MILWAUKEE – Jason Hammel threw a sinker early in counts to try to entice groundball outs against an aggressive lineup and mixed things up with a fastball in the low 90s.
It was an overwhelming combination for the short-handed Milwaukee Brewers.
Hammel had a season-high seven strikeouts and allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings, Starlin Castro hit two solo homers and the Chicago Cubs snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-0 win Sunday.
Hammel, one of the few bright spots in a dismal April for Chicago, made his impressive work sound easy afterward. He hasn’t given up more than five hits in each of his five starts.
“I featured a pretty good sinker down in the zone early to get a lot of ground balls and just attacked the zone,” he said. “So, that’s really all it was today.”
Hammel (4-1) didn’t allow a hit until Carlos Gomez doubled down the left-field line with one out in the sixth. He then got into trouble after walking Scooter Gennett and making an errant pickoff throw to put runners at second and third.
But the righty got a strikeout before Aramis Ramirez bounced out to end the threat.
“Great, great job. Mixed all his pitches well. Stayed down,” manager Rick Renteria said. Chicago improved to 8-16, the last team in the majors to get to eight victories.
Chicago scored twice in the second on Castro’s first homer and Darwin Barney’s RBI fielder’s choice with the bases loaded off Brewers starter Wily Peralta (3-1). Castro’s second shot in the eighth off reliever Brandon Kintzler barely cleared the wall in the left-field corner.
Castro had his second career multi-homer game in nearly three weeks, having going deep twice April 8 against Pittsburgh. His second-inning homer also just cleared the wall 400 feet away in dead center and evaded the leaping Gomez’s outstretched glove.
On the mound, Peralta pumped his right arm in front of his waist in frustration. He thought the Gold Glove-winning Gomez might have had a shot at robbing the homer.
“Always,” Peralta said. “When GoGo runs back, you think he has a chance to make the catch.”
Gomez said he had the perfect timing, “but it’s not even close.” He went 1 for 4 on his bobblehead day.
Peralta, a right-hander with a 96-mph fastball had trouble spotting pitches in the second. Ramirez stepped on third for an out on Barney’s grounder but his throw trying to get Nate Schierholtz at home bounced up the first-base line to allow the run to score.
Despite not having his best command, Peralta still just gave up three runs on eight hits in seven innings. He struck out six.
“If he’s not going to be sharp and that’s what he does, it’s pretty good,” manager Ron Roenicke said.
Having Ryan Braun and Jean Segura could have helped, but both Milwaukee stars missed the game with injuries.
Braun sat with a slight chest muscle strain, while Segura had a partially closed right eye and bruised right cheek after being accidentally hit during a practice swing by Braun on Saturday.
Segura said after the game he hoped to return this week during the Brewers’ seven-game road trip to St. Louis and Cincinnati. Braun might miss three to five days.
The remaining Brewers were overmatched by Hammel, who stayed low and away from the Brewers’ remaining potent right-handed bats. Hammel was lifted after allowing pinch hitter Rickie Weeks’ single to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon held the Brewers hitless the final two innings.