Jason Hammel admittedly wasn't at his sharpest when he faced the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this month, but he was good enough to get the Chicago Cubs moving toward a road sweep of their NL Central rivals.
Hammel tries for a better performance Friday while allowing the Cubs to rebound from their first set of back-to-back defeats this season, but he might have to outduel Francisco Liriano, who has usually shined at Wrigley Field.
Hammel (4-0, 1.85 ERA) failed to make it through six innings and gave up more than one run for the first time this season May 2 against the Pirates. The Cubs, though, had enough offense for a 7-2 victory and would outscore Pittsburgh 20-5 in the three games.
“I didn't have my best command. They extended some at-bats and had some pitches to hit and just missed them,” Hammel said. “The ultimate goal is to win. That's all that really matters.”
Hammel didn't claim a victory for the first time in five starts Saturday against Washington, allowing a season-high three runs in five innings in an 8-5 victory.
That run production was lacking in the finale of a doubleheader against San Diego on Wednesday, a 1-0 defeat. The Cubs (25-8) had their best start since 1907 and an eight-game win streak snapped when they blew a two-run lead in the opener, a 7-4 loss.
“We don't like it, but it's probably inevitable in the course of a baseball season,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It's unfortunate it happened in the same day. … I think we all need a day off (Thursday) before we come back to play that series against the Pirates.”
Maddon's club will attempt to deny Liriano's bid to win a third straight start in his first matchup with Chicago this season. The left-hander has yielded three runs in 13 2/3 innings in his back-to-back victories and gave up two over a season-high seven innings in a 4-2 win in St. Louis last Friday.
He also fanned 10 batters – matching a season high – in his first victory in four road starts.
Liriano (3-1, 3.60) is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five career games at Wrigley and carries a 13 2/3-inning scoreless streak into this one after picking up a 4-0 victory Sept. 26. He's 5-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 11 overall matchups.
The Pirates (18-15), who trail Chicago by seven games in the division, are coming off a 5-4 comeback win against Cincinnati on Wednesday that featured four ejections and six batters hit by pitches.
Manager Clint Hurdle and outfielder Starling Marte were tossed after arguing a play at second base, Pittsburgh's first ejections this season. The Pirates tallied one run in each of the final three innings, with Jordy Mercer's single bringing home the go-ahead score.
“It was an interesting game in a lot of different ways,” said Hurdle, whose team is 3-2 on its eight-game trip. “A lot went on, and I'm proud of our club for battling.”
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo went 8 for 14 with five doubles and a home run in three games in Pittsburgh. He is batting .388 with 15 doubles and six homers in his last 32 matchups, but is 4 for 23 with eight strikeouts lifetime versus Liriano.
Kris Bryant is 3 for 6 with two doubles against the left-hander.