CHICAGO (AP) — Some longtime Chicago Cubs fans still haven’t gotten over the epic collapse of 1969, but their team isn’t into black cats or goats or any other excuse at the moment.
Jason Hammel pitched six scoreless innings, drove home one run and scored another to lead the Chicago Cubs to an 8-1 victory and a three-game sweep over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night. At 8-1, they’ve off to their best start in 47 years.
“This is all about the players. I have nothing to do with this,” said manager Joe Maddon, who was 15 years old when the Cubs won 11 of 12 to start the ‘69 season en route to a second-place finish. “Our (players) and coaches have done a great job of prepping. One of our goals was to get off to a good start. The guys took it to heart.”
Dexter Fowler and Addison Russell had three hits each for Chicago, and Kris Bryant hit his second home run.
Hammel (1-0) allowed four hits, walked four and struck out three on 88 pitches in chilly weather.
“Any time you’re scoring seven-plus runs a game and have a staff that knows a little bit of what they’re doing, I think we have a pretty good chance of winning,” Hammel said. “Everybody pitched in tonight again. It has been that way for the first eight or nine games.”
Raisel Iglesias (1-1) allowed three runs on six hits and two walks over five innings.
The Reds ended the shutout in the ninth against Justin Grimm, the last of three relievers.
Bryant hit a solo homer on a full-count pitch in the second inning for a 1-0 lead. In the fifth, Hammel lined an RBI double, then scored on Ben Zobrist’s sacrifice fly.
Chicago capped the win with a five-run eighth. Russell had an RBI single, Matt Szczur walked with the bases loaded, Dexter Fowler added a two-run single and Jason Heyward had a sacrifice fly.
Cincinnati had at least one baserunner against Hammel in all but one inning but none advanced past second.
“This was a series where we didn’t throw the ball over the plate,” said Reds manager Bryan Price, whose pitchers issued 22 free passes in the series. “So far this season, we are averaging about 5½ to six walks per 9 innings, and that doesn’t work.”
BEN THERE, DONE THAT
Maddon preferred Zobrist in the third spot in the order because of his “wonderful ability to get on base.” The veteran hit 35 home runs in the last three seasons.
“That might be contrary to some popular belief and there might be a time when I’ll change it,” Maddon said. “But right now, the way the guys are operating, I like (Dexter) Fowler and Jason (Heyward) and ‘Zo getting on base in front of (the power) guys.”
After seven starts at third base in the first eight games, Bryant made his first in left field.
“My concern with a guy doing that always is his arm,” Maddon said. “You want a short arm stroke. … So when I get guys going back and forth, I urge them not to change their arm stroke to get more on the throw for a longer distance.”
LIKE OLD TIMES
On Saturday, Reds pitcher Tim Melville will get his second major league start, and he’ll do it in front of friends and family in St. Louis.
“The people that saw me pitch in high school now will be able to see me pitch at the professional level. It’s very exciting,” said Melville, who played high school ball in nearby Wentzville, Missouri.
Melville called it a “great honor” to pitch on Jackie Robinson Day. In his junior year, he was presented the Jackie Robinson Award as the national high school player of the year.
Reds: SS Zack Cozart and C Devin Mesoraco were not ready to start but available off the bench. “They are just a little stiff and coming off surgeries, so I just don’t have them in the lineup, but they are able to play,” Price said. … RHP Jon Moscot pitched a bullpen session before his expected start against the Cardinals on Sunday.
Cubs: INF Javier Baez (bruised thumb) could be activated from the disabled list this weekend. He had two singles in four at-bats and a stolen base for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday. … C/OF Kyle Schwarber will take an active role in pre-game meetings with battery mates while he recuperates from a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee. “If you’re going to be out that long, you have to stay connected with all this stuff,” Maddon said. “So when he comes back from surgery, we’ll keep him involved in meetings.”
Reds: Melville goes against the Cardinals. In his big league debut — a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates — he pitched four innings and did not figure in the decision.
Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks will start the opener of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field on Friday. In his first appearance of the regular season, he limited the Diamondbacks to two runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 4-2 victory.