Cole Hamels picked up right where he left off before an oblique injury kept him out for the last month.
Hamels, who had a 1.22 ERA in six starts in June, threw five scoreless innings in his return from the injured list Saturday in the Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the Brewers. He exited the game with a 1-0 lead after 74 pitches but didn’t factor in the decision.
“I’m going out there and just really trying to execute pitches,” Hamels said. “I know I was on a pitch count, so I had to make them count. You just try to not overdo it.”
The Cubs’ rotation is healthy from top to bottom for the first time since mid-June. With a shaky bullpen and an inconsistent offense, the starting pitching will surely be the Cubs’ most dependable asset in the last two months of the season.
The starters seem to be getting hot at the right time, too. Jose Quintana has won five consecutive starts, and Yu Darvish had 36 strikeouts and only two walks in July. Cubs starters haven’t allowed a walk in five straight starts.
Hamels last pitched for the Cubs on June 28, leaving that start against the Reds after one inning.
There were no vestiges of the injury against Milwaukee. Hamels struck out six, walked none and allowed four hits — all singles. His fastball touched 92 mph, and manager Joe Maddon gave particular praise to his changeup and curveball.
“He had a playoff-slash-World Series changeup going on today,” Maddon said. “He was very good. I thought he had a good line and threw a couple of good curveballs. That was very impressive for his first time back.”
The Cubs designated right-handed reliever Brad Brach for assignment to make room on the roster for Hamels.
Brach struggled all season, racking up 28 walks in 39‰ innings to go with a 6.13 ERA.
All Maddon could do was scratch his head.
“Every time he went out there, I expected a good result,” Maddon said. “He was throwing the ball well all year. He’s run into some bad luck. Velocity was good. It’s really hard to understand why he had such a hard time.”
The Cubs signed Brach to a one-year deal in February after an impressive 2018 season. He had a 1.52 ERA in 27 appearances with the Braves after a trade from the Orioles.
“You watch from the side, and none of it makes sense,” Maddon said. “It just doesn’t. I think right now his confidence has been nicked a little bit, and once he gets his mojo back, he’s going to be fine. He’s just been a little unlucky this year.”