In his second strong start, Cruz pitched five scoreless innings as the Diamondbacks defeated the Chicago Cubs 6-0 Thursday night for their fifth straight victory. The Diamondbacks, who started the streak in fourth, climbed into a tie with Colorado atop the NL West.
“He’s progressively getting to the point where he’s a force,” said Arizona manager Bob Melvin, who called on Cruz to replace struggling starter Russ Ortiz, placed on the disabled list this week.
Rookie Rich Hill (0-1) lost his first start for the Cubs, who have dropped three straight games. Chicago has been shut out three times in its last five games and outscored 44-5 the last six.
“We’re just in a bad way right now,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We can’t seem to buy a run. You go through periods like that. It sure makes it tough. It doesn’t make life very pleasurable when you’re not scoring.”
Cruz came up with the Cubs in 2001 and went 3-1 with a 3.22 earned-run average his rookie year. However, the Cubs gave up on him after he went 5-18 over the next two seasons, dividing time between the rotation and the bullpen.
Cruz said he didn’t carry a grudge against his former team.
“The point here is to win,” said Cruz, whom the Diamondbacks picked up from Oakland in a trade for lefty Brad Halsey. “Any team that I face, I just try to beat them like anybody else. I don’t have anything with the Cubs.”
Cruz allowed four hits and two walks and struck out seven in five innings.
This was Cruz’s first victory as a starter since Sept. 4, 2003, when he beat Milwaukee while still with the Cubs. He spent the last two seasons as a reliever with Atlanta and Oakland.
When Cruz came to the Diamondbacks, he figured he’d work out of the bullpen.
“I like to be a starter,” Cruz said. “If they want me to start, I can start. I just came here to work, so I don’t worry about it. It’s something you cannot control.”
In two starts since replacing Ortiz in the rotation, Cruz has given up one earned run while striking out 10 in 10 innings. No wonder Melvin has no intention of moving Cruz back to the bullpen. The club hopes Cruz, who threw 84 pitches Thursday night, will be able to approach 100 pitches in his next start.
Cruz’s control has been a problem; he has averaged about 4.5 walks per nine innings across his career. Cruz has issued 12 walks in 22 innings this season, but his 24 strikeouts have helped him work out of jams.
“Stuff-wise, boy, you just look at his stuff, if he can harness that and throw strikes, he’s a tough guy to deal with,” Melvin said.
With a 5-0 lead after four innings, Cruz nearly had to come out of the game. As he faced Freddie Bynum leading off the fifth, Cruz began limping. The Diamondbacks’ trainer visited the mound, and after a couple of warm-up tosses Cruz decided to stay in the game. He walked Bynum, who stole second base.
Cruz winced as he delivered a pitch to the next batter, Henry Blanco, prompting another visit from the trainer. Cruz stayed on the mound and struck out Blanco. After pinch-hitter Neifi Perez singled, Cruz struck out Juan Pierre and Ronny Cedeno.
Cruz said he twisted his ankle on a pickoff throw.
“They asked me how I feel and I said, ‘Good,”’ Cruz said.
The Diamondbacks feel good when Cruz is on the mound.
“He’s pitched lights out,” said Tracy, who has hit in six straight games. “He’s got great stuff. He can throw upwards of 96, 97, 98 miles an hour, and he can break off that little slider.”
The Diamondbacks needed a strong outing from Cruz because their bullpen was without right-hander Casey Daigle, who left the team to be with his wife, former US Olympian Jennie Finch, as she delivered their first child in Tucson. Closer Jose Valverde was also unavailable after saving the last three games.
With a left-hander starting for Chicago, Melvin gave SS Craig Counsell the night off. … Shawn Green singled in the second to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. … Cincinnati comes to Phoenix Friday for a three-game weekend series between National League division leaders.