a lot.”
Pittsburgh rookie starter J.T. Brubaker (1-3) pitched 6 2/3 solid innings to bolster his bid for a shot at the starting rotation in 2021. Brubaker allowed two runs on four hits with a walk and a career-high nine strikeouts. While Brubaker demurred when asked if he thinks he is in the mix to join the rotation next season, the 26-year-old believes he’s shown he can be effective.
“I feel like I’ve competed, I feel like I’ve proven to myself that I can get guys out, former MVPs, reigning MVPs, just some of the best hitters in the league,” he said.
Brubaker, however, received no support from an offense that can’t seem to finish the truncated 2020 season fast enough. The Pirates have scored two runs or less seven times during their current 1-13 skid. Their .215 batting average is next to last in the National League and their run total (190) is last in the majors.
Cubs: Put OF/INF Ildemaro Vargas on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain. The club recalled RHP Adbert Alzolay from its alternative training site in South Bend, Indiana, to give the bullpen added depth for the final week of the regular season.
Pirates: Placed OF Jason Martin on the 10-day injured list with an upper back strain. The Pirates called up OF Jared Oliva to take Martin’s spot on the roster. Oliva, who made the Eastern League All-Star team in 2019 while playing for Double-A Altoona, struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth in his first career at-bat.
Cubs: José Quintana will make his first start in nearly a year on Tuesday. The 31-year-old lefty has spent most of the season on the injured list with multiple health issues.
Pirates: LHP Steven Brault (1-3, 4.04 ERA) will try to back up his two-hit gem last Thursday against St. Louis. Brault has struggled against the Cubs, going 0-2 with a 7.62 ERA in 15 appearances.
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