PITTSBURGH – Eight days. That’s how long it had been since Cubs reliever Michael Rucker had faced batters. But in the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday, he threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
“It’s also something that I’ve also done in Triple-A, had kind of a long time in between outings, so it’s not something that I’m unfamiliar with,” Rucker said after the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the Pirates. “So, leaning on that experience and just trying to stay ready is what helped me be able to stay fresh and in sync and in a groove for today.”
The Cubs bullpen’s performance Wednesday, as Rucker, Rowan Wick and Scott Effross combined to throw 4 1/3 shutout frames, couldn’t salvage the game. But Rucker’s multi-inning outing helped keep the rest of the bullpen fresh. And the Cubs will likely need extra arms in Colorado.
“Those are all really encouraging signs to see young guys that can have long layoffs, not make excuses, step on the mound, get big outs,” acting manager Andy Green said after the game. “And the next time, he’ll find himself in probably a bigger situation because he does things like that.”
In Colorado, the Cubs are facing more than just hitter-friendly elevation. They have a start to fill Saturday.
Right-hander Alec Mills (low back strain) will not start against the Rockies, Cubs manager David Ross announced Wednesday. Mills, began the season on the 10-day injured list, threw 77 pitches on Sunday and a bullpen on Tuesday, but he’s been “under the weather,” according to Ross. The Cubs have taken a cautious approach to Mills’ recovery since his back tightness cropped up late in spring training.
As for Saturday’s starter, “We’re still working though who that’ll be,” Ross said.
Wednesday morning, Green walked through the clubhouse in an Obvious Shirts t-shirt that displayed his title: “BENCH COACH.” But by the second inning, he was serving as manager for the second game in a row.
“[Ross] was under the weather from the get-go today, from the time he woke up until right about now” Green said. “So, hopefully he feels a lot better tomorrow. He’s just battling what feels like a little flu bug to him right now.”
On Tuesday, Ross served an automatic one-game suspension, after the league determined pitcher Keegan Thompson intentionally hit Brewers outfielder Andrew McCutchen over the weekend. Thompson is appealing his own three-game suspension.
Cubs catcher Willson Contreras remained stoic when asked about his first home run of the season on Wednesday – “It doesn’t matter right now, we just lost.” But he did crack a smile when his fourth-inning back-pick came up.
The play ended the inning, as Contreras fired down to second base to catch Brewers designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach off the base. Contreras and Vogelbach played together coming up through the Cubs’ farm system.
“I told him the next at bat, ‘You should know better. That was a huge lead,'” Contreras said. “We all smiled, but he should be mad about it.”
CUBS AT ROCKIES
Thursday: Justin Steele (1-0 0.00 ERA) vs. Kyle Freeland (0-1, 12.27), 7:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Friday: Marcus Stroman (0-0, 1.80) vs. RHP German Marquez (0-0, 1.29), 7:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Saturday: TBD vs. Antonio Senzatela (0-0, 2.70), 7:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Sunday: Drew Smyly (1-0, 0.00) vs. Austin Gomber (0-0, 5.79), 2:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.