Mike Montgomery did it again. He pitched like a guy who perhaps belongs in the starting rotation on a more permanent basis.
The Cubs will take one run allowed in six innings from anyone on their staff, anytime. That’s what Montgomery (2-1) gave them Friday in a 3-1 victory over the Pirates, and it was the third consecutive time he delivered such a quality performance since replacing injured Yu Darvish in the rotation.
Montgomery’s ERA in those three starts — 1.02 in 17⅔ innings — is more than a little impressive.
“I’m definitely ready for the challenge of whatever the role is,” said the left-hander, who’s 6-2 with a 2.05 ERA in his last 10 starts with the Cubs, dating to July.
Yet, Montgomery clearly understood that he might not have had a chance at a victory if not for a spectacular defensive game by Ian Happ. Playing left field, the oft-criticized outfielder had three diving catches — robbing Corey Dickerson, Colin Moran and Josh Harrison — each one better than the last. The final catch, with Happ diving near the foul line on a deep drive, ended a Pirates threat in the ninth inning, clinching a rare save for Pedro Strop.
“The atmosphere [at Wrigley Field], making the last out on a play like that — pretty cool,” Happ said.
A Smyly day
It was only 25 pitches, all of them thrown before the game even started. Judging by the smile on Drew Smyly’s face when his work was done, though, it was as sweet as a real-deal victory.
Smyly’s live batting-practice session against Addison Russell, Chris Gimenez and Tommy La Stella went so well — “amazing,” the left-hander called it — that he couldn’t help but look forward to simulated games in Arizona and a hoped-for minor-league rehab assignment starting as soon as early July.
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Meanwhile, it was nice for him just to be at Wrigley Field. Signed in December for two years and $10 million, Smyly, who’s working his way back from Tommy John surgery, hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since 2016 or spent much time around his new teammates.
“Most of these guys in this locker room have probably never even seen me pitch,” said Smyly, who has 85 starts and 156 appearances, all in the American League, to his credit. “So it’s fun to show them that I can actually play baseball.”
If all goes well, Smyly, who turns 29 next week, could be in the Cubs’ bullpen by midsummer and will be considered for a starting role in 2019.
Russell, who hadn’t played since Sunday after jamming a finger in New York, entered the game as a defensive replacement with two outs in the eighth.
The shortstop didn’t have a plate appearance, though manager Joe Maddon indicated that he will be back in the lineup Saturday in the second of three games against the Pirates.