Remember when Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta walked the first two batters he faced? Yeah, that was the highlight of Tuesday’s night’s game.
Pittsburgh Pirates color commentator Steve Blass joked that the turning point of the game came during the National Anthem. Blass may not have been far off, as the Cubs defeated the Pirates, 7-1.
Call it the “Arrieta Effect” — the Cubs’ ace pitcher is now 6-0 on the season and has a 17-game winning streak, which is tied for the fourth-longest since 1913.
At one point in Tuesday’s game, Arrieta retired 15 Pirates in a row. In addition, none of Pittsburgh’s top-five batters had a hit.
The Pirates are now 3-8 when allowing seven or more runs in a game.
Not a good night for Niese
In simple terms, Jonathon Niese (3-1) just didn’t have it tonight. In his five innings, Niese allowed 14 base runners, and five of those came from walks.
Niese didn’t have command of his fastball, and his other pitches betrayed him. He admitted after the game that things didn’t go his way and that there are some mechanical things he needs to work on.
Things really started to fall apart for Niese in the second inning while he was pitching to Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was leading off, and his call for a timeout wasn’t granted by home plate umpire Ben May. Niese had a break on that pitch, which was called for a strike. Instead of using the pitch as a way to fuel him, Niese hit Rizzo on his foot with the very next pitch.
Two batters later, Rizzo was touching home on a Javier Baez groundout, and Arrieta soon followed, helping his own cause with a single.
While the Pirates could have potentially recovered after being down 2-0, a four-run fourth inning essentially ended the game.
Niese started the inning by walking Addison Russell and by giving up a double to backup catcher Tim Federowicz. Though Niese got a temporary reprieve with an Arrieta strikeout, the Cubs’ first run in the fourth came off a wild pitch.
Each of the next four hitters reached base: Dexter Fowler walked, Jorge Soler hit an RBI single, Kris Bryant hit a long single towards the North Side Notch in left centerfield and Rizzo doubled.
Niese knew, coming into this game, he faced a tall task, and, by his own admission, he didn’t come through.
Schugel a bright spot
There weren’t many positives from this game;Sean Rodriguez was the lone Pirate with two hits. But it was A.J. Schugel’s relief outing that was truly the high point of the game. He threw three scoreless innings and struck out three batters.
As a result, Schugel lowered his ERA to 3.21. The right-handed reliever also threw 21 of his 30 pitches for strikes.
These types of performances may be key for Schugel because the Pirates will likely demote one of the team’s eight relievers when Jung Ho Kang is ready to return to the everyday lineup from his rehab assignment.
This series and the homestand concludes Wednesday afternoon when the Pirates’ Juan Nicasio (3-2 3.33 ERA) takes on the Cubs’ Jon Lester (2-1 1.83 ERA). Nicasio is 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA in six career appearances (two starts) against the Cubs.
Image credit: TIFFANY TOMPKINS/Bradenton Herald