CHICAGO -- Lefty Kyle Freeland didn't expect huge run support on Monday night, not necessarily because the Rockies' offense is struggling, but because the Cubs sent Jon Lester to the mound. But that wasn't Freeland's problem.
Freeland did his part by striking out five batters in seven innings, with two of the three runs off him resulting from weak contact. It couldn't prevent the Rockies from their third straight loss -- a 3-2 defeat at Wrigley Field.
Freeland (1-4), following up his seven scoreless innings in a home victory over the Padres last Tuesday, kept the Rockies in a game in which they managed just two unearned runs off Lester. Rookie Noel Cuevas collected a career-high three hits. Charlie Blackmon's RBI single and Nolan Arenado's RBI double came in the fifth after a Javier Báez error. The Rockies also had two on at the end of the game, before Steve Cishek fanned Arenado.
"You know it's going to be a battle; [Lester] has established himself extremely well," Freeland said. "He's a guy that knows how to pitch, and he's very good at it. He did a really good job tonight.
"It's not the first time and it won't be the last that you're going to get beat after a well-pitched game. Defense was there. The offense was hitting the ball. You've got to learn from the mistakes. You've got to learn from the positives."
Freeland's two solid starts have come after two bad ones, in which he didn't complete five innings. Freeland's mini roll also has added to a road trip that -- despite a 1-3 record -- has seen solid starting pitching (2.53 ERA). And that doesn't include Antonio Senzatela's 3 2/3 scoreless relief innings on Friday after replacing lefty Tyler Anderson, who left the 1-0 victory over the Marlins with a heartbeat issue that the Rockies say has subsided.
"Kyle pitched well," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "We talk so much about fastball command. I thought the fastball inside to right-handers was effective, and I like the fact he got some outs with the fastball away."
Freeland needed better fortune. In the second, Ben Zobrist's chopper ticked off the glove of a charging Arenado and into the stands not far beyond third base for a ground-rule double. Addison Russell singled Zobrist home before Freeland forced an Ian Happ double-play grounder.
Same story in the fifth. Russell's infield single and Happ's bloop into center set up Albert Almora Jr.'s RBI single before Freeland worked another double play, this time from Javier Báez.
The difference came in the sixth. Kris Bryant's leadoff drive to left bounced high off the wall and over the head of Gerardo Parra, who rushed the wall and didn't wait for a carom that was more pronounced because the ivy hasn't hit its warm-weather fullness, for a triple. Anthony Rizzo's groundout to second scored Bryant.
"He's pitched really well, gave us a chance to win tonight," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "There were some balls behind him that we didn't make plays on. There were some pitches that fell in. But Free pitched a really good game. That's two games back to back."
While the hitters were facing one of the game's better pitchers on Monday, the fact is they finished April with a Major League-low .224 team batting average -- the lowest for any month or month-plus (this year's average includes three March games) in their 25-season history. But the Rockies are 15-15 and can mitigate some of the poor offense if they can have consistent starting pitching.
"We've yet to catch fire offensively," Black said. "On the pitching side, we're pitching well enough to win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Frozen on (finally) a hot night: Game-time temperature was 80 degrees -- a welcome development in Chicago this spring. But what really pleased The Friendly Confines was Lester's cold precision with the bases loaded and two down in the Rockies' two-run fifth.
With the count full, Iannetta fouled off a fastball, then Lester froze him on a cutter. The Cubs would tie the game in the bottom of the frame. Iannetta, who went 1-for-4 on Monday, has seen his batting average careen from .333 on April 12 to .216.
"That was a really tough pitch -- up at the top of the zone, a backdoor cutter," Iannetta said. "That's a tough pitch. When you go back and look at it, why don't you just take a swing and try to foul it off? But that's a really tough pitch to pull the trigger on.
"I'm definitely not happy with that. It's been a rough two weeks or week-and-a-half stretch where I haven't been seeing it very well and haven't been swinging it well."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Rockies second baseman Pat Valaika had his Wrigley Field adventure in the first inning.
Valaika, in the lineup because DJ LeMahieu is on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain, settled beneath Bryant's popup directly behind second base about two steps from the outfield grass. Easy, right?
But they call this place the Windy City for a reason, so Valaika went backpedaling and twisting before diving for the catch in short center.
AND TAKE A LOOK AT THIS, WHILE YOU'RE AT IT
Shortstop Trevor Story made the Rockies' most dazzling defensive play on a night when the defense wasn't special enough to help Freeland. Story, who committed a first-inning throwing error, made a full-out dive for Russell's grounder into the hole to open the seventh. Story's chest hit the dirt hard, then he popped up to make the throw.
HE SAID IT
"We're not losing confidence. We know we're a good team. We're going to turn it around." -- Story
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Rockies hoped against hope to save an out in the ninth inning. Ian Desmond, who went 0-for-5 in his first game as the leadoff hitter this season, bounced to Cishek with one out. Cishek threw high to Russell covering second, and umpire Andy Fletcher ruled that Russell's foot left the bag before the catch. The play was overturned on a crew chief review. Blackmon followed with a walk to put two on base for Arenado, who whiffed at Cishek's 2-2 slider to end the game.
Right fielder Carlos González is expected to return to the lineup for Tuesday's game at Wrigley Field, where he has a history of hitting for power and run production. He'll back righty Jon Gray (2-4, 5.79 ERA), who shook off a three-game slump with 11 strikeouts in six scoreless innings against the Padres in his last start. The Cubs will go with righty Kyle Hendricks (2-1, 3.10). First pitch is set for 6:05 p.m. MT.