CINCINNATI -- The Cubs have learned to brace themselves for Edwin Jackson's mercurial ways.
Monday night's 9-3 loss to the Reds was no different as Jackson struggled early, then settled into a comfortable pattern before failing to get a key out that resulted in another disappointing loss.
But another disturbing trend has surfaced: a lack of clutch hitting that has put added pressure on the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jackson and led to the Cubs' third consecutive loss -- all occurring since the trade of starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
They've been outscored 24-4 since the trade, and without any early support, Jackson's trends became magnified. After committing the cardinal sin of walking speedy rookie Billy Hamilton to start the first and allowing him to score, Jackson's first-inning ERA swelled to 7.00.
Jackson (5-9) settled into a groove by retiring 13 consecutive batters. But when the Cubs finally gave Jackson a tying run in the fifth, he allowed two runs in the bottom of the inning -- both coming on two-out hits by Hamilton and Todd Frazier.
In Jackson's defense, the Cubs' failure to capitalize on early opportunities left him with no margin for error.
The Cubs put a runner in scoring position in the first seven innings but didn't score their first run until Anthony Rizzo hit a hard grounder that grazed the glove of Jay Bruce -- making his first professional start at first base -- for an error that scored Chris Coghlan with the tying run in the fifth.
Coghlan collected the eighth four-hit game of his career, but his performance was virtually wasted. Fortunately for the Cubs, Coghlan's double in the seventh paid off when Rizzo -- bidding for his first All-Star selection on the Final Vote ballot -- hit a towering two-run home run that cut the deficit to 4-3.
But Bruce hit an even more impressive two-run homer in the seventh to give the Reds ample insurance.
With the trade of Samardzija and Hammel, there has been more consideration to the possibility of Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez returning to the starting roles they performed in the Rangers organization until they joined the Cubs last season.
But Grimm, who has been tagged for seven runs in his last two relief appearances, isn't thinking about a return to the rotation.
"We've got a good young crew that's been starting in Double and Triple A," Grimm said. "Maybe they'll fill those spots.
"I've been in a bit of a bind, and I'm working through it every day, just grinding. I'm fixing a couple of things here and there. I'm very close."
Ramirez, who has struck out 32 in 22 2/3 innings to go with a 1.19 ERA, seems to enjoy his current role.
"If (switching to the rotation) happens down the road, it does," Ramirez said. "If not, I'm just going to enjoy the role right now, and I'm happy with going out there and giving us a chance to win."
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