The Chicago Cubs are finding ways to make games -- or at least moments -- count as they run out the string in a losing season.
On Thursday, in the series opener against the host Pittsburgh Pirates, it was an immaculate inning within a strong start by rookie right-hander Hayden Wesneski, plus outfielder Michael Hermosillo going 2-for-4 with an RBI single after entering the night 3-for-23 in September.
"You start thinking about it the seventh, eighth pitch," said Wesneski, who became the first Cubs pitcher to strike out a side on nine pitches since 2004. "The ninth one, you just let it rip and hope it happens."
After the 3-2 victory on Thursday, the Cubs (65-85) are 8-5 in their past 13 games.
On Friday, the Pirates will be looking to end a seven-game losing streak as they play the final 13 games against National League Central teams.
As the Pirates (55-95) chug toward a possible 100 losses, they might get some help from All-Star closer David Bednar if they can keep games close -- and if he successfully bounces back after a back injury.
Bednar came off the injured list on Thursday following a rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis. He had not pitched in the major leagues since late July. Because of the time off, he was brought in Thursday in the seventh and gave up two hits and a run in his one inning.
"I think I would attribute it to rust, not being in a major league game (in so long)," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "He wasn't very sharp, the way it looked. The curveball was in the (strike) zone. The fastball, it looked like he was just trying to throw strikes instead of going right after guys, and I think that happens when it's your first time back out.
"We wanted to ease him back in. We knew that the first time he pitched -- and maybe more than the first time -- was not going to be in the ninth. We just needed him to get back on the mound."
Bednar said he felt more comfortable as his inning went along but added that rust "is not something I'm worried about."
On Friday, Chicago right-hander Javier Assad (1-2, 3.86 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Bryse Wilson (3-9, 6.07).
Assad, who has never faced the Pirates, will be making the seventh appearance (sixth start) of his rookie season.
He picked up his first win Sept. 12 against the New York Mets with six innings of one-run, five-hit ball. Assad followed that with a loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, when he allowed four runs and two hits in two innings.
Wilson has lost three of his past four decisions, including a defeat Saturday against the Mets, when he gave up four runs and four hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Against the Cubs, Wilson is 1-2 with a 6.41 ERA in six career starts. He has faced them three times this year, resulting in two no-decisions and a loss. The loss came most recently, July 26, when he allowed three runs on six hits in six innings.
--Field Level Media