Manager Joe Maddon and starter Tyler Chatwood discuss the Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)
As Tyler Chatwood’s control issues resurfaced Saturday night, the need for Mike Montgomery’s left shoulder to heal quickly became more urgent.
Unlike Chatwood’s first 19 starts, he had no wiggle room against the Pirates. Manager Joe Maddon pulled Chatwood after he issued his third walk to start the third inning of a 3-1 loss, snapping the Cubs’ three-game winning streak and trimming their lead in the National League Central to four games ahead of the resurgent Cardinals.
“I didn’t think I could be patient,” Maddon said.
The Cubs scored only one run for the third consecutive game.
“I don’t think it matters where we’re at right now,” said Maddon, referring to the Cubs’ offensive woes that surfaced on their recent homestand. “We just haven’t been good offensively. However, we’ve been keeping our head above water by pitching and playing defense.”
With a stretch of 23 games without a scheduled day off starting Tuesday, the Cubs will have to lean a little more on their starting pitching before Yu Darvish and/or Montgomery return while waiting for rosters to expand Sept. 1.
The earliest Montgomery can return from the 10-day disabled list is Friday, which would be Chatwood’s turn — unless the Cubs elect to move up left-hander Jose Quintana, who will start Sunday’s series finale.
As for Chatwood, the improvements Maddon saw during a three-inning relief stint on Aug. 11 — such as “tension-free velocity” — didn’t carry over.
After a nine-pitch first inning aided by a double play, Chatwood’s control problems resurfaced with consecutive walks to Josh Bell and Francisco Cervelli that led to three runs in the second.
With a bullpen well-rested thanks largely to Cole Hamels’ seven-inning performance Friday, Maddon was determined to not let the game get out of hand.
Chatwood was pulled after walking Corey Dickerson to open the third, increasing his major-league-leading walk total to 93 in only 1012/3 innings.
“I was pretty surprised, but obviously it was a two-run game right there and I walked the leadoff guy for the second inning in a row,” Chatwood said. “It’s disappointing, but the bullpen did a good job and kept us in the game.”
Randy Rosario, Jesse Chavez, Brandon Kintzler and Jorge De La Rosa — none of whom was on the opening-day roster — combined to blank the Pirates. But the offense continued to sputter, relying on a home run for their only source of production.
Ben Zobrist, the Cubs’ fourth leadoff hitter in their last five games, hit a solo homer to right with two outs in the third. Zobrist is batting .394 (28-for-71) since the All-Star break, but the constant shuffling of leadoff hitters is just part of Maddon’s search to find a productive combination.
Addison Russell struck out with runners at first and third for the second out of the fifth. He’s in a 1-for-19 slump.
Jason Heyward hit a single and reached second with one out in the sixth, but Rizzo popped to third and Javier Baez flied to left and flipped his bat in frustration before trotting to first.
Joe Musgrove struck out seven and held the Cubs to five hits over seven innings, but the Cubs missed an opportunity against reliever Kyle Crick.
Zobrist led off the eighth with a single and moved to second with two outs. But Crick threw a sweeping curve that Rizzo swung and missed for the third out.