CHICAGO - Yu Darvish and Craig Kimbrel looked like they did at the end of last year.
Talk about a mixed bag for the Chicago Cubs.
Darvish pitched six shutout innings, Jason Heyward hit a key two-run single and the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3 on Friday night.
Darvish allowed two hits, struck out seven and walked one, bouncing back nicely after he struggled in his first start last weekend against Milwaukee. The Cubs are counting on the Japanese right-hander to help anchor their rotation after he finished strong in 2019.
Asked how he felt compared to the last half of last season, Darvish responded: “I feel like it’s really close or almost the same.”
While Darvish (1-1) appeared to be moving in the right direction, Kimbrel worked a shaky ninth in a non-save situation. Josh Bell and Colin Moran homered for Pittsburgh before Kimbrel retired three in a row to end the game.
Kimbrel also had a tough time in his first season with the Cubs, and then walked four in his first appearance this year.
“Still trying to find that breaking ball it looks like a little bit,” manager David Ross said. “He’s still working on some stuff, definitely. Not where he wants to be yet.”
Pittsburgh’s lineup continued to struggle after it lost 3-0 to Milwaukee on Wednesday night. It began the day with a major league-low .171 team batting average.
The Pirates got five of their seven hits in the last two innings.
“The best swings we took of the night were in the ninth, which was encouraging, especially the middle of our order taking good swings,” first-year manager Derek Shelton said. “Bell and Moran hitting the homers. I thought we hit five balls really hard in the ninth, with the last three at people. That’s an encouraging sign moving forward.”
Chicago also got a solo home run from Jason Kipnis in its fourth win in five games. He connected in the fourth, sending a drive to the empty bleachers in right.
It was the first homer of the season for the veteran second baseman, a suburban Chicago native who agreed to a minor league deal with the Cubs in February.
“I’ll remember that always,” Kipnis said. “Got the ball, too. That’s coming with me.”
The Cubs added two more in the fifth, taking advantage of a combined four walks in the inning for Trevor Williams (0-2) and reliever Nik Turley.
With two out and the bases loaded, Heyward lined a 0-2 pitch from Turley into right to drive in Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber for a 4-0 lead.
Williams was charged with three runs, two earned, and four hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked three.
“Overall, I thought I felt great,” Williams said. “The only thing I thought I could have done a better job at is executing 0-2, 1-2. I thought I was quick to get two strikes on a hitter and I didn’t do a great job putting them away right away.”
BACK IN ILLINOIS
Shelton, who turned 50 on Thursday, was born in Carbondale, Illinois, and went to high school in Gurnee, right outside of Chicago. He played college ball at Southern Illinois.
The Cubs haven’t had any positive coronavirus tests among their players since they started summer training camp. But Rizzo wants his team to stay vigilant.
“It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to be prudent, you’ve got to have faith,” he said. “You can’t really live in fear of it. But guys are going to get it. We can’t sit here and say, oh, look at us, we’re doing so great because tomorrow we could have someone walking around here asymptomatic and spread it to 10 guys.”
Cubs: Quality control coach Mike Napoli is back with the team after he tested positive for the coronavirus before the start of the team’s summer training camp. “Nap’s got an energy about him that will be nice for the group,” Ross said.
Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller (1-0, 1.80 ERA) and Cubs right-hander Tyler Chatwood (1-0, 1.50 ERA) match up on Saturday. Steven Brault will start the series finale for the Pirates against fellow left-hander Jon Lester. Keller is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in two career starts against Chicago, both coming last season. Chatwood is 0-2 with a 3.54 ERA in 10 appearances versus Pittsburgh.