Rare bullpen clunker dooms Cubs in 7-6 loss to Diamondbacks

After Cubs left-hander Justin Steele allowed one hit and struck out nine in five shutout innings Saturday against the Diamondbacks, you couldn’t blame manager David Ross for turning the game over to his bullpen with a four-run lead — the Cubs came in leading the National League in bullpen ERA (3.10), with virtually every key reliever on a roll.

But after Chris Martin got four consecutive outs to get into the seventh, a rare succession of bullpen failures spoiled Steele’s second consecutive fine start in a 7-6 loss in 10 innings at Wrigley Field.

Brandon Hughes, Scott Effross, David Robertson and Rowan Wick (1-1) allowed a combined seven runs as the Cubs (15-24) frittered away an early 4-0 lead to lose their fourth consecutive game.

“At some point you’re not gonna pitch as well as you’ve been pitching,” Ross said. “These guys give their effort. We were behind hitters at times. These guys [Diamondback hitters] took a lot of borderline pitches, to their credit. And we’ve got to make plays behind them.”

Ross said he wasn’t very tempted to let Steele go further after Steele had retired the last seven betters he faced. He threw 89 pitches.

“[Not] the way our bullpen’s been throwing the ball,” Ross said. “He had to work really hard, and when it gets to the back side of the start and he has a clean inning, it’s a perfect pocket for a right-handed reliever at the top of their order. So it made lot of sense to get him [out] and have two really good back-to-back starts.

Steele, who allowed one earned run and struck out 10 in six innings against the Diamondbacks last Sunday, said he felt good and would have gone more if asked.

“As a competitor I always want the ball in my hands,” he said. “But I respect every decision that’s being made. I’m not the one making those decisions. I’m just doing what I’m told. But our bullpen’s been absolutely fantastic this year, so I completely understand it.”

Hoerner closer

Shortstop Nico Hoerner (sprained ankle) continues to get close to returning. “Nico ran the bases [before the game]. Looked pretty good to me,” Ross said. “Probably looked about 80-85%. He’s getting closer.”

This and that

Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom hit back-to-back home runs off Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner in the second inning to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Seiya Suzuki hit an RBI double and catcher Yan Gomes followed with an RBI single to make it 4-0 in the third.Effross allowed Pavin Smith’s pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning to end a streak of 14 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run. Gomes made a nifty defensive play in the sixth inning, hustling to retrieve Yonny Hernandez’s bunt down the third-base line, then turning and throwing to first in one motion for the out.After the Diamondbacks scored three runs in the 10th, the Cubs nearly tied it. Jonathan Villar’s RBI double made it 7-6. But Suzuki struck out to end the game.Josh Rojas, who hit three home runs on Friday, had worse luck Saturday — he was called out on a check swing that hit him in the first inning, and left the game with a bruised hand.The start of the game was delayed one hour and 35 minutes because of rain. Read More

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