The first major test for Cubs hitters arrived Wednesday, with a chance to face Cincinnati Reds ace Sonny Gray.
They failed against Gray, but fared better against the Reds’ bullpen, at least.
The Cubs lost, 12-7, at Great American Ballpark, providing a dose of reality after their 4-1 start to the shortened season.
Kyle Hendricks wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was in tossing a complete-game shutout in the opener. He took the loss and was tagged for six runs and seven hits in 41/3 innings.
“I think the changeup it was really effective early. It looked like it flattened out a little bit late,” manager David Ross said. “That could have been fatigue. I felt like he was running out of steam. When you get a leadoff walk from him, I think it was the fourth, that’s uncharacteristic, and red flags start to go up.”
One Cubs highlight was turning a triple play in the seventh inning, even though it shouldn’t have counted. With the bases loaded, Kris Bryant caught a line drive, stepped on third, then threw to first to retire the runner.
Replays showed the ball hit the ground before Bryant caught it, but apparently that’s not reviewable, so it stood. It was the Cubs’ first triple play since 1997.
Gray had Cubs hitters perplexed all night. They were swinging at curves in the dirt and taking fastballs down the middle as Gray piled up 11 strikeouts.
Gray posted a 2.87 ERA with the Reds last year, fifth-best in the National League. He was drafted by the Cubs out of high school in the 27th round. The Smyrna, Tennessee, native went to Vanderbilt instead, and eventually was a first-round pick of Oakland in 2011.
“The guys hit some balls hard early on, but he was locked in,” Ross said. “He was pitching well coming into this. He had that front hip two-seamer really working. He looked really good tonight.”
The Cubs didn’t get their first hit against Gray until Ian Happ doubled with two outs in the fifth. But that was no indication of what was to come, since Gray struck out the side in the sixth.
When the Cubs scored their first run in the seventh, it came without a base hit. Two walks and an error loaded the bases before Victor Caratini picked up an RBI by getting hit with a pitch. In the middle of all that, Gray left the mound after 92 pitches.
Against Reds reliever Brooks Raley, Nico Hoerner drove a two-run single up the middle, then Bryant picked up his second hit and first RBI of the season with a two-run double, and suddenly it was 9-5.
But the Cubs’ bullpen continued to be a problem, especially Dillon Maples, who walked four and gave up a hit without getting an out in the seventh, setting up the triple play.
David Bote hit a two-run home run in the ninth to make the final score more respectable, but the Cubs trailed, 9-0, at one point.
The Reds got on the board with a two-run homer by Mike Moustakas, who was reinstated to the Cincinnati roster before the game. Moustaksas felt ill Sunday but produced two negative coronavirus tests since then.
In the fifth, the Reds loaded the bases with one out, and Eugenio Suarez delivered a two-run single that knocked Hendricks out of the game. After a walk, ex-Cubs outfielder Nicholas Castellanos blasted a grand slam off Rex Brothers, and Nick Senzel added a solo shot to make it 9-0.