Lack of offense wastes Harden's effort
Righty just shy of perfect on a night when only perfect will do
PHOENIX -- The notes were taped onto the door of the visiting clubhouse shortly after Monday's game. There will be no batting practice for the Cubs on Tuesday.
The change was Lou Piniella's response to a lack of offense on Monday for the third time in the last four games. Rich Harden struck out 10 and served up one hit, Alex Romero's first Major League home run, as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Cubs, 2-0.
"Tomorrow, we're canceling batting practice, and the next day we're going to cancel batting practice," Piniella said. "We're going to come out here and stretch and play. That's it. I'm tired of seeing balls flying all over in batting practice and when the [darn] game starts, see very little or nothing. We'll just go play and hope that'll get it done. We did it Sunday and it worked."
On Sunday, the Cubs beat the Astros, 9-0, after skipping early hitting. Maybe there is something to it. Derrek Lee wasn't as convinced as Piniella.
"I thought we hit the ball good today, honestly," Lee said. "I know we didn't have anything to show for it, but I thought we hit the ball better than yesterday. We just hit them in the wrong spots. Sometimes it's good to take BP off. We're not playing well, so you change it up."
Harden deserved better. He's the first Cubs pitcher in the modern era to post back to back double-digit strikeout games in his first two starts. He has yet to pick up a win.
"He was lights-out," Lee said. "It's a shame we can't win that game for him. You can't get much better than he did tonight."
Harden (0-1), making his second start since he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics, struck out 10 to match the 10 K's he notched on July 12 in his Cubs debut against San Francisco. Striking guys out usually requires a lot of pitches.
"I'd much rather be getting some early outs and save some pitches," Harden said.
He also walked two, and gave up one hit -- Romero's solo shot off a 1-2 changeup in the sixth -- over seven innings. He had never faced the Diamondbacks, and two players on Arizona's roster had a total of 11 at-bats against him.
Was he frustrated at not getting any offensive support?
"That's baseball," Harden said. "The way these guys can hit the ball, they'll come back and get a lot more runs. Today, matching up against [Arizona starter] Randy [Johnson], he pitched a good game. That's what happens. We'll come out here and get them tomorrow."
The right-hander was pulled after throwing 112 pitches. His season high is 115, and he was working on extended rest thanks to the All-Star break.
"He threw a few more pitches than we wanted to but we gave him a chance to win the baseball game," Piniella said of Harden. "Randy pitched really well, too. We've been saying that about the opposition's pichers a little too often."
Johnson (7-7) continued his success against the Cubs, and improved to 13-0 in 14 starts in his career vs. Chicago. The big lefty struck out four and served up two singles over seven innings.
"He's amazing," Piniella said of Johnson, who was on Piniella's staff in Seattle. "He's had a long, brilliant career. I think he's trying to finish it off with 300 wins. I wish him well in that endeavor, just not tonight."
Monday was career win No. 291 for Johnson.
"He was a power-throwing lefty who you knew when it all clicked would be a very successful pitcher," Piniella said. "About the time I got there, things started clicking for him. He started to develop a nice slider. That overpowering fastball and the command started getting better and better and he's had a Hall of Fame career."
Stephen Drew added an RBI triple in the eighth for the D-Backs, only the second hit of the game for Arizona. Monday marked the second time this season that a team has won a game with two hits. The Giants beat the A's on June 28, notching two hits.
"We hit some balls hard, we really did, right at people," Piniella said. "We played four games on this road trip and we've scored one, one and zero. That's not going to get it done anywhere."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.