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Cubs fall short in attempt to win first series of season

Renteria looks for silver linings as Chicago continues to struggle

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria always finds the silver lining in a game, and Sunday, he was happy to see the Reds getting their closer, Jonathan Broxton, ready in the ninth even though they had a six-run lead.

"We kept pushing," Renteria said. "We don't want anybody to be comfortable in the end. I think we're pushing everybody to be ready to do whatever they have to close it out against us because we're not quitting."

The Cubs stranded two in the ninth and lost, 8-2, once again failing to win a series. Zack Cozart drove in three runs, including a pair on his first home run, and Jay Bruce added a solo shot to back Homer Bailey and give Cincinnati its 19th win in 23 games at Wrigley Field since 2012. That's the best mark of any visiting team at the ballpark.

"It wasn't the prettiest game," Reds manager Bryan Price said, "but we sure did swing the bats well."

"They did [damage] throughout the lineup -- even Bailey got an RBI knock," Renteria said of the Reds, who scored seven of their eight runs with two outs. "All in all, I think we put together 11 or 12 hits, and ended up scoring a couple runs but we weren't able to minimize the damage as much as we'd like to."

The Cubs totaled 28 hits in the three-game series, and scored 11 runs, including eight Saturday in an 8-4 win. On Sunday, they had chances, stranding 14 baserunners, but went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

"It's baseball," Chicago's Mike Olt said of the struggles with runners on base. "There are going to be times when teams go through certain stints like this. I think we're capable of coming through in spots. We might need one game, two games to get going and we'll be on our way."

And all that hitting with two outs by the Reds?

"That's what wins ballgames, right there, is two-out hitting and doing the little things right and getting guys over," Olt said. "Once we can start doing that -- and we've had games when we've done that and those are games we've win. We have to continue to grind and we'll figure it out."

Carlos Villanueva took the loss, throwing a season-high 103 pitches over 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander, who was handed back-to-back losses in relief in the opening series against the Pirates, struck out seven, one shy of his personal high set last April 28 against the Marlins.

Villanueva may have one more start before he is switched to the bullpen and replaced by Jake Arrieta, who was scheduled to make a Minor League rehab start Monday and could be close to returning. Villanueva knows that, too.

"We all know what the plan is, it's no major secret," villanueva said. "If I have to go down to the bullpen, I'll keep working my butt off and try to help out there.

"I feel good and my stuff is coming out good now. I have to make a pitch and that's all it comes down to."

Renteria inserted left-handed hitters Ryan Sweeney, Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz at Nos. 2-3-4 in the lineup against Bailey in hopes of getting the offense going. Lefties were batting .538 against the Reds starter entering the game. The three Cubs went 2-for-7 against Bailey, who scattered six hits over six scoreless innings.

Emilio Bonifacio walked with one out in the third and thought he had stolen second but Price challenged the call and it was overturned after review. Bailey then hit Sweeney on the foot with a pitch and Rizzo walked, but Schierholtz struck out to end the inning.

The Reds tallied in the fourth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Devin Mesoraco and Cozart, and Bailey followed Cozart with a RBI single to make it 3-0. Villanueva threw 31 pitches that inning.

"It might seem like my stuff flattened out but I didn't really feel tired," he said. "Obviously, the stuff wasn't as crisp. I thought I had good stuff and a lot better plan today. I was one pitch away in [the fourth and fifth] innings. ... They took advantage. They had runners in scoring position and drove them in and made me battle."

Bruce and Todd Frazier hit consecutive doubles with two outs in the Reds' fifth to open a 4-0 lead, and Ryan Ludwick added an RBI single to chase Villanueva. Renteria had hoped to get five innings out of the starter to give the bullpen a breather, but couldn't.

The Reds' home runs came off Jose Veras, who lost his job as the Cubs closer one week ago. Bruce led off the seventh with his third homer and Cozart connected on his first with one on and two outs.

"It was a good opportunity for him to get on the hill and try to work," Renteria said of Veras. "He finished it with three runs but ended up eating up an inning."

Sweeney and Schierholtz each hit RBI singles in the Chicago seventh off Manny Parra. Chicago threatened in the ninth against Sean Marshall, who was making his first appearance of the season. Rizzo and Schierholtz both singled off the lefty, and that's when Broxton started to get loose.

"Today, as lopsided as the score might have been, we still had second and third in the ninth," Renteria said. "From the seventh through the ninth, we ended up getting on base and swinging the bat. Obviously we didn't score enough but it wasn't like they quit."

It is early in the season, Villanueva said.

"It's been strange so far for me and the team," Villanueva said. "Today's April 20, so it does us no good hanging our heads or being negative. The numbers are there and the standings are there but it's April 20. We have to work on some things and come out and put a good stretch in and that's about it.

"We're going through a rough patch," he said. "People know what they can do -- I know what I can do. As long as I feel good and healthy, I'll find a way to help."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
Read More: Chicago Cubs, Carlos Villanueva, Emilio Bonifacio, Nate Schierholtz, Anthony Rizzo