The Cubs are rolling along with such force these days that they lost their starting pitcher to a leg cramp two innings into Monday’s game and still held the Dodgers to one hit in a 2-0 victory at Wrigley Field.
“I blew the no-hitter,” said starter Jason Hammel, whose right hamstring cramped as he tried to warm up for the third inning. “It makes me feel real small.”
Hammel and manager Joe Maddon said they’re confident the injury isn’t more severe than a cramp. His status is to be evaluated again Tuesday.
Whether a missed start or even a disabled list move would slow the top-ranked rotation in the majors going forward, on this day the Cubs simply plugged in a pitcher they found chilling on a clubhouse couch to get four perfect innings of relief and a victory.
“I was sitting on the couch, but it was early,” said left-hander Travis Wood (3-0), who needed just 43 pitches (only eight balls) to retire his 12 batters. “Luckily we have the live feed in there. So I was in the dugout before I was needed.”
That was all it took.
“I looked in the dugout and I saw him,” Maddon said of the moment he determined Hammel was done and peered in from the mound for a replacement. “I pointed at him and he said, `Me?’ And I said, `Yeah, let’s go.’ That’s how his day began.
“He was spectacular.”
With their sixth consecutive victory, the Cubs improved to 21 games over .500 as they reached the traditional Memorial Day mile marker of the season without much more concern on the roster than whether Hammel’s sore hamstring is anything worse than a bad cramp.
“At this particular moment we think he’s going to be fine for his next start,” Maddon said.
Hammel, who missed a start and was hampered much of the second half last year with a left leg injury, felt the right one cramp while warming up for the third inning, grabbed at the leg and went to the ground. After being seen by the trainer, he threw more warmups, stopped and shook the leg, then threw another and was done.
“Obviously, we’ll wait and see how it feels [Tuesday], but I’m very optimistic that it was just a cramp,” he said. “I honestly felt like I drank the equivalent of Lake Michigan last night, because once it starts to get pretty humid and hot here I always hydrate really well.
“I really don’t understand why I cramped.”
The Cubs’ rotation led the National League with 6.4 innings per start until Monday’s shortest of the year, and it leads the majors with a 2.47 ERA.
If Hammel needs to miss a start to fully recover, Wood – the former All-Star starter who lost his starting job a year ago this month – said he’s ready to step in.
Maddon said he would go to Wood or right-hander Trevor Cahill, the two most stretched out among the Cubs’ four long relievers/backup starters.
Either way, Wood’s value to a team with big October ideas got a showcase holiday moment Monday just six months after he was the object of speculation over a possible trade or even non-tender move.
Since moving to the bullpen, he has been used as everything from a one-batter matchup lefty to a spot starter.
“As a starter he had some really good outings, but as a left-handed relief pitcher I think he can pitch for the next 10 years,” Maddon said. “He’s such a good athlete. He gets right-handers out also. He does so many things well. And he’s just starting to hit his stride right now.”
Wood seems to have embraced the role: “Going to the bullpen and everything [was an adjustment],” he said. “But they call your name, it’s still pitching.”
The Cubs came within a sun-blocked, wind-blown bloop single from completing a five-man combined no-hitter against the Dodgers Monday.
The only hit came with two out in the first inning when Justin Turner hit a popup to right-center that center-fielder-for-a-day Jason Heyward called before realizing how quickly the wind was blowing it back toward the infield.
He missed it with a lunging effort as second baseman Javy Baez stood nearby having arrived in plenty of time to catch it.
Zobrist, in right, may also have had a shot, but Baez said he talked to Zobrist and first baseman Rizzo before the game about the tough sun – with Baez getting the pregame go-ahead on any fly ball hit between them.
“Jason was calling for it, and then he kept running and running and running,” Baez said. “I could have caught it, but I can’t try to catch it after he calls it. I have to just get out of the way.”
Heyward put his arm around Baez after the play. “He told me it was the wind that killed it.”
The Cubs got both their runs in quick succession in the fifth, starting with a leadoff single by Ben Zobrist that right-fielder Yasiel Puig mishandled into a three-base play.
Zobrist scored on Heyward’s ensuing infield single.
One out later, Rizzo drove a rare-of-late double into past Puig to send Heyward home from first with the second run.
Notes: Zobrist, who leads the majors in on-base percentage, batted leadoff with Dexter Fowler getting a day off because of a sore heel he has been playing through. Maddon said he expected Fowler to return to the lineup Tuesday. … Zobrist’s hit extended his hitting streak to 16 games, matching his career high. … Rizzo’s double was his first extra-base hit since a May 14 homer. He was 5-for-his-last-46 (.109) with two RBIs before that.