Pitching and defense a winning formula for Cubs on Opening Day

Ever since the Cubs signed Dansby Swanson, the message at Clark and Addison was how pitching and defense can carry the team a long way.

Opening Day worked exactly as planned, as Marcus Stroman tossed 6 scoreless innings, Swanson led a strong defensive effort and the Cubs shut out the Milwaukee Brewers 4-0 on Thursday at Wrigley Field.

"This is not like an 'I told you so moment,' but it's just awesome when you're proved right," Swanson said after the game. "It's a great thing for our team, it gives even more believability in who we are."

It's a nice win, but it's also a repeat of last year. The Cubs beat the Brewers, with ace Corbin Burnes pitching, on the first day of the season, but still finished 74-88. After the offseason tweaks, the Cubs hope they have a better version of the same formula.

"I don't have a single ounce of doubt in this team," Stroman said. "I'm just excited to go out there and show people what we can do."

When Stroman walked out toward the bullpen for pregame warmups, fans in the bleachers erupted, Stroman waved his arms in response and his energy never diminished. He finished with 8 strikeouts, 3 walks and just 3 hits allowed.

"This fan base is truly special," Stroman said. "I've played in this league for a while and to have a fan base that shows up like that before the game, during the game, it's truly incredible and special.

"I get the chills when I walk out there before the game and I love to take that all in. That's why we work as hard as we do, to be in these moments."

Swanson had a miserable time at the plate in spring training. He was 2-for-37 at one point, then went 3-for-4 with 2 home runs in the last two exhibition games.

In his Wrigley debut with the Cubs, the former Atlanta shortstop went 3-for-4 and drove in the game's first run. After a walk and fielder's choice, Nico Hoerner and Swanson hit two straight singles to right in the third inning. When a cutoff throw to first base was wild, Hoerner rushed home with the second run.

The Cubs plated all 4 runs in the third inning, with Trey Mancini adding an RBI single, while the final run scored on a Yan Gomes fielder's choice.

Generally, spring training means nothing, but Swanson's 2-for-37 start in Mesa got his attention.

"Early in spring, you just want to swing at good pitches, right? And I felt like I was doing that," Swanson said. "Then as it kept going on, it was like, 'Hey man, you're swinging at good pitches, but why do you keep fouling them off?' That's really what it was.

"So there's a little bit of frustration because you can start talking yourself into whether you want to call it a slump or a lull."

Swanson said one thing that helped point him in the right direction was a call from his dad, reminding him of the story of David and Goliath.

"He goes, '(David) brought five stones to kill Goliath. If he knew he was going to be perfect, he would have just brought one. Quit trying to be so perfect, just go and do,'" Swanson said. "That in a way kind of just freed me up. Just go play, man.

"Just go play, enjoy it, be intent about what you're doing. Yes, it is spring training, but put a little more emphasis and value on it. The last week I felt like I was in a better mental space, hopefully can continue building upon that."

Manager David Ross went with Keegan Thompson, former Brewer Brad Boxberger and Michael Fullmer to finish the game. Each reliever allowed one baserunner.

Stroman was called for the season's first pitch-clock violation in the top of the third, which led to a walk. Milwaukee eventually loaded the bases, but Stroman coaxed an inning-ending double play from Rowdy Tellez and the Brewers were quiet the rest of the day.

Swanson is the first player to collect 3 hits in an Opening Day Cubs debut since Emilio Bonafacio in 2014.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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  Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) greets Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Willy Adames (27) at second base Chicago Cubs home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday March 30, 2023 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Brian Hill/
  Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) prays at the wall before the Chicago Cubs home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday March 30, 2023 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Brian Hill/
  Chicago Cubs left fielder Ian Happ (8) picks up a fly ball to left field during the Chicago Cubs home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday March 30, 2023 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Brian Hill/
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