PITTSBURGH – Matt Garza couldn’t have asked for a better return to a major league mound after a 10-month layoff.
Except that he wishes he could have been allowed to pitch another inning.
Garza allowed one hit over five shutout innings in his first outing since July, but the Pittsburgh Pirates pounced on the Cubs’ bullpen for a 5-4 win Tuesday night.
Travis Snider hit a grand slam off of Shawn Camp after Hector Rondon and James Russell (1-1) had combined to load the bases in the sixth just as Garza was removed after his 82nd pitch.
“The only disappointment for me is I didn’t pitch longer,” Garza said. “I knew I was on a pitch count and I should have been able to go an inning or two more than I did. I’m sure the guys in the bullpen didn’t think they would have to come so early and I’m sure that made a difference in how they pitched.”
Darwin Barney went 4 for 4 for the Cubs, who have lost three of four.
The Pirates did not have a hit against Garza until Clint Barmes singled to right with one out in the fifth. Pittsburgh sent 11 men to the plate against relievers in the sixth.
Garza had been sidelined since July 21 because of a stress reaction in his right elbow and, later, a strained upper back.
“He was really good,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “He had a really good slider. His command, for it being his first time back, was outstanding. Even when he missed, he didn’t miss by much. His velocity was good, too, consistently at 3-94. He was just outstanding.”
Heading into the game, Sveum said Garza was going to be limited to 85 to 90 pitches. Forty-eight of the 82 pitches he did throw went for strikes.
“I felt great out there,” Garza said. “I had some butterflies and the first couple of innings flew by. I had to kind of stop myself at one point and just slow down but it was fun. It was a long, long time and it’s nice to not only come back but pitch well. You don’t want to spend that much time working to get back and then pitch poorly.”
Or, apparently, to hit poorly either. The lone inning in which Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez allowed a runner to progress past first base was the second, when Barney had an RBI single and Garza hit a two-run double.
Cubs pitchers have 13 RBIs in May – the most for the franchise in any month since September 1971. They also have a major league leading six doubles.
Snider, who homered for the first time in nine months in a win over Milwaukee on Thursday, hit his first career home run with the bases loaded. It was the first Pirates pinch-hit grand slam in five years.
Snider’s homer, his second, was the first pinch-hit grand slam by a Pirates player since Jason Michaels on June 2, 2008, at St. Louis.
Rodriguez (5-2) allowed three runs on six hits over six innings for the Pirates, who have won nine of 11. After Garza’s hit in the second, Rodriguez retired 13 of the final 15 he faced.
“At the beginning, I didn’t have good stuff,” Rodriguez said through a translator. “Then I started using the breaking ball and hitting spots and I was successful at that.”
Justin Wilson worked around two hits in the seventh and Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless eighth.
The Cubs scored once in the ninth, but Anthony Rizzo struck out swinging with two on to end the game and earn Jason Grilli his majors-leading 18th save.
Barney tripled with one out in the ninth, and Starlin Castro followed a Julio Borbon walk with an RBI single. But Rizzo fell to 0 for 5 with his second strikeout of the game to end it, allowing Grilli to surpass the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera for the most saves in the majors.
After sitting out Pittsburgh’s previous game Sunday due to knee soreness, Andrew McCutchen went 0 for 4. He made two of the Pirates’ three outs during the sixth, leaving the bases loaded to end the inning.
NOTES: To make room for Garza on the roster, the Cubs earlier Tuesday designated RHP Michael Bowden for assignment. Also Tuesday, Chicago claimed RHP Eduardo Sanchez off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals and assigned him to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. ... The Pirates reinstated RHP Jose Contreras from the bereavement list before the game and returned RHP Jared Hughes to Triple-A Indianapolis. ... LHP Francisco Liriano will make his third start for the Pirates when the series continues Wednesday. He has faced the Cubs once in his eight-year career. RHP Jeff Samardzija, who has a 0.92 ERA in 39 career innings vs. Pittsburgh, starts for the Cubs.