PITTSBURGH (AP) — Cole Hamels’ stuff was just as filthy as Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon remembered. The changeup. The breaking ball. All of it.
If the newly acquired veteran pitcher can figure out his fastball too, the NL Central leaders will be that much tougher to hang with heading down the stretch. Hamels shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates over five effective innings in his return to the National League on Wednesday night as the Cubs jumped out early and cruised to a 9-2 victory.
Hamels (6-9), brought over in a trade with Texas last week, gave up one unearned run on three hits. The four-time All-Star struck out nine and walked two to pick up his first win for a National League team in more than three years.
“You want to be able to win a game for a new team and the guys here,” Hamels said. “They’ve been playing outstanding baseball all season and you just kind of want to get in the mix. For them to be able to put up the runs early, kind of made my job a little bit easier.”
Chicago brought in the 34-year-old Hamels to give its patchwork starting rotation a boost. The left-hander struggled at times for the Rangers this season and came in having won just twice since Memorial Day. His new teammates did their best to put him at ease, staking him to a four-run lead before he even took the mound.
The Cubs batted around in the first against Nick Kingham (5-6) despite having the ball leave the infield just once. A pair of Pittsburgh errors helped , so did a wild pitch and a hit by pitch by Kingham, who is a leading candidate to lose his spot in the starting rotation after the Pirates traded for Chris Archer on Tuesday.
“It was a rough first inning all the way around,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “There were some balls not hit hard that were well placed. We didn’t handle the ball well and (Kingham) had a guy caught and didn’t execute a play. His overall execution wasn’t what we’ve seen in the past.”
Willson Contreras went 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs for the Cubs. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist had three hits apiece while Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez each added two hits and an RBI for Chicago. Reliever Brandon Kintzler worked 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief on his 34th birthday a day after arriving in a trade from Washington.
The centerpiece of Chicago’s deadline moves, however, was Hamels.
Though he never retired Pittsburgh in order and needed 95 pitches to record 15 outs, he had little trouble earning his 153rd career win and first for a National League team since pitching a complete-game shutout against the Cubs on July 25, 2015 while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Hamels hit 96 mph on the radar gun and reminded his manager of the player who helped the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008 against Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays. A decade later, Maddon finds himself sharing a dugout with Hamels instead.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” Maddon said. “He’s very capable of getting on a nice role with high-end stuff because his stuff is still (good).”
Francisco Cervelli went 3 for 3 with an RBI for Pittsburgh and Starling Marte added two hits but the Pirates never threatened after falling into the early hole to lose for just the fifth time in their last 21 games.
Home plate umpire Chris Guccione exited in the top of the third inning after a foul ball off the bat of Heyward smacked Guccione’s mask. He was steadied in the moment by Pittsburgh catcher Cervelli and attempted to stay in the game before going to be evaluated by medical staff. Guccione did not return, with Ed Hickox taking his place behind the plate.
Cubs: 3B Kris Bryant (left shoulder inflammation) has not been cleared to return to baseball activities but manager Joe Maddon said he does not anticipate Bryant needing much time to be game-ready once he’s given the go-ahead by trainers. ... RHP Yu Darvish (right triceps tendinitis) will have another bullpen session on Saturday.
Pirates: OF Corey Dickerson (strained left hamstring) is on track to come off the 10-day disabled list on Saturday. ... 1B Josh Bell (strained left oblique) is doing core work but remains out indefinitely. .. IF Jung Ho Kang developed a recurrence of left wrist discomfort while working out at the team’s minor-league complex in Bradenton, Florida. The team will meet with Kang’s representatives before determining the appropriate steps.
Cubs: Return to Wrigley Field for a four-game weekend series against San Diego starting Thursday. Mike Montgomery (3-4, 4.03 ERA) faces Robbie Erlin (1-3, 3.47) in the opener.
Pirates: Archer will make his 178th career start — and first for someone other than Tampa Bay — on Friday when the Pirates begin a three-game set with St. Louis.