Thursday, April 14, 2016

Big 1st, Bryant's blast make Lackey a winner

Kris Bryant hit his first home run of the season and helped fuel a five-run first inning on Wednesday with a bases-loaded walk in the Cubs' 9-2 victory over the Reds. Chicago is off to its best start since going 7-1 in 1985. The Cubs also are 7-0 this season when scoring at least four runs in a game.
"This lineup is deep," Cubs starter John Lackey said. "Looking from the other side as a pitcher, it's tough to get through without suffering a little damage."
Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon found that out. He had a 1-0 lead in the first when Billy Hamilton doubled off the first pitch from Lackey and eventually scored on Jay Bruce's sacrifice fly. But the Cubs made Simon work, sending 11 batters to the plate in the first. Simon was pulled after throwing 49 pitches over two-thirds of an inning, the shortest outing of his career.
"He was yanking pitches, a lot of off-speed and splits, and [pitching coach] Mark Riggins went out there to get him to really try to pound the ball down in the zone," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He's got a really good sinker, and at that point, when your pitch count is that high, you're really looking to get balls in play and give the defense a chance to make a play for you on a ball on the ground. He just kind of kept missing high with the split and off the plate with the cutter and the fastball. He just didn't have it tonight."
The results were much better for Lackey, whose last start at Wrigley Field was Oct. 13 in Game 4 of the National League Division Series for the Cardinals, when he served up four runs over three innings and took the loss. On Wednesday he was charged with two runs over 6 2/3 innings, and received a standing ovation from the crowd as he came off the field.
"You won't hear me complain about hanging around watching guys score runs, I promise you that," Lackey said. "I'll sit there and get a coffee and wait as long as they want to hit."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Batting around: The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in their half of the first against Simon, and tied the score at 1 when Bryant drew a walk on Simon's 33rd pitch of the inning. They didn't stop there. Miguel Montero smacked an RBI single, Jorge Soler hit a sacrifice fly, and Addison Russell and Lackey each added RBI singles. Simon was then lifted. The only Cubs player who had a tough time that inning was Jason Heyward, who struck out twice against two pitchers. He made up for that with a two-run single in the third.
The Cubs totaled 10 walks in the game, matching their season high (April 7 against the D-backs), and they now lead the Major Leagues in walks, with 41.
"We just worked great at-bats all night long," manager Joe Maddon said. "I really believe we're capable of maintaining that approach."
Missed opportunity: Before the Cubs got rolling, the Reds had the bases loaded with no outs against Lackey in the top of the first inning. The outcome wasn't so bountiful, however, as Brandon Phillips struck out before Bruce hit a sacrifice fly to center field for the lone run from the rally. The inning ended when Ben Zobrist robbed Scott Schebler with a diving stop between first and second base.
"It was a good opportunity. Lackey wasn't really locked in at that point," Price said.
ROY: April 17 will mark the one-year anniversary of Bryant's Major League debut, and he got a head start this season in the home run department, hitting his first with one out in the fourth. Bryant belted 26 home runs last season, when he won the National League Rookie of the Year honors, hitting 21 of those at Wrigley Field. He didn't hit his first Major League homer in 2015 until his 21st game; it took him eight games this season before he connected.
"It's always good to get the first one out of the way," Bryant said. "It was one of those days when you don't expect it, either. It's a nice surprise." More >
WHAT'S NEXT
Reds: Raisel Iglesias will start his third game of the season on Thursday when Cincinnati completes the series at Chicago. Iglesias, who has a 2.31 ERA after his two starts, struck out 10 Cubs over seven innings with two runs allowed the last time he faced them, on Sept. 2, 2015, at Wrigley Field. The Reds will need a lengthy start from Iglesias after their bullpen was pressed into service in the first inning on Wednesday.
Cubs: Jason Hammel makes his first start at Wrigley Field on Thursday in the series finale against the Reds. Hammel is coming off a strong outing against the Angels in which he posted a quality start and struck out six. He did not get a decision, and is looking for his first win of the season.

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