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Cubs beat Royals but not before losing hot-hitting Ben Zobrist to hip injury

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Already down an MVP third baseman, a closer and a $126 million starter, the Cubs on Tuesday watched their hottest hitter leave the game because of tightness in his left hip.

Ben Zobrist, who left the 5-0 victory over the Royals after driving in the Cubs’ third run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, reported feeling better after the game, and manager Joe Maddon said he’s optimistic Zobrist can be back in the lineup Wednesday.

Zobrist, who is 23-for-51 and has the second-highest average (.451) in the NL since the All-Star break, also doubled, walked and scored.

Zobrist, Javy Baez and rookie David Bote, who drove in three runs with a pair of two-out hits, have been the Cubs’ most reliable hitters during their lukewarm 11-9 stroll out of the All-Star break.

Zobrist made this catch for the second out in the first inning Tuesday -- but was forced to leave the game in the fifth because of a sore left hip.

That mark only became that good thanks to victories the last two nights against the last-place Royals behind the strong starting pitching of Cole Hamels on Monday and Mike Montgomery on Tuesday.

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“That was probably his best outing,” Maddon said of Montgomery, who made use of a new grip on his curveball to pitch into the seventh. “He had command of everything.”

It was Montgomery’s first scoreless outing since his first start of the season on May 28. “It was probably the best off-speed stuff I’ve had,” he said.

Montgomery is 4-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 13 starts

Montgomery, who was originally drafted by the Royals, improved to 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in 22⅓ career innings against his former team.

“I think it’s just a coincidence,” he said. “But you do have that edge against them.”

The Cubs reached a season-high 19 games over .500 and opened their biggest lead in almost two weeks over the second-place Brewers at 2½ games.

Bryant update

Third baseman Kris Bryant, who hasn’t swung a bat in two weeks because of a sore left shoulder, played catch before the game for the first time since going on the disabled list.

Bryant refuses to even entertain the thought of when he might return to the lineup.

“I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”

Darvish update

Right-hander Yu Darvish, who hasn’t pitched since May because of pain near his elbow, expects to throw a live batting practice/simulated game of two “innings” on Wednesday.

If he fares well, he might be able to start a minor-league rehab assignment.