Harden throws well as Cubs overcome Reds
Micah Hoffpauir is doing his best to make sure Milton Bradley's absence isn't hurting the Chicago Cubs.
Starting in right field only because of a lingering injury to Bradley, Hoffpauir has been one of the Chicago Cubs' hottest hitters. The 29-year-old rookie had another big night Tuesday, homering and hitting a tiebreaking sacrifice fly to support Rich Harden's solid pitching in a 7-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
It took eight years for Hoffpauir to make the team out of spring training and, with a .375 average, he's taking advantage of his extended playing time.
"I've never doubted myself and I never will," he said. "My confidence is what helps me play the game."
Harden (1-1), coming off a poor outing in which he struggled with his control, gave up three hits and walked two while striking out eight. He threw the same number of pitches (92) over six innings as he had over three innings of the Cubs' 5-2 loss to Colorado last Wednesday.
"I really feel at home out there in the weather," said Harden, a Canadian who wore short sleeves despite pitching on a windy, damp evening that started at 40 degrees and got colder. "I was more efficient with my pitches than last time."
Micah Owings (0-2), undermined by the Reds' bad defense and relief pitching, gave up five runs - two earned - and five hits in 4 2-3 innings.
"I'm better than that," he said. "I can be better and I will be better."
Like most pitchers the Cubs have faced recently, he wasn't good enough to contain Hoffpauir, whose second-inning homer made it 1-1 and whose sac fly helped Chicago break open the game in the fifth.
Given that Bradley, the team's $30 million offseason acquisition, is batting .053, how tempted is Cubs manager Lou Piniella to keep Hoffpauir in the lineup?
"He's doing the job," Piniella said. "But I need the other guy to get in there, to get some at-bats and to get himself on track, too. Plus, Hoffpauir does a nice job pinch-hitting."
Hoffpauir, who also can play left field and first base, knows his role.
"(Playing every day) gives you a chance to get into a groove, but obviously I don't think it's something that's going to continue," he said.
"Milt's going to be back out there. He is the right fielder. My job is to bridge the gap. It's all about paying dues and showing Lou and the management that you deserve that shot."
Bradley, who has been out since April 13 with a sore groin, was expected to play Tuesday but Piniella opted against it due to the weather.
Chicago's fifth-inning rally began with one-out walks to Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome. The Cubs loaded the bases when left fielder Chris Dickerson dropped Derrek Lee's fly for an error.
Then came Hoffpauir's sacrifice fly and Aramis Ramirez's RBI single to chase Owings. Reliever Mike Lincoln hit Mike Fontenot with a pitch and walked Geovany Soto, forcing in a run for a 5-2 Cubs lead.
"We gave them a bunch of chances," said Reds manager Dusty Baker, the former Cubs skipper who was booed repeatedly by the fans. "The error really hurt. You can't give that club that many opportunities."
Ramirez closed out the scoring with a two-run single in the sixth. Jay Bruce drove in two runs for Cincinnati with a homer and a single.
When a cat ran onto the field during the fourth inning, delaying the game for several minutes, WGN-TV cameras panned to former Cubs star Ron Santo in the broadcast booth. Back in 1969, a black cat crossed Santo's path at Shea Stadium and Chicago went on to squander a huge division lead to the Mets - an enduring symbol of the Cubs' futile century. Tuesday's tabby had only a few black spots. ... Bruce was in Cincinnati's lineup for the first time in four days; his hand had been swollen after getting hit by a pitch. ... It was the season's first home night game for the Cubs, who were 20-8 under the Wrigley lights in 2008. ... Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is hitless in his past 21 at-bats.