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|Brandon Morrow got the call Saturday night. It was a call nine days in the making.
The Chicago Cubs‘ closer had not pitched since June 7 http://www.jetsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-sam-darnold-jersey , due to his team either winning games in lopsided fashion or losing them. It was only natural that he started out a bit rusty against the Cardinals, allowing singles to Jairo Munoz and Kolten Wong to begin the bottom of the ninth.
But Morrow clicked into rhythm after that. Following an infield out, Morrow threw 99 mph fastballs by Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham to end Chicago’s 6-3 win over St. Louis and give him his 16th save in 17 chances.
Despite a 25-pitch inning in his return, Morrow should be available if needed for Sunday night’s series finale at Busch Stadium, where the Cubs will try to score a sweep and win for the 15th time in 20 games.
“I’d like to keep him sharp,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said, “but guys like that can normally throw on the side and stay sharp.”
Morrow has been everything the Cubs could have asked for in his first year with the team. Tasked with replacing Wade Davis as the ninth inning man, Morrow has pitched to a 1.59 earned run average, allowing just over one baserunner per inning and whiffing 25 hitters over 22 2/3 innings.
His ninth inning helped spotlight one of the biggest differences between Chicago and St. Louis. While the Cubs have a reliable back end of the bullpen, the Cardinals do not. They have basically two reliable relievers, and Jordan Hicks proved mortal in the eighth inning Saturday night when he ceded his first runs of June on Jason Heyward’s two-run homer.
That’s put the pressure on St. Louis starters, who for the most part have handled it. The burden now falls on rookie Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.96) to match his outing from a 5-2 win Monday night over San Diego and keep the Cardinals (36-32) from a fifth straight defeat.
Flaherty gave up just three hits and a run in 6 1/3 innings against the Padres, walking one and striking out six to claim his first win since May 20. This will be his first career start against Chicago, although he did pitch a scoreless inning of relief against the Cubs last year.
“We were just throwing with more conviction tonight http://www.raidersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-kolton-miller-jersey ,” Flaherty told mlb.com. “Last time out, I said I really didn’t execute well. I feel like it had a lot to do with execution and conviction behind everything, just throwing everything with intent.”
The Cubs (40-27) will counter with lefthander Jose Quintana (6-4, 4.09), whose up-and-down season is trending more in a positive direction of late. Quintana is coming off a no-decision Monday night in Milwaukee, where he allowed two runs on four hits in six innings as Chicago won 7-2 in 11 innings.
Quintana has permitted only four runs in his last three starts, covering 17 2/3 innings. He’s 3-1 in five career starts against the Cardinals with a 2.67 ERA, beating them twice last year after his mid-July acquisition from the Chicago White Sox.
Cole Hamels and Mike Fiers could soon find themselves in a pennant race. Both veterans can increase their chances of joining a championship contender with solid starts on Saturday afternoon.
The two pitchers will be the mound opponents when the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers play the third game of a four-game series at Detroit’s Comerica Park. They have split the first two games.
Both teams are floundering, but contenders seeking veteran help could turn to Hamels or Fiers.
Hamels, a 34-year-old Texas left-hander, knows about the trade rumors but is more concerned with improving upon his recent outings.
“It’s not a big deal,” he told MLB.com after his last start. “It’s out of my control. I have to go and pitch, and hopefully that’ll be the last time I have to answer that question.”
Hamels had stellar road outings against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kansas City in mid-June, but he lasted just five innings in each of his last two starts. He gave up a season-high seven runs and nine hits to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
Hamels (4-7, 4.05 ERA) is 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in six career starts against the Tigers.
Fiers has been at the top of his game in his last two starts. He held Oakland to one run and five hits in seven innings http://www.eaglesauthorizedshops.com/authentic-dallas-goedert-jersey , then worked a season-high eight innings on Monday in Toronto. The Blue Jays managed just one run and three hits, but he wound up with no-decision when the bullpen couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the ninth inning.
Fiers (5-5, 3.79) has kept opponents off-balance by mixing well-located fastballs with a healthy dose of curveballs and changeups.
“He was changing speeds, locating the ball,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said afterward. “He paints the strike zone. When the catcher sets up away and in front, he throws away and in front.”
Fiers issued 62 walks in 29 outings last season with Houston and was left off the playoff roster. He has shown much better control this year, issuing 20 free passes in 16 starts.
“Just throwing a lot of strikes, changing speeds,” Fiers told the Detroit News. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity here.”
Texas has solved Fiers in the past. He’s 1-3 wth an 8.10 ERA in seven career appearances against the Rangers.
Texas didn’t have any luck on Friday night against Detroit pitcher Jordan Zimmermann after Shin-Soo Choo smacked a leadoff homer. Zimmermann struck out a season-high 11 batters in the Tigers’ 3-1 victory.
Zimmermann pitched eight innings, allowing Gardenhire to go straight to fill-in closer Joe Jimenez. Detroit’s regular closer, Shane Greene, is on the disabled list.
“Best thing we’re all seeing is we’re pounding the strike zone right now,” Gardenhire said. “Pitchers are getting deeper into games. That’s really going to help our baseball team.”
Choo’s on-base streak increased to 45 games with the homer, his 17th this season. His bat hasn’t cooled off despite a nagging right quad injury. Choo is batting .291 with a .401 on-base percentage.
The Rangers had scored five or more runs in eight of their previous 12 games.
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