Lilly will be pitching on short rest Wednesday night as the Cubs close a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.
While Carlos Zambrano may be considered the ace of the Cubs, Lilly (15-7, 3.82 ERA) has been their most reliable starter in his first season with the team. He is one win behind Zambrano for the team lead with an ERA nearly one-half run lower.
Lilly has also been Chicago’s best option following a loss, going 9-1 when starting after a defeat. He traditionally pitches his best near the end of the season, with 17 career victories in September, his highest total of any month.
The left-hander, though, will be pitching on three days’ rest for only the second time in his nine-year career and the first time since Aug. 9, 2003. He gave up two runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings for Oakland against Toronto in that game.
Pitching Lilly on short rest will allow the Cubs (79-73) to get their rotation back in order with two off days ahead. It will also give them potentially advantageous matchups in the final nine games of the season.
Lilly gave up three runs or fewer for the fifth consecutive start Saturday at St. Louis, limiting the Cardinals to two runs and four hits in six innings of Chicago’s 3-2 victory.
He is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in three starts this season against the Reds.
Zambrano wasn’t sharp on three days’ rest Tuesday, allowing four runs in 5 1-3 innings. As a result, the Cubs lost 5-2 and dropped a percentage point behind Milwaukee in the Central with 10 games remaining for Chicago and 12 to play for the Brewers.
“If Milwaukee wins every game the rest of the way, they’re going to win, plain and simple,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “We said we need to win series and that’s what we need to do. You’re not going to win every day. If the other team wins every game, they’re going to win the division. Period. … Tonight we faced a good pitcher and he shut us down. What can I say?”
“These are fun games to pitch in, actually when it means something,” Harang said. “They’re obviously trying to win bringing (Zambrano) and Lilly back on short rest - trying to set up matchups down the road.”
The Reds (69-82) ended a three-game skid overall and won on the road for only the second time in eight tries.
They are 8-6 against the Cubs this season, including 5-3 at Wrigley.
Rookie Tom Shearn (3-0, 4.15) makes his fifth start of the season for the Reds. After toiling for 11 years in the minors, the 30-year-old right-hander is making the most of his opportunity.
Shearn allowed three runs and four hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-5 victory Friday at Milwaukee. He has given up three runs or fewer in each of his starts while pitching at least six innings three times.
“All those years, I never thought I would be in this spot where I am now. It’s a dream come true,” said Shearn, who missed all of 2003 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. “No matter if I got my butt handed to me out there, I think I would still come off with a smile, just that I’m here.”