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Cubs’ bullpen has best performance of season after Jon Lester’s injury

Brad Brach pitches in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the home opening game at Wrigley Field on April 08, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Right-hander Brad Brach didn’t have time to be nervous for his Wrigley Field debut as a Cub on Monday. After lefty Jon Lester exited the home opener with a tight left hamstring in the third inning, Brach barely had time to warm up.

“I didn’t have a chance to think about it,” he said.

It was probably for the best.

Brach kicked off the embattled bullpen’s best performance of the season, pitching the first two of seven improbable innings in a 10-0 victory over the Pirates. After a brutal start, the Cubs’ pen suddenly has a streak of 12 consecutive scoreless innings, with contributions from all eight relievers, including Brandon Kintzler, Randy Rosario and Pedro Strop, who followed Brach on Monday.

“Our energy definitely attracts all,” Kintzler said. “Brach going in and picking everybody up kind of motivated the rest of us. We knew we had to pick it up for the boys.”

It might have been just the performance they needed.

“I want to believe that a day like this will build the confidence that [the bullpen] sorely needs,” manager Joe Maddon said.

The bullpen lowered its collective ERA more than 2½ points in two games, to 6.92.

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“It’s just one of those things where the good pitching can be contagious, but at the same time, the bad pitching can be contagious,” Brach said. “And I think now we’re ready to get on a little bit of a roll, and hopefully seven innings can go a long way to the next one.”

Bullpen depth was a point of contention entering the offseason, and the Cubs had little payroll flexibility to address it. Brach was the biggest addition this winter.

Cubs relievers still have given up a major-league-high 29 walks in 10 games, including six during the scoreless streak.

“We know we’re better than that,” Brach said. “And all you can do is get better from here and just try to go out there and put up a zero whenever your name is called.”

NOTES: Monday marked the fifth time this season the Cubs have scored at least 10 runs — and the first time in franchise history they’ve had five such games in their first 10. On the other hand, of those five games, they’ve only won three.

“That’s the awkward part,” Maddon said.

• Left fielder Kyle Schwarber, the left-handed slugger trying to break from the perception that he’s a platoon player and earn every-day playing time, hit a two-run homer in the fourth off Steven Brault. It was his seventh career homer off a lefty and the first among his three total homers this season.

• During the Cubs six-run second, shortstop Javy Baez literally threw his bat at an outside pitch that bounced in the dirt — and wound up with an RBI single to left-center just over the shortstop.

“I don’t know how I did it,” said Baez, who looked back at the dugout from first base, smiled and shrugged. “I saw Vladdy Guerrero did it back in the day, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. That’s just a joke.”