Left-hander Brandon Hughes shining out of Cubs’ bullpen

The Cubs’ bullpen has earned a well-deserved break.

The starters’ struggles to pitch deep into games had forced the relievers to produce 386 1/3 innings through the first game of the Cubs’ doubleheader Saturday against the Mets — the most by any National League bullpen.

Five relievers, led by left-hander Brandon Hughes and right-hander David Robertson, threw 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1, 11-inning loss in Game 1.

Hughes, who joined the Cubs on May 17, has been pitching in more high-leverage situations recently. He hasn’t allowed a run in seven of his last eight appearances, including Saturday, when he struck out four and allowed one hit in 1 2/3 innings.

”I think he’s earned that,” manager David Ross said. ”We’ve used him a lot. There are times when we’ve faced certain teams that are heavy right-handed that he may not show up quite as much. But [against] a heavy left-handed lineup [the Mets] had in there [and] the Dodgers at times, we’ve used him a lot.”

Hughes hasn’t walked a batter in his last seven appearances, which Ross credited to the work of the coaches in identifying and correcting a few flaws.

Happy trails for Brault

Left-hander Steven Brault gained some attention by singing the national anthem twice while pitching for the Pirates.

Brault also has the distinction of becoming the seventh left-handed reliever selected to the Cubs’ roster this season, a remarkable distinction because he missed the first three months after physical examination in March revealed a strained biceps that prevented him from pitching until July 4 with Triple-A Iowa.

”If you have any kind of positive attitude, you never want to pay attention to other people’s comings and goings,” Brault said in reference to the shuttling of left-handed relievers. ”I want to get here based on my merit, not someone doing poorly.”

Brault, 30, signed a minor-league contract in March after posting a 12-18 record and a 4.77 ERA in 107 games with the Pirates. He had held left-handed hitters to a .232 average.

One of the things Brault learned from pitching in the NL Central?

”Don’t give up five home runs in 2 2/3 innings at Wrigley Field; that’s probably a good one,” Brault said, referring to an 17-8 loss in which he allowed 10 runs on Sept. 13, 2019. ”Might as well get that one out of the way while we’re here.”

To make room for Brault on the roster, the Cubs optioned reliever Mark Leiter Jr. to Iowa. Reliever Matt Swarmer was designated for assignment, and reliever Anderson Espinoza was promoted as the 27th player for the doubleheader.

Crow-Armstrong doubles in Futures Game

Outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, one of the top prospects in the Cubs’ organization, went 1-for-2 with a double and a run scored in the All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium. He grounded out in his other at-bat.

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