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Underwood battles, but falls to Dodgers in debut

Cubs silenced by Maeda as losing streak reaches 5 games
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Gimenez was called up to the Cubs from Triple-A Iowa in late May, Duane Underwood Jr. was upset at losing his catcher and told him so. Gimenez's response?

"I sent him a text and said, 'The next time I catch you will be in the big leagues,'" Gimenez said.

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LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Gimenez was called up to the Cubs from Triple-A Iowa in late May, Duane Underwood Jr. was upset at losing his catcher and told him so. Gimenez's response?

"I sent him a text and said, 'The next time I catch you will be in the big leagues,'" Gimenez said.

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On Monday night, that became a reality as Underwood made his Major League debut for the Cubs in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers. Underwood survived a 41-pitch first inning and gave up two hits, including a leadoff home run in the second by Kiké Hernandez, over four innings. That's all Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda needed as he struck out nine over seven innings to send the North Siders to their fifth straight loss.

"He was unbelievable," Ian Happ said of Underwood. "This is not an easy place to debut, especially on the bump. The poise he showed, the control in the first inning and how he threw after that was awesome. It was really, really impressive."

Underwood was on the field about four hours before first pitch to get his first look at Dodger Stadium. His parents, godparents and other family made the trip. He was a little nervous. Gimenez tried to prep him as best as he could.

"I sent him a text message last night and said, 'It's still baseball, it's just another deck and a few more people than at Iowa,'" Gimenez said.

"That third deck that everybody talks about? That's a real thing," Underwood said. "It was cool making my debut here -- Dodger Stadium. This is a beautiful place and this is a center point in baseball. I really enjoyed it -- it was fun."

Video: CHC@LAD: Maddon on Underwood's MLB debut in 2-1 loss

The right-hander was 3-7 with a 4.27 ERA at Iowa this season and had given up three home runs over 71 2/3 innings. A second-round selection in the 2012 Draft, Underwood's career path has been slowed because of injuries.

"It's a maturation process," said Underwood, who was drafted at the age of 17. "It's been a journey. A lot of hard work, a lot of grinding, a lot of messing up, a lot of mistakes made but I made my debut. It's just crazy."

It was a day Underwood won't forget.

"If you draw it up as a kid, you wouldn't want it any other way," Gimenez said of Underwood making his debut against a tough Dodgers team. "Of course everybody wants to be in their home stadium with 50,000 people cheering, but what's better than being in a visiting stadium with 50,000 people cheering? I'm excited for him. He's worked his butt off this year and really started to take the next step before I left. Now he's getting his opportunity up here."

Video: CHC@LAD: Baez puts Cubs on the board with sac fly

The Cubs promoted Underwood as they try to get the rotation back in order after a doubleheader last week and the absence of Tyler Chatwood, who is on paternity leave. Both Chatwood and Yu Darvish, who made a Minor League rehab start on Monday, could return this weekend.

Underwood is hopeful that he'll get another chance.

"The thing about him is he has really reinvented himself over the last couple years," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the 23-year-old. "He's adopted a new work ethic and he's gotten in better shape and I think he's a much more focused individual, and that's why he's here, so give him some credit."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
First-inning test: Gimenez said it may take a couple of mound visits to settle down Underwood. The rookie looked sharp against the first batter he faced, Joc Pederson, striking him out on a changeup. But Max Muncy walked, Justin Turner singled and, one out later, Underwood battled Matt Kemp in a 14-pitch at-bat that ended with a walk to load the bases. Yasmani Grandal then flied out to center to end the inning, but Underwood needed 41 pitches -- and two mound visits -- to get through the frame unscathed.

"That was beautiful," Underwood said of the at-bat. "For me, it was poetry in motion, going back and forth with the guy. That was a great at-bat for me, especially idolizing the guy growing up. Going one vs. one was great."

Said Maddon: "It's very difficult to throw 41 pitches and give up no runs -- that's almost impossible. What he did was wonderful and that gave us a chance to win the game. We had a chance to win the game. One run in the last inning was obviously not enough."

Video: CHC@LAD: Underwood ends bases-loaded threat in 1st

Missed opportunities: The Cubs had two on and nobody out in the fifth against Maeda and Gimenez popped up to catcher Grandal, who was able to throw to Hernandez for a force at second for a double play. Instead of having runners at second and third with one out for pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella, the Cubs had a runner at first with two outs.

"We've got to cash in," Maddon said.

"There's no excuse -- I've got to get the bunt down, even if it's back to the pitcher," Gimenez said.

Video: CHC@LAD: Grandal snags popup, doubles off Schwarber

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In the sixth inning, the Cubs' defense shined. Turner tried to score from first on Cody Bellinger's double, but a perfect relay from left fielder Kyle Schwarber to shortstop Javier Baez to Gimenez nailed Turner at home.

"With Turner running, I know he's pretty slow," Baez said. "I just went for it. It was 1-0, and we just tried to keep it as close as we could."

Was it his best relay?

"That was one of the best ones," Baez said.

Video: CHC@LAD: Baez saves run with laser throw to the plate

HE SAID IT
"We just have to work better at-bats. We chase way too much. We have to force the pitcher in the strike zone, and once we do that we'll be fine."-- Maddon, talking about the Cubs' offensive struggles

Video: CHC@LAD: Maeda K's 9 over 7 commanding shutout frames

"I never doubted this team when we were five games back at the break last year. What are we, still 10 games over .500? There's no panic in this clubhouse." -- Happ

UP NEXT
Jon Lester will face the Dodgers for the second straight start when the series continues at 9:10 p.m. CT on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. On Wednesday at Wrigley Field, Lester threw seven shutout innings for a win, scattering five hits. The lefty is 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA in eight road starts, holding batters to a .216 average. He's unbeaten in June (4-0, 0.67 ERA), giving up two earned runs over 27 innings. Los Angeles will counter with right-hander Ross Stripling (6-2, 1.99 ERA), who allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings and took the loss opposite Lester on Wednesday.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Duane Underwood Jr.