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Zach Davies’ early-season struggles continue as Cubs fall to Braves

Davies has a 9.47 ERA in five starts this season and allowed five earned runs in the Cubs’ 8-7 loss.

‘‘It really just comes down to execution; it’s just not there,’’ the Cubs’ Zach Davies said about his early-season struggles. ‘‘Probably one of the worst stretches of my career. It is early, but at any point it sucks putting your team down four runs in the first inning.’’
‘‘It really just comes down to execution; it’s just not there,’’ the Cubs’ Zach Davies said about his early-season struggles. ‘‘Probably one of the worst stretches of my career. It is early, but at any point it sucks putting your team down four runs in the first inning.’’
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

ATLANTA — Right-hander Zach Davies’ recipe for success always has been rooted in changing speeds and eye levels and in pinpoint control to avoid hard contact.

Throughout Davies’ seven-year major-league career, he has been able to do those things relatively effectively. But the version of Davies the Cubs have gotten to begin the season has been unable to replicate that success.

Davies endured another tough outing in the Cubs’ 8-7 loss Monday to the Braves and has yet to find a rhythm this season.

Things started out rocky for Davies, who allowed four runs in the first inning as the Braves sent nine batters to the plate. While two of the RBI singles against him weren’t hit hard (77.9 and 78.2 mph exit velocity), good luck has been tough to come by for Davies.

‘‘It really just comes down to execution; it’s just not there,’’ Davies said about his early-season struggles. ‘‘Probably one of the worst stretches of my career. It is early, but at any point it sucks putting your team down four runs in the first inning.’’

It turned out to be another short night for Davies, who allowed five earned runs in 3⅔ innings and saw his ERA rise to 9.47. He walked four and struck out four. Since going 5⅔ innings in his first start of the season, Davies hasn’t made it past the fourth.

The Cubs have needed more from their starting pitchers this season, but they haven’t gotten much length from their rotation outside of Jake Arrieta. Only once this season has a Cubs starter reached the seventh.

‘‘We haven’t gotten the length that we were expecting quite yet out of the starting rotation, but it’s just like everything else in this game,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘I think we do feel like things will come back around for those guys, and they start to find their groove and be able to go deeper in the games. We’re not at that point yet, but we need to get there.’’

The short starts have put a lot of stress on the bullpen early this season, and that workload sooner or later begins to take a toll.

On Monday, the Cubs’ bullpen was asked to cover 13 outs after Davies’ departure. Brandon Workman entered the game with the score tied 5-5 in the fifth. After allowing a double and a walk, Workman faced reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman.

Workman battled with Freeman, but on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Freeman crushed a go-ahead, three-run home run to give the Braves an 8-5 lead.

‘‘It’s tough,’’ Ross said. ‘‘I think those guys are doing the best they can as starters. And when they’re having some off-nights, it does put a little more of a workload on the bullpen.’’

The Cubs wouldn’t go quietly, however. After being shutout Sunday by the Brewers, their new-look lineup, which featured Nico Hoerner in the leadoff spot, gave the Braves’ pitchers all they could handle. Hoerner went 2-for-5 and is 6-for-14 with four doubles since being called up.

‘‘When you don’t have good numbers to start the year, that does affect people mentally,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘I mean, we’re human beings, but the process behind it has really been great. And I have a lot of belief in this offense.’’

Kris Bryant, who is showing he’s back to being the middle-of-the-order bat the Cubs remember, ignited the offense with a grand slam in the third. Bryant now has more extra-base hits this season (13) than he did all of last season in 13 fewer games.

Willson Contreras added a 456-foot, two-run blast in the seventh to make it an 8-7 game. The Cubs were unable to complete the comeback, but their offense is showing real signs of life after a mostly successful homestand in terms of scoring runs.

‘‘I’m super-proud of the offense today,’’ Ross said. ‘‘That’s an easy one to kind of sit and let it lull you to sleep. That’s a really good offensive team over there, but these guys continued to battle.’’