NEW YORK -- Maybe Thursday night's outing can get Jose Quintana on a roll.
The lefty gave up three hits over six shutout innings and Benjamin Zobrist smacked a two-run homer to lift the Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Mets in the series opener at foggy Citi Field.
Quintana struck out six and walked two. It was a much improved outing for the lefty, who had given up four earned runs or more in five starts this season.
"He did an awesome job attacking the zone, making adjustments on the fly to the hitters," right fielder Jason Heyward said. "He was able to mix and match stuff. It was pretty impressive to watch from behind."
In the first inning, Quintana struck out the side on 15 pitches (10 strikes), throwing just two curves and the rest fastballs. That's part of his plan.
"That's what I wanted, especially in the first inning," Quintana said. "I don't want to throw all my stuff in the first round. It's good when I throw more fastballs against them."
The third inning wasn't quite as efficient. Quintana needed 29 pitches to get through that frame, walking two and serving up a double to Brandon Nimmo. The Mets loaded the bases, but Quintana escaped.
"I just tried to make good pitches," Quintana said. "For sure, we don't want to be in that situation. That's going to happen. What's most important is making really good pitches."
Said manager Joe Maddon: "He had that good look, made the pitches when he had to and six solid [innings] was big."
The Cubs have struggled this season to deliver clutch hits with runners in scoring position. Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber found ways. Zobrist smacked a two-run homer in the fifth and Schwarber delivered an RBI single in the sixth, both hits coming with two outs.
Zobrist connected off Hansel Robles, the second of six Mets pitchers, and drove in Schwarber, who had walked to lead off the inning. It was a bullpen day for New York with Seth Lugo making his first start of the season after 20 relief appearances, subbing for Noah Syndergaard.
Maddon likes to rotate the outfielders to keep them fresh. It's paid off with Zobrist.
"When you give him time off, if you don't run him into the ground, you can see that all year," Maddon said of the veteran, who singled in the third, homered in the fifth and doubled in the seventh.
With two out in the sixth, Javier Baez doubled and tallied on Schwarber's single. The Cubs began the day ranked 13th in the National League with runners in scoring position and two outs, batting .194, and had stranded 11 baserunners on Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to the Pirates.
"If we could diminish walking hitters and do a better job with runners in scoring position, we could reach our true potential," Maddon said.
With two out and a runner at third in the ninth against Mets reliever Gerson Bautista, Baez drew a walk, although he nearly got hit by the pitch to do so. It was the seventh time he's walked this season, but it's the first unintentional walk for Baez since April 7.
"We forgot to get him the ball," Maddon said. "I did say to [one of the coaches], 'This ball is going to almost hit him from not swinging,' and that's exactly what happened."
"I got a walk," Baez said triumphantly in the clubhouse. "That ball actually almost hit me. That's why I walked."
Baez was well aware of how long it had been since he took a free pass.
"I don't go out there looking for a walk," he said. "As long as the pitcher is there, I'm swinging."
The good: Thomas La Stella singled to lead off the Cubs' eighth, his 11th pinch-hit this season, the most in baseball.
The not so good: When Quintana walked Lugo in the third, it marked the seventh time Cubs pitchers have walked an opposing pitcher, the most in the Major Leagues.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Schwarber showed off his arm in the second inning when he threw out Michael Conforto, who was trying to extend his hit from a single to a double. It was Schwarber's fifth assist, which moved him into a tie for second most in the National League.
Tyler Chatwood will test some of the changes he's made in his delivery at 6:10 p.m. CT on Friday when he starts against the Mets at Citi Field. The right-hander has lasted 2 2/3 innings in each of his past two starts, and he leads the Majors in walks with 45. Some of the changes he tested were to get the ball out of his glove quicker and shorten his stride. Righty Zack Wheeler will start for the Mets.