CINCINNATI (AP) — Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart hit solo homers – a major outburst for the power-challenged Chicago Cubs – and Jeff Samardzija pitched into the eighth inning on Wednesday night for a 3-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cubs opened the rain-shortened series with only their third multihomer game of the season. They managed only nine home runs in April, the fewest in the majors. LaHair’s shot off Bronson Arroyo (1-1) gave him six overall.
Samardzija (3-1) allowed three hits in 7 2-3 innings and contained Jay Bruce, holding the NL’s player of the week to a harmless double. Carlos Marmol retired all three batters in the ninth for his second save in four chances, finishing off the combined three-hitter.
The Cubs have had only six save opportunities this season, underscoring their early struggles.
It was the second straight impressive start for Samardzija, who spent much of the last four seasons in the bullpen. In his last outing May 24, he struck out a career-high nine Cardinals in 6 2-3 innings of a win.
His fastball was still regularly hitting 96 mph in the eighth inning Wednesday, when he left after giving up a two-out walk. He threw 94 pitches, 60 of them strikes, and fanned seven.
Bruce went 10 for 21 last week with homers in four straight games. He needed a homer on Wednesday to tie the club record – Ted Kluszewski, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn all homered in five straight.
Bruce flied out, grounded out and doubled.
LaHair led off the second inning with his sixth of the season off Arroyo, who gave up a club-record 46 homers last season when he pitched with mononucleosis and a sore lower back. He’s been better so far, giving up only two homers in his four previous starts.
Manager Dusty Baker said before the game that Arroyo has been bothered by a sore lower back again. Arroyo got an extra day to rest when Tuesday night’s series opener was postponed because of rain.
Stewart homered in the fourth inning, matching the Cubs’ season high for homers in one game. They put together three singles for another run in the sixth off Arroyo, the run scoring on Geovany Soto’s hit. Arroyo gave up nine hits and a walk in six innings, throwing 99 pitches.
The Reds scored in the fourth when Brandon Phillips got caught in a rundown and extended it long enough to let Joey Votto cross home plate.
NOTES: The final game of the series will feature two starting pitchers celebrating their birthdays. The Cubs plan to activate RHP Ryan Dempster from the 15-day DL, where he’s been letting his strained right thigh heal. Dempster turns 35 on Thursday. Cincinnati will start Homer Bailey, who turns 26. … Tuesday’s rainout will likely be made up as part of a doubleheader on Saturday, Aug. 18 during the Cubs’ only other visit. … Arroyo picked Starlin Castro off second base in the first inning. … Cubs 2B Blake DeWitt made a diving stop and flip to second base to start a slick double play in the fifth. … The Reds signed former Cubs and A’s reliever Michael Wuertz to a minor league deal. He’s working out at the team’s spring training complex in Arizona.
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