Pirates try to right ship in Chicago

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn’t afraid to jumble his lineup if he believes the situation warrants a change.

Other times, he just wants to see how a hitter handles a new situation.

Maddon has made the most moves with the top of his batting order and had mixed results. So with the team rolling of late, Maddon threw slugger Kris Bryant into the top spot as the Cubs started a weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Whether that extends to Saturday’s game against the Pirates remains to be seen, but the move paid off in a 3-1 Cubs victory that put Chicago at a season-best 12 games above .500. The win was the Cubs’ 10th in their last 12 games.

Bryant, who went 3-for-4 and scored a run on Friday, found himself at the top of the lineup for the first time in his major league career.

“I try to do that now and again with different guys just to get them unearthed a bit,” Maddon told reporters, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Too many times, players wear their batting average on their sleeve and create their self-worth based on that. Guys like KB are different because they are five- or six-tool guys who can impact the game in other ways. All I want him to do is go out and help us win.”

Mission accomplished.

Bryant said of the experiment: “I was pretty nervous for the first at-bat. Thankfully, it worked out.”

The Cubs will go for their fourth straight victory on Saturday when Jon Lester looks to keep rolling. Lester (6-2, 2.44 ERA) has been the Cubs’ most consistent starter this season. He has picked up victories in four of his past five starts, and his only loss consisted of seven innings of one-run ball.

Lester allowed just two hits in seven innings in his most recent start and is 6-5 in 13 career starts against the Pirates with a 3.68 ERA.

The Pirates dipped below .500 with Friday’s loss, and for a team that has dropped six straight series, they didn’t get off to the start they had hoped to in Chicago.

With Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell and Sean Rodriguez all slumping at the plate, the Pirates have struggled to produce offensively, which has made it difficult for Pittsburgh to find any footing as it continues to slide down the National League Central standings.

Preaching patience has remained manager Clint Hurdle’s approach, but he said hitters need to start figuring things out.

“You’re going to find an indicator to substantiate whatever you want to believe in, truthfully, if you dig that deep,” Hurdle told reporters, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You need to just play what’s real, and I like to play within the strike zone.”

Nick Kingham (2-2, 4.03) will start Saturday for the Pirates and make his first career appearance at Wrigley Field. He picked up a no-decision in his first career start against the Cubs earlier this season.

“This is a cool moment,” Kingham told reporters on Friday. “A lot of big names have come through here. The fans are awesome — they bring it every night, from what I can tell on TV. I’m super-excited. Couldn’t be more excited, honestly. But overall, it’s just another game, I get that. It is what it is and I’m excited to experience it.”