Stroman keeps rolling, but Cubs flub finish in St. Louis

Marcus Stroman's stat line was strong in the opener of Thursday's doubleheader. But the timing and circumstances and created a rough loss for the Cubs.

Stroman pitched 6⅔ innings, allowing 3 runs and 6 hits. All 3 St. Louis runs scored in the seventh inning after the Cubs built a 3-0 lead and missed several chances to extend the advantage.

So Stroman settled for a no-decision and the Cubs lost 4-3 on a walk-off RBI single by Lars Nootbaar in the bottom of the ninth against reliever Eric Uelmen.

Still, it was Stroman's third straight quality start. In five games since returning from the injured list, he's posted a 1.67 ERA over 27 innings. On the heels of the trade deadline, Stroman's short-term future as the Cubs' No. 1 starter looks better with every outing.

"I thought command of the strike zone, both sides, really sharp today," manager David Ross told reporters after the game. "Real depth to the sinker, he had some swing and miss on that. He's pitched really good for us since he came back healthy."

Through six innings, Stroman had tossed a 2-hit shutout with 76 pitches thrown. In the seventh, though, Nolan Gorman and Paul Goldschmidt hit back-to-back home runs. Nolan Arenado followed with a double and came around to score on two long fly outs, and the game was tied.

"I felt fine. I think they just got super aggressive," Stroman said of the seventh inning. "I don't think I was tired or anything. They just got really aggressive in the zone and were essentially swinging early.

"It's a great lineup 1-9 there, you really have to be on to navigate and facing that lineup three times through. Nolan, Goldschmidt, those guys are legends in the game, so you have to be really dialed in. They beat me. They beat me in that seventh inning."

Oddly enough, Goldschmidt's at-bat lasted 10 pitches before he homered. The other four batters Stroman faced in the seventh inning watched just five pitches combined.

"He's one of the all-time greats," Stroman said of Goldschmidt. "Just trying to give him different looks - sinker, slider, in, out. He's one of those guys you feel like he's on everything all the time. He's an incredible hitter, incredible human being, Goldy is.

"I've had the opportunity to play with him on Team USA. Love that dude. So it's always a fun at-bat against Goldy, because you know he's kind of thinking along with you and you know he's going to put a good swing on, even when you throw a great pitch."

One thing that's changed for Stroman since he returned from the injured list is using his sinker more frequently. It's been his most-used pitch all season, but instead of mixing it in equally, on Thursday he threw the sinker 51% of the time, followed by 27% slider, then 12% cutter and 10% splitter, according to Statcast.

The top of the Cubs lineup fared well in Game 1. Rafael Ortega had 3 hits, while Willson Contreras and Nico Hoerner had 2 each. Contreras homered in the first inning, then doubled in the sixth to spark a 2-run rally.

Since the trade deadline passed and he stayed with the Cubs, Contreras is 3-for-7 in the first two games, with a double, triple and homer.

"It feels more relaxed, like it took a weight off my shoulders," Contreras said. "I'm glad it was over, now I need to keep the focus on the team and help the pitchers, help the players in any way I can."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Cardinals right fielder Lars Nootbaar (21) is congratulated by teammate Yadier Molina (4) after hitting a walk-off single to beat the Cubs on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in Game 1 of a doubleheader in St. Louis. Associated Press
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