Cubs’ Marcus Stroman blanks Brewers on 31st birthday

MILWAUKEE — What could be better than a birthday complete with a gem of a performance on the mound, win No. 1 as a Cub and — oh, yeah, almost forgot — nausea-inducing anxiety?

We learned Sunday that Cubs newcomer Marcus Stroman isn’t exactly a cool customer before starts.

“Every start day is kind of similar with the anxiety and stress that kind of starts the night before, slash, the nausea,” he said. “That’s pretty routine.”

Yeah, well, happy birthday, bub. Stroman rang in No. 31 with his best outing of the season, throwing seven shutout innings at the first-place Brewers — and outdueling the outstanding Corbin Burnes — as the Cubs won 2-0 to avoid being swept in a three-game series.

Five months to the day after signing a three-year, $71 million free-agent deal, Stroman (1-3) gave up only two hits, retired the last 14 batters he faced and then rewarded himself with a delicious Popeyes chicken sandwich at his locker. OK, fine, all the Cubs had them, but still.

“I’m definitely getting more comfortable with each and every rep and getting to a place where I think I can kind of succeed from here on out,” he said.

The Cubs (9-13) came in having lost nine of 11 and been outscored by a cartoonish total of 20-2 in the first two games of the weekend. The hardest game was supposed to be the last one, with reigning National League Cy Young winner Burnes on the hill. Burnes more than held up his end of things, striking out four of the first five batters he faced and 10 in all over seven innings to become only the second pitcher in franchise history — joining Yovani Gallardo in 2011 — to have three straight starts with double-digit Ks.

“That guy’s incredible, man,” Stroman said. “He’s one of the very few pitchers I watch video on and really kind of dive into his stuff, his sequencing, his tunneling. I think he’s incredible with his pitch mix. Any time you’re going up against that guy, you have to bring your ‘A’ game.”

Stroman was hit hard in two of his first four starts. That led manager David Ross to make a comparison to Jon Lester’s early outings as a Cubs free-agent prize in 2015, the thinking being that perhaps Stroman was putting extra pressure on himself and trying a bit too hard. It’s certainly true that this year’s abbreviated spring training didn’t help starting pitchers, who customarily have more time to ramp up so they can hit the ground running once the games count.

“I don’t make excuses, man,” Stroman said. “I just didn’t pitch good in those starts.”

It was the first time Stroman gave up zero runs in a start since he went eight innings against the Reds last July as a member of the Mets. And it was his first birthday start since 2019, when — pitching for the Blue Jays — he was knocked out of a game in the fourth inning after a three-run double by Angels superstar Mike Trout. Not a very thoughtful present at all.

This time, Patrick Wisdom had his back with a long solo home run and Seiya Suzuki ended an 0-for-15 slump with an RBI double. Both hits came against Burnes, one of the many power pitchers who make the Brewers (15-8) so dangerous.

Reliever David Robinson put a bow on Stroman’s first Cubs “W” with an appearance that might be hard to top. He inherited two base runners in the eighth but struck out Jace Peterson to end the threat, then struck out Kolten Wong and Andrew McCutchen in the ninth — breaking Christian Yelich’s bat on a weakly hit grounder for the middle out.

“That’s my job,” Robertson said, “to come in and be that tough guy that you’ve got to battle with in the ninth or eighth, doesn’t matter to me [which].”

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