PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jason Hammel had been one of the majors’ best starters when it came to limiting baserunners. He looked anything but on Wednesday.
Hammel allowed 11 hits in five innings and the Chicago Cubs lost for the third time in four games, 4-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates at rain-soaked PNC Park.
“It was rough,” Hammel said. “A lot of hits given up. Up in the zone. Obviously could have been better strikes thrown, but I battled through. It could have been a lot worse — 11 hits through five innings? It’s amazing they only put up four.”
Luis Valbuena continued his recent strong hitting with three hits for last-place Chicago, which has lost three of four after a season-best five-game winning streak.
Hammel had won two previous starts against the Pirates this season and entered Wednesday with the second-best WHIP in the majors (0.88).
But he was flat from the beginning, and Hammel denied that the 1-hour, 38-minute rain delay at the start of the game had anything to do with it.
“Honestly, I thought I did a pretty good job for as many baserunners as I had tonight,” he said. “It was definitely a battle. It was a grind. You’ve just got to keep pitching, keep throwing strikes. Good slider tonight. Just fastball command was a little up.”
Hammel (6-4) was spared a worse line by some poor baserunning by Pittsburgh, which hit into two peculiar double plays and had another runner thrown out at third during the seventh inning after Hammel was out of the game.
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the first inning and reached base four times for Pittsburgh, which has taken two of the first three games of the series with their NL Central rivals.
McCutchen’s fly ball landed more than a row into the left-field seats — but it almost became an extra-long out when left fielder Chris Coghlan leaped into the stands. He landed in the seats and said he had a read on the ball but that a fan outmaneuvered him for it.
“Best non-catch effort I’ve ever seen,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
McCutchen is batting .462 during a seven-game hitting streak and has 12 extra-base hits during 10 June games.
“I would have went there and shook his hand myself if he caught that ball,” he said.
McCutchen’s 10th homer snapped Hammel’s streaks of 14 1-3 innings without allowing a run and 52 innings without allowing a homer.
“It wasn’t one of Hammy’s best days,” Renteria said. “But he sure did grind out five innings.”
Pittsburgh’s Brandon Cumpton (2-2) allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in his five innings, striking out Nate Schierholtz with the bases loaded on his final pitch.
“It’s something I need to work on, getting through the fifth and sixth innings,” Cumpton said. “It was a good experience, a real confidence booster for me.”
Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli followed with a hitless inning each. Grilli earned his 10th save of the season in his 400th career appearance.
The Pirates’ Starling Marte had two hits — including an RBI single in the fifth inning — but also was thrown out on the basepaths for the third time in two games when he was picked off third following Travis Snider’s popup behind home plate in the fifth.
The Cubs briefly tied the game at 2 in the second when John Baker’s single drove in Valbuena and Schierholtz scored on a groundout.
Valbuena entered with the second-best batting average and on-base percentage in the NL over the previous 21 games. He had two singles and a double.
“I’m just looking for my pitch and I’m being aggressive with the strike zone,” Valbuena said.
The Pirates’ Gregory Polanco went 1 for 5 with an RBI groundout a day after his much-hyped major league debut Tuesday.
NOTES: The Cubs announced they signed their first-round draft pick, Indiana catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber. The No. 4 overall selection and a Johnny Bench Award finalist, he will report to the organization’s short-season Class A affiliate in Boise, Idaho. ... Pirates 2B Josh Harrison was removed from the game for a pinch hitter during the third inning because of discomfort in his left ankle. ... A fireworks display from the nearby annual Pittsburgh arts festival rumbled PNC Park for several minutes during the fourth inning. ... Pittsburgh’s Thursday scheduled starter, RHP Edinson Volquez, is 5-0 in his career against the Cubs. Chicago’s probable starter, RHP Jeff Samardzija, has a 1.90 ERA in 71 career innings against the Pirates, including seven shutout innings on opening day at PNC Park.