Cubs’ Drew Smyly shuts down Pirates; Seiya Suzuki homers twice in win

Smyly made his Cubs debut Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

SHARE Cubs’ Drew Smyly shuts down Pirates; Seiya Suzuki homers twice in win
Lefty Drew Smyly threw five scoreless innings in his Cubs debut against the Pirates.

Lefty Drew Smyly threw five scoreless innings in his Cubs debut against the Pirates.


PITTSBURGH — Manager David Ross’ prediction last season that the Cubs’ pitching staff was going to ‘‘surprise some people’’ never came true — at least in the way he meant it.

One turn through the rotation this season, however, the Cubs’ starting pitching already has achieved an unlikely feat.

In the Cubs’ 2-1 victory Tuesday against the Pirates, left-hander Drew Smyly completed the circuit: Each starter threw at least five innings in his first start of the season.

Smyly, who was making his Cubs debut, held the Pirates scoreless through five innings, allowing only three hits. And he did so efficiently, needing fewer than 70 pitches and inducing 11 grounders.

‘‘I think it was just the cutters and curveballs,’’ Smyly said. ‘‘I had good command with it today, and they were just beating it into the ground. And their aggressiveness just worked into my approach, and I was playing into that. . . . It was unlike me, but I’ll take it. I like the ground balls.’’

To secure the victory, outfielder Seiya Suzuki powered the offense, mashing two solo home runs for the Cubs’ only runs of the game. The homers raised Suzuki’s total to three in his young career. By going 2-for-4, Suzuki improved his batting average to .417 in his first four major-league games.

‘‘I’m just trying to stay aggressive,’’ Suzuki said through an interpreter. ‘‘If I get behind in the count, I try to make the pitcher throw more pitches, just make it as uncomfortable for them as possible. Obviously I’m getting lucky, and I just want to continue this.’’

Coincidentally, an aggressive approach also has been part of the rotation’s success.

In a normal season, five innings would be more of an expectation than an accomplishment. But the condensed spring training, which followed a 99-day lockout that cut off communication between Major League Baseball teams and their players, was especially tough on starting pitchers.

Yet the Cubs’ rotation is one of the main reasons the team has won three of its first four games, all against National League Central opponents.

‘‘Very pleased with not only, one, the way they went about their business and gave us a chance to win,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said of the rotation, ‘‘but [how they] attacked the strike zone, got ahead of everybody — the things that we’re really preaching as a [pitching] group, not only with the starters.’’

Smyly carried on that mantra.

When it came to ramping up this spring, Smyly was at a disadvantage because he signed with the Cubs after the lockout and joined camp about a week after it opened.

What kind of boost was it to get five scoreless innings out of him?

‘‘Enormous,’’ said bench coach Andy Green, who acted as manager while Ross was serving a one-game suspension for the Cubs’ hit-by-pitch war Saturday against the Brewers. ‘‘I don’t think we could have realistically expected that coming in. Not because he can’t pitch deep into a ballgame, but you’re talking about a guy who went three innings max in spring training. So to think you’re getting five out of him out of the shoot’s ambitious.’’

Smyly knew the Pirates’ Cole Tucker was probably the last batter he would get to face. With two outs, a runner on second and a 2-0 count, Smyly threw a curveball in the bottom third of the zone.

‘‘In my head, I was like, ‘I’ve got to get this guy, so I can finish this inning,’ ’’ Smyly said.

Keeping with the theme of Smyly’s outing, Tucker hit that curve into the dirt for a grounder to shortstop. Five frames completed.

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