PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mitch Keller pitched eight scoreless innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates scored twice in the first before holding on to beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1 on Friday night.
Keller (11-8) allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six in a 94-pitch outing. The All-Star won back-to-back starts for the first time since May 26 and 31.
The Cubs lost for the second time in seven games. They entered play Friday holding the second National League wild card and trailing first-place Milwaukee by three games in the NL Central.
“The goal is to get strikes, put good swings on them and hit the ball hard but (Keller) was just really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Sometimes we got off our ‘A’ swings, but his stuff was moving all over the place. Nights like this, you can lay your head down on the pillow knowing that we didn’t beat ourselves, they beat us.”
Ian Happ hit a leadoff home run in the ninth inning off closer David Bednar to avoid the shutout and pull the Cubs within one. Bednar retired the next three batters for his 28th save in 31 chances.
Keller set down his first 11 hitters before Happ doubled with two outs in the fourth inning. Happ was left stranded when Cody Bellinger flied out and the Cubs got only one other runner into scoring position against Keller.
“I didn’t feel particularly good in my pregame, but I try not to put any weight because the good ones usually lead to bad starts and the bad ones usually lead to good starts,” Keller said. “I just try to go out by out, because as soon as you start thinking that it’s going to be a good one, it will humble you very fast.”
Keller was struck on the right shin in the eighth inning by a line-drive single by Nick Madrigal. After throwing one warmup pitch, Keller stayed in the game.
“He was unbelievable, he was lights out tonight,” Pirates shortstop Alika Williams said of Keller. “He just filled up the zone and put guys away when he needed to. It was a lot of fun to watch, kind of like watching somebody play a video game.”
The Pirates scored their runs within the first four batters of the game against Kyle Hendricks (5-7).
Ke’Bryan Hayes singled and took third on Bryan Reynolds’ double. Andrew McCutchen’s groundout drove in Hayes and Reynolds scored on a fielder’s choice when second baseman Nico Hoerner threw late to home plate on Joshua Palacios’ grounder.
Hendricks pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing six hits, striking out four and walking one.
“They just came out swinging and I mis-executed against Hayes then Reynolds jumped me on the first pitch and that was really it,” Hendricks said. “I made one or two bad pitches after that, but I locked in and gave ourselves a chance. You’ve got to tip your hat (to Keller). Not too much you can do. That’s baseball.”
Hayes had two hits for Pittsburgh. Happ and Seiya Suzuki had two each for Chicago.
SMYLY BACK TO BULLPEN
The Cubs moved left-hander Drew Smyly from the starting rotation to the bullpen for the second time this month and he pitched one scoreless inning.
Smyly was dropped from the rotation after giving up seven runs in five innings on Aug. 7 in a loss to the New York Mets. Following three relief appearances, Smyly started Tuesday and lost to Detroit, getting tagged for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Smyly was scheduled to start Sunday against the Pirates and the Cubs have not decided who will replace him. Triple-A Iowa left-hander Jordan Wicks, Chicago’s first-round draft pick in 2021, is a possibility to make his major league debut.
Cubs lefty Edwin Uceta cleared waivers and was sent outright to Iowa after being designated for assignment. In addition to Chicago, Uceta has been claimed off waivers by Detroit, Pittsburgh and the Mets since the end of last season.
Pirates: RHP Max Kranick (Tommy John elbow surgery) had his rehab assignment transferred to Triple-A Indianapolis from Low-A Bradenton. Kranick pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings Friday against Iowa, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out four.
RHP Javier Assad (2-2, 3.13 ERA) will start for the Cubs on Saturday night while the Pirates will use rookie RHP Colin Selby (1-0, 7.27) as an opener in his first major-league start.