Cubs can’t get big hit early, then watch Dodgers pull away late

Nico Hoerner continues his hot hitting at the top of the lineup, but the Cubs lose 9-4.

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Chicago Cubs’ Nico Hoerner rounds the bases as he homers during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday, April 21, 2023, in Chicago.

AP Photos

The Cubs’ potent offense has garnered notice, especially after scoring 10 or more runs six times this season.

And opponents will take a closer look at its tendencies, as the Dodgers did in pulling away to a 9-4 victory Saturday at chilly Wrigley Field.

Hard-throwing Dustin May, less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, mixed in timely secondary pitches for strikes that set up many of his six strikeouts and limited the Cubs to two hits in 5⅓ innings.

‘‘These guys are on the fastball,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the Cubs before the game. ‘‘And so to be able to sequence [and] mix in the breaking ball to get back into counts is very important.’’

Cody Bellinger, who has hit three of his five home runs this season against the Dodgers, took a called third strike on an 85 mph curve with runners on first and third for the second out in the first inning.

Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini struck out on fastballs clocked at 97 mph or faster in the second. And Patrick Wisdom, who has hit four of his team-leading nine homers against the Dodgers, swung and missed on two consecutive curves to strike out in the fourth.

The fact that the Cubs (12-8) stayed close until the ninth was a mild achievement. They couldn’t match the production of rookie James Outman and Max Muncy, each of whom hit two homers.

‘‘Offensively, we couldn’t get that big blow we’ve kind of gotten in the past,’’ Cubs manager David Ross said.

The Cubs loaded the bases with no outs in the first but scored only once as May retired the next three hitters on his way to a run of nine in a row.

The Dodgers held Bellinger hitless in three at-bats after he had gone 6-for-17 with three homers in his first five games against his former team, which didn’t tender him a contract last fall.

‘‘He’s swinging very well,’’ Roberts said of Bellinger. ‘‘One thing is he’s more physical. I think he’s getting his strength, and his weight is where it should be. And I think mechanically he’s in a good spot.

‘‘I know there’s a little extra incentive to playing against us.’’

The Cubs stayed in striking distance thanks to Nico Hoerner, who seamlessly has taken over the leadoff duties. Hoerner extended his on-base streak with a single in the first and hit a two-run homer in the seventh that cut the Cubs’ deficit to two.

‘‘I’ve really tried to treat [batting leadoff] the same way I’ve always hit,’’ said Hoerner, who said he rarely batted leadoff in his career before this season.

Nor has Hoerner received instructions from Ross to change his approach.

‘‘It’s allowed me to be myself,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘It does feel different at times. You want to be on base for Dansby [Swanson] and Ian [Happ]. I’ve still had plenty of chances to drive in runs.’’

Hoerner said he thinks he can hit for more power.

‘‘I’ve just got to try to figure how that can happen organically,’’ he said.

Hoerner’s streak of not striking out ended at 42 plate appearance when he took a called third strike in the ninth.

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