CHICAGO — By his own admission, Jake Arrieta, wasn’t at his best Tuesday night. He still was good enough.
Arrieta continued his dominant second half with six innings of two-hit ball, Ben Zobrist homered and the Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1.
Arrieta (14-8) struck out four and retired the last seven batters he faced, leaving after 97 pitches with a 3-0 lead. He hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his nine starts since the All-Star break, going 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA during that span.
“I feel confident that even if I don’t have my good stuff, or if I’m without two pitches, the two pitches I have are more than enough to get the job done,” he said.
“He wasn’t on top of his game completely, and he knew that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He did his job tonight.”
Anthony Rizzo went 3 for 4 with an RBI, Alex Avila had an RBI single and Jason Heyward added a sacrifice fly for NL Central-leading Chicago, which stretched its lead over second-place Milwaukee to 3 1/2 games.
John Jaso went 2 for 2 with a homer and reached in all four plate appearances for Pittsburgh.
Chad Kuhl (6-10) matched Arrieta through five innings but ran into trouble immediately in the sixth. His first pitch was a 95 mph fastball down the middle that Zobrist hit into the bleachers in right centre.
“It was down, just in the middle (of the plate),” Kuhl said. “In a bunch of different counts, he may not take you deep. I just wanted to start the inning (with a strike), so you tip your cap.”
Kyle Schwarber followed with a walk and Rizzo doubled one out later. After Tommy LaStella was intentionally walked to load the bases, Avila singled to score Schwarber.
Heyward stretched the lead to 3-0 with a sacrifice fly against reliever A.J. Schugel.
Jaso’s solo homer in the seventh off Koji Uehara made it 3-1.
Rizzo gave the Cubs an insurance run in the eighth with his 200th career double.
That was enough support for Arrieta, who has turned around his season following a slow start.
“In the first half, I wasn’t able to limit damage and either preserve a lead or keep us in a ballgame,” he said. “I’ve been able to make some adjustments, make some changes and do some things a little differently, and it’s paid off.
“Regardless of where I am in the count, I feel like I can execute the next pitch and get weak contact or get back in counts.”
Wade Davis got the final three outs for his 27th save in 27 chances to establish a new Cubs record for consecutive saves opportunities converted. Ryan Dempster saved 26 in a row from 2005-06.
“He’s rock solid,” Arrieta said. “He goes out there, he doesn’t show any emotion and he’s extremely well composed _ and he just executes pitch after pitch. He doesn’t give in. He’s not afraid to run to a three-ball count because he’s confident he can execute the next one.”
Pirates: RHP Joaquin Benoit (inflamed left knee) and LHP Wade LeBlanc (strained left quadriceps) each pitched a simulated game in the bullpen on Tuesday. “It was a good effort by both guys out there,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Physically, they seemed to be pretty on spot.”
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (left lat tightness and shoulder fatigue) will throw a side session on Wednesday after tossing 47 pitches in a simulated game on Monday. No determination has been made when or if he’ll make a minor league rehab start . SS Addison Russell (right foot strain) will continue his rehab stint with Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday after a planned day off on Tuesday.
Both Cubs lefty Jose Quintana (4-3, 4.50 ERA) and Pirates righty Ivan Nova (11-11, 3.97) will be looking to bounce back from rough outings in the series finale Wednesday night. Quintana allowed six runs in five innings Sunday against Philadelphia, while Nova allowed seven runs (five earned) in five innings Sunday against Cincinnati.