MILWAUKEE -- In an otherwise forgettable April for the Cubs, two guys are creating positive memories and wiping out some bad ones.
Jason Hammel put his name on the ballot for pitcher of the month Sunday by shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers 4-0 at Miller Park.
Cubs scouting reportCubs vs. Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park
TV: WCIU Monday; Comcast SportsNet Tuesday and Wednesday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Jeff Samardzija (0-2) vs. Alfredo Simon (3-1) Monday; Edwin Jackson (1-2) vs. Tony Cingrani (2-2) Tuesday; Carlos Villanueva (1-5) vs. Homer Bailey (1-2) Wednesday. All games 6:10 p.m.
At a glance: The Reds took two of three from the Cubs April 18-20. In the lone Cubs victory, Jackson got the win over Cingrani. The Reds are trying not to fall too far behind the Brewers in the NL Central. They're a middle-of-the-pack team both in offense and pitching. Joey Votto entered Sunday third in the NL in on-base percentage (.444), while the Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio (.392) was 10th. Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco went on the DL Saturday with a strained left hamstring.
Next: St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, Friday-Sunday
-- Bruce Miles
Hammel worked 7-plus innings and took a no-hitter into the sixth. He's turned in 5 quality starts in 5 outings and has a record of 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA.
Shortstop Starlin Castro, who was one key player on the spot this past off-season, is showing he's the least of the Cubs' problems. Castro hit a pair of solo home runs, giving him two multihomer games this season.
The hard reality is that the Cubs are 8-16 -- but they have to take the good where they can find it. And it appears Castro has found himself again, at least early, after a 2013 full of self-doubt and second-guessing.
"I'm really happy because I think I've got my mind really strong after last year," said Castro, who has a line of .292/.320/.448. "I feel happy when I go to home plate, and I trust myself. That's the reason I wasn't happy last year. Now I go there and trust myself."
Castro has been impressive, especially to new teammates.
"Really positive," said backup catcher John Baker, who caught Hammel on Sunday. "I think sometimes when you have young superstars like that, you don't know what their work ethic is going to be like, especially when you're on a visiting team. When you're playing against somebody, you always want to not give them the benefit of the doubt and try to find that kind of an edge.
"But you come in here and play with them, and seeing what he went through in spring training (with a hamstring injury) to get back to playing and watching him do his work, he wants to improve as a defensive player. I see him out there all the time before day games taking groundballs. That, to me, is more impressive to me than hitting 2 home runs in a game … I think he's striving currently to be a frontline shortstop and player. I've been nothing but impressed by him this whole time."
As for Hammel, he's brought a dose of good humor to the clubhouse in addition to his good pitching. He entered Sunday leading the major leagues with a WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 0.69, and that figure held after Sunday's game.
His no-hit bid lasted until Carlos Gomez doubled to left field with one out in the sixth.
"I've done that a few times," he said. "Honestly, when guys say they weren't thinking about it, the're lying through their teeth. They're thinking of it. And I was, too, but I really didn't care."
Just as pitchers Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman before him were acquired and then traded away for prospects, Hammel knows full well that could await him. He's on a one-year deal, and he says he's not thinking long term, even if the choice is in his hands.
"It's crazy to even bring that up right now," he said. "We're still very early. Like I said in spring training, every player wants to stay in one place for a long time, so obviously, it would be entertained. But I'm not thinking about that."