Stroman starts, but Assad delivers in relief as Cubs beat Colorado to keep pace in WC race
Marcus Stroman's return to the starting rotation went OK. Fortunately for the Cubs, Javier Assad's return to the bullpen went even better.
Assad tossed 4 scoreless innings in relief of Stroman and the Cubs rallied from an early deficit to beat Colorado 6-3 on Saturday at Wrigley Field.
"I think there's something to him coming in a little more on the attack out of the bullpen, knowing it's probably a shorter burst," manager David Ross said of Assad. "Just that two-seamer running back on those lefties. He's been really good. He takes the ball when we're short a starter, (then) goes back to the bullpen and does that."
Ross said he doesn't plan to hold onto Assad until Stroman's next potential start Friday in Milwaukee. After a couple days off, Assad could return to action in the Atlanta series if needed.
"That's a weapon," Ross said. "We're going to go for wins when we've got them and figure it out each and every day.
The Cubs remain in control of the third wild-card slot, one game ahead of Miami with seven remaining. The home finale awaits Sunday.
This day began as a trip down memory lane, back to when Stroman put together an all-star caliber first half of the season. As usual, he drew cheers from fans in the bleachers as he walked to and from the bullpen for pregame warmups, waving his arms in response each time.
Stroman looked great in the first inning, getting a pair of strikeouts as he retired the side in order. The second inning wasn't as good. Kris Bryant led off with a double, then a couple of soft singles, wild pitch and RBI double by Brenton Doyle made it 3-1.
"It felt good to be back first off," Stroman said. "It's a good feeling to be back in the routine and feel the energy of the crowd. I felt like I didn't make some quality pitches in the second inning, but overall, for not being out there for a while, I felt really good.
"I felt my mechanics just kind of came and went at times. But overall, I felt a little better than I thought I would feel."
In his first start since July 31, Stroman worked just 3 innings, allowing 5 hits, 3 runs, with 1 walk and 2 strikeouts on 64 pitches. He's been on the injured list with right hip inflammation, then a rib cartilage fracture.
This looked like it might be another frustrating day for the Cubs, starting in the first inning when Colorado center fielder Doyle made a leaping catch at the wall, robbing Seiya Suzuki of extra bases and saving at least a run.
Rockies starter Chris Flexen owns a 1-8 record and an ugly stat line. His road ERA was 9.45 coming into this game. But Flexen did better Saturday against the Cubs, allowing 2 runs in 5 innings, than he did last week in Denver.
The Cubs manufactured a run in the fifth when Miles Mastrobuoni singled, took second on a wild pitch, third on a fly out and scored on Nico Hoerner's sacrifice fly to trim the deficit to 3-2. Yan Gomes finally got the clutch hit the Cubs have been looking for, a two-out double to the gap in the sixth to bring home Suzuki with the tying run.
Mastrobuoni has become a key contributor, going 8-for-15 at the plate in the past four games while starting at third base for the injured Nick Madrigal. Mastrobuoni didn't produce early in the season when first given a chance, and has more at-bats for Triple A Iowa than in the big leagues. But he started to find success in mid-July.
The Cubs got Mastrobuoni, 27, in a trade with Tampa Bay last November. He made his major league debut with the Rays last season, but still has rookie status.
"Sometimes struggling is the best teacher," he said. "You've got to learn throughout those times. It's easy to kind of fall in a hole and sometimes you want to, to be honest. But bouncing ideas off guys, talking with people, every day coming in trying to get better."
In the seventh, Rockies reliever Nick Mears walked the bases loaded, but the Cubs scored just once on a Cody Bellinger sacrifice fly. They added some cushion in the eighth with Christopher Morel's 25th home run of the season and a Hoerner RBI single.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson committed his third error in the past week, dropping a pop up in short left field in the seventh, but it didn't cost the Cubs a run. Julian Merryweather worked out of a jam in the eighth, striking out Doyle and Charlie Blackmon with the bases loaded.