Rare bullpen clunker dooms Cubs in 7-6 loss to Diamondbacks
Starter Justin Steele allowed one hit and struck out nine in five innings and left with a 4-0 lead. But Brandon Hughes, Scott Effross, David Robertson and Rowan Wick combined to allow seven runs as the Cubs lost their fourth consecutive game.
After Cubs left-hander Justin Steele allowed one hit and struck out nine in five scoreless innings Saturday against the Diamondbacks, you couldn’t blame manager David Ross for turning the game over to his bullpen with a four-run lead.
The Cubs entered the game leading the National League in bullpen ERA (3.10), with virtually every key reliever on a roll.
But after Chris Martin got four consecutive outs to get into the seventh, a rare succession of bullpen failures turned Steele’s second consecutive fine start to dust in a 7-6 loss in 10 innings at Wrigley Field.
Brandon Hughes, Scott Effross, David Robertson and Rowan Wick allowed a combined seven runs as the Cubs (15-24) frittered away an early 4-0 lead to lose their fourth consecutive game.
‘‘At some point, you’re not gonna pitch as well as you’ve been pitching,’’ Ross said. ‘‘These guys give their effort. We were behind hitters at times. These guys [Diamondback hitters] took a lot of borderline pitches, to their credit. And we’ve got to make plays behind them.’’
Ross said he wasn’t tempted to let Steele go further after he had retired the last seven betters he faced. He threw 89 pitches.
‘‘[Not] the way our bullpen’s been throwing the ball,’’ Ross said. ‘‘He had to work really hard, and when it gets to the back side of the start and he has a clean inning, it’s a perfect pocket for a right-handed reliever at the top of their order. So it made a lot of sense to get him [out] and have two really good back-to-back starts.’’
Steele, who allowed one earned run and struck out 10 in six innings against the Diamondbacks last Sunday, said he felt good and would have gone longer, if asked.
‘‘As a competitor, I always want the ball in my hands,’’ he said. ‘‘But I respect every decision that’s being made. I’m not the one making those decisions; I’m just doing what I’m told. But our bullpen’s been absolutely fantastic this year, so I completely understand.’’
Shortstop Nico Hoerner (sprained ankle) continues to move closer to returning.
‘‘Nico ran the bases [and] looked pretty good to me,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Probably looked about 80 to 85%. He’s getting closer.’’
This and that
Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom hit back-to-back home runs against Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner in the second inning to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Seiya Suzuki hit an RBI double and Yan Gomes an RBI single to make it 4-0 in the third.
• Effross allowed a homer to pinch hitter Pavin Smith in the eighth to end a streak of 14 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run.
• Gomes made a nifty defensive play in the sixth, hustling out from behind the plate to retrieve Yonny Hernandez’s bunt down the third-base line, then turning and throwing in one motion for the out.
• After the Diamondbacks scored three runs in the 10th, the Cubs nearly tied it. An RBI double by Jonathan Villar made it 7-6, but Suzuki struck out to end the game.
• The Diamondbacks’ Josh Rojas, who hit three homers Friday, had worse luck Saturday. He was called out on a checked swing on a pitch that hit him in the first and left the game with a bruised hand.