Young pitchers shine in cold, but Cubs bullpen nearly ruins sweep of Rockies

Wednesday was a horrendous night to play baseball, but the Cubs and Rockies were determined to make it happen.

In the current era of MLB, all non-division opponents make just one visit to each city, so makeup games are a challenge. Both of these teams are off Thursday, but the weather report is just as discouraging.

So the teams played in a steady mix of freezing rain and light snow. Temperature at game time was 36 degrees.

The Cubs recorded their fourth straight victory, completing a three-game sweep of Colorado with an 9-8 win. The Cubs bullpen blew an 8-2 lead, with Yency Almonte and Hector Neris combining to give up 5 runs in the eighth.

The winning rally in the bottom of the eighth began when Miles Mastrobuoni reached on a dropped third strike. It was an unusual play because Mastrobuoni thought he checked his swing, but he started running when the third-base umpire ruled it a strike and reached first without a play.

Ian Happ followed with a single to put runners on the corners and Mastrobuoni beat the throw home on Seiya Suzuki's grounder to third to score the go-ahead run. Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs' seventh pitcher of the night, recorded the save.

The game began with an unusual choice, one that was made the previous night. Rather than turn rookie pitcher Ben Brown loose for his first major-league start, the Cubs used left-handed Luke Little as an opener.

The move worked to perfection. Little hit 98 MPH on the radar gun while retiring the side in the first inning on a strikeout and two weak bouncers to the pitcher.

Little became the first Cubs pitcher to record the final out in one game, as he did Tuesday, then start the next game since Rick Reuschel in 1976. Manager Craig Counsel explained his reasons for using Little.

“One, we got two great starts the last two days that gave us a very fresh bullpen,” Counsell said. “The Rockies have a lineup that's generally pretty consistent. We kind of thought we'd get two left-handers against Luke in the first three hitters.

“Then you also do it really just to kind of change the job of the guy that goes length. Maybe they don't have to face the top of the order as many times.”

Brown took the mound in the second inning and started his night with a strikeout of Cubs legend Kris Bryant. After pitching four scoreless innings, Brown gave up a double to Jacob Stallings to lead off the sixth and left the game. Stallings eventually scored on a two-out single, so Brown was charged with a run.

The Rockies (1-6) are off to a rough start this season, but this was an encouraging outing for Brown, who got knocked around by Texas in his major-league debut last week. The Cubs need Brown to do this at least a few more times, since starters Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon on the injured list.

As manager of the Brewers, Counsell helped guide pitchers Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes into stardom. Burnes spent his entire rookie season of 2018 in the bullpen, while Woodruff was brought along slowly, getting 8 starts in '17 and 4 in '18.

“It's young pitchers, and they get a little bit better and they get a little more experience as they get innings under their belt,” Counsell said. “That's how they get better. They get better facing major-league hitters. A major-league hitter's harder to get out than the Triple A hitter, so it's a bigger challenge. It's important they get that challenge.

“It might not be in the full role of, 'Here you go, here's 100 pitches and just go for it and see what happens.' But it's important they face those hitters and get those experiences and get those exposures so they can make adjustments and improve.”

Suzuki homered for the second straight day and finished with 4 RBI, while catcher Miguel Amaya added 3 RBI. Suzuki and Michael Busch had 3 hits each.

Chicago Cubs' Mike Tauchman slides into home to score during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Wednesday, April 3, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley) AP

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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