Baseball / Sports

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo give Cubs lift in victory

CINCINNATI -- A well-rounded victory couldn't erase the stench of the Cubs' 9-17 record in April.

But there were some developments during the Cubs' 9-4 victory Wednesday night at the Great American Ball Park that put some distance between last season's debacle as well provide some encouragement for the final five months of this year.

For starters, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo continued their offensive resurgence with strong performances.

Castro fueled a 13-hit attack with three hits, including a game-tying RBI single in the third and a double that ignited a four-run rally in the ninth as the Cubs tied their season high in runs while turning a close game into a blowout.

Castro raised his batting average 18 points to .308, a healthy improvement over his .245 mark in 2013.

Rizzo continued his resurrection against left-handers when he cranked a two-run homer off Tony Cingrani in the first inning and then drew walks in his next four at-bats. Rizzo raised his batting average against left-handers to .387 in 31 at-bats, compared to last season's .189 mark.

Two of Rizzo's four homers have been hit off left-handers, and the last Cubs player to draw four walks in a game was Carlos Pena against the Pirates on Sept. 4, 2011.

"I trust whoever is hitting behind me," said Rizzo, referring to Castro, who has a five-game hitting streak since moving to the cleanup spot.

Nate Schierholtz also made a case to face left-handers more often with a two-run single in the ninth off Sean Marshall.

But perhaps the biggest postgame hoopla involved the emergence of power arms in the bullpen that shut down the Reds' vaunted offense in the final 31/3 innings to preserve the victory for inconsistent starter Edwin Jackson (2-2).

"It's definitely going to create a buzz around our division and in the league knowing the Cubs have those power arms," Rizzo said. " We just have to score runs and let our pitching do the rest."

The most encouraging sign occurred in the eighth when manager Rick Renteria summoned Neil Ramirez for his second major league appearance with a one-run lead against the middle of the Reds order.

Ramirez struck out Jay Bruce on a sharp slider and whiffed Todd Frazier on a 96 mph fastball to cap his second scoreless inning in the majors.

"(Pitching coach) Chris Bosio was really comfortable with him," Renteria said. "It obviously seems like every time he goes out there, he's comfortable. He has good stuff."

In the seventh, left-hander Wesley Wright struck out Joey Votto with the tying run on base to end the inning and extend his scoreless streak to seven appearances.

The four-run ninth wiped out a save situation for Hector Rondon, who pitched a scoreless inning to lower his ERA to 0.68 in 12 appearances.

Still, Renteria remained guarded when asked to define bullpen roles afterward.

"I don't want to define them as roles yet," Renteria said. "I just want to define them as guys being used in certain situations to help us finish the game."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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