Hammel's brilliance spoils Ross' MLB debut
WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Joe Ross made his Major League debut and ended up taking the loss, as the Cubs won the game, 4-2, at Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon.
Ross was overshadowed by Jason Hammel, who improved to 9-0 lifetime against the Nationals. Hammel pitched eight-plus innings and allowed two runs on five hits.
"Jason Hammel was outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "How many games in a row is that? You talk about pitching at an All-Star quality or level, he has. He's been unbelievably good, consistent, deep into the game, strike thrower. Just outstanding. So, I want to put it out there. I really think that he has to be considered, based on his performances have been that good."
Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo keyed a two-run rally in the fifth inning that gave Hammel a 3-1 cushion to work with. After Jonathan Herrera's RBI single gave Chicago a 4-1 lead in the ninth, Bryce Harper led off the home half of the ninth with a home run.
The Cubs improved to 29-25, while the Nationals dropped into a first-place tie with the Mets (30-26), pending the outcome of New York's game with Arizona.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Ross on the mound: Ross became the sixth Nationals pitcher to make his big league debut this year. He lasted five innings, allowed three runs on six hits and struck out four batters. The righty didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning, when he allowed a single to Fowler.
Ross admitted that he was nervous when the game started. But he showed poise and didn't allow a run until the fourth inning, when he allowed a single to Kris Bryant.
"I was a little nervous, but it's the same game when you go out there and pitch," Ross said. "I had great defense behind me. There were a lot of balls hit hard that got picked up or caught -- and that was a little comforting, knowing the guys were behind me like that." More >
Fowler gets to Ross: Fowler's leadoff single to right in the fourth inning broke up Ross' perfect game and began a stretch in which Chicago would score three runs over two innings off the rookie. Fowler and Rizzo had hits in each frame and Fowler scored twice during that span.
"Any time you see a guy on film, and then you go and actually face him, it's going to look a little different," Fowler said. "First time through, he came hard, soft, mix it up. Then, I was able to see some pitches, different pitches. Next time up was definitely a lot different."
Not much offense: The Nationals collected five hits against Hammel, with two being solo home runs. Wilson Ramos hit a monster home run over the left-field wall in the second inning. That accounted for all the Nationals' scoring until Harper hit his 19th home run, an opposite-field shot that landed in the Cubs' bullpen in the ninth.
Based on his facial expression, manager Matt Williams was clearly upset over the way his hitters approached Hammel.
"They were swinging at the ball out of the strike zone. You have to hit strikes against him, and we swung at some balls out of the strike zone today," Williams said. "Strikes, quality strikes are important for us to hit. If we swing at balls out of the zone, you don't get hits."
Too little, too late: Danny Espinosa knocked a leadoff double in the eighth inning, making each of the next three batters the game's potential tying run. But Hammel was able to get out of the inning unharmed. He recorded two strikeouts -- one looking, one swinging -- and got Denard Span to fly out to left fielder Chris Coghlan in between.
"I wanted to finish that one bad. I had pitched Bryce well all day and over our challenges in our careers against each other. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, I guess. But I wish I would've thrown a different pitch." -- Hammel, on the ninth-inning home run he allowed to Harper
Addison Russell played his first Major League game at his natural position, shortstop, on Saturday. More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
There was really nothing to look at. After Jonathan Herrera reached base on a bunt single in the fifth inning, Williams protested that Herrera made the turn toward second and was tagged out by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. After talking to his fellow umpires, home-plate umpire Joe West went to the phone to call New York to see if it was a reviewable play. West was told it was not.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks will start Sunday's series finale at 3:05 p.m. CT, as the Cubs try to win three of four from the Nationals in D.C. Hendricks is 1-2 on the season, with a 3.99 ERA in 10 starts.
Nationals: Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who will start Sunday, and Hendricks dueled in Chicago's 3-2 walk-off win on May 26 at Wrigley Field. In that game, Zimmermann pitched seven innings, allowed one run and received a no-decision. Game time is set for 4:05 p.m. ET.
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