Stroman's complete game: His bond with Barnhart is pushing starter's success

In his last outing against the Mets, Marcus Stroman went eight innings and threw 88 pitches, and then manager David Ross pulled the plug.

On Monday, it was 93 pitches through eight innings - and this time, there was zero suspense.

As soon as the final out was made in the bottom of the eighth, Stroman bounded out of the dugout and took the mound to a standing ovation.

The complete game was finally accomplished. Stroman retired the side in order in the ninth to complete an impressive 1-hit shutout against the Tampa Bay Rays, who own the best record in the majors, and give the Cubs a much-needed 1-0 victory at Wrigley Field.

"This was special," said Stroman, who finished at 105 pitches. "This was an amazing moment for me, truly grateful and thankful for all the fans."

According to Ross, no one ever stirred in the Cubs bullpen and there was no discussion of Stroman not going back out for the ninth.

"It was his game," Ross said. "With the way we've been going (four straight losses), that was his game."

And this was a rare accomplishment. A Cubs pitcher hadn't tossed a nine-inning complete game since the Alec Mills no-hitter in Milwaukee on Sept. 13, 2020. Kyle Hendricks did have a seven-inning complete game against the Dodgers on May 4, 2021.

This was Stroman's fourth career complete game, first since 2017 when he pitched for Toronto.

Wander Franco collected the Rays' lone hit leading off the seventh inning, a soft line single to left-center field. Franco then stole second and Brandon Lowe walked, putting two runners on with one out before Stroman coaxed a double play from Josh Lowe. Otherwise, Stroman was never in much danger. The Rays' four hardest-hit balls were all easy ground outs.

"I wasn't even very conscious of (the no-hitter) because of the hit batter (in the second inning)," Stroman said. "I'm truly better when I'm calm. So I'm trying not to celebrate or get too antsy or get too excited in the moment, because that's going to take away from my next few pitches, probably going to get out of my mechanics a bit."

In the interview room, Stroman thanked most of the Cubs support staff by name, and deservedly shared credit with catcher Tucker Barnhart. In fact, Barnhart might want to work out a deal where he becomes Stroman's personal catcher, like Ross was with Jon Lester.

Barnhart has caught six of Stroman's 12 games this season, and the ERA in those outings is 1.54. Stroman said he went with whatever pitch Barnhart suggested.

"I'm someone, I don't shake, I rarely shake," Stroman said. "I didn't shake a single time today. I'm very confident in my catchers. Any pitch he throws down, if I execute, I feel like I've got a pretty good chance. He's locked in every single pitch and you can tell that."

Based on the Statcast report, Stroman used his main pitches with higher frequency Monday. He was 78% sinker or slider, compared to 66% over the full season, which means he used the secondary pitches (cutter, four-seam, splitter) infrequently.

"I just go off what Tucker's calling," Stroman said. "I'm really confident in my slider as well, but I also can throw my sinker to anybody in any count. So it's just a matter of playing that game with hitters.

"Reading swings is huge, which Tucker's incredible at. I think he's able to understand, when they're on sinker, call a slider. When he feels like they're on slider, call a sinker. That's incredibly tough to do as a catcher but Tucker's usually pretty dialed in."

For his part, Barnhart took no credit for the stellar performance on the mound.

"It was like playing a video game. He made it super-easy," Barnhart said. "Guys like to be aggressive on him and he can be aggressive in the strike zone with his sinker and slider because they're that good."

The Cubs tallied their long run in the fourth when Seiya Suzuki reached on an infield single, took second on a wild throw, went to third on a fly out, then scored on Mike Tauchman's sacrifice fly.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, left, slaps hands with Ian Happ after pitching an entire baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Monday, May 29, 2023, in Chicago. Associated Press
Tampa Bay Rays' Wander Franco points at his dugout after hitting a single during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Monday, May 29, 2023, in Chicago. Associated Press
Chicago Cubs' Seiya Suzuki jogs past Tampa Bay Rays catcher Christian Bethancourt to score during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Monday, May 29, 2023, in Chicago. Associated Press
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