Cubs strike first in opener of marquee series (Nats lose 5-2)

CHICAGO - Joe Ross showed no fear in staring down the Cubs lineup in his first career start at Wrigley Field. But you can't hold these guys down forever, and Chicago's big bats got to Ross in the fourth inning tonight to take a 2-0 lead on the Nationals.

Ben Zobrist's single to right brought home the first two runs of this highly anticipated series and sent Ross' ERA "soaring" over the 1.00 mark for the first time. The inning featured some shaky defense - Michael A. Taylor couldn't haul in Kris Bryant's drive to the wall in center field and lost the ball in the ivy - but also a stellar throw from Bryce Harper to nail Anthony Rizzo at third base.

Ross escaped further damage, but the Nationals face a stiff challenge trying to get the runs back against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who has posted four straight zeroes so far.

Joe-Ross-throwing-red-away-sidebar.jpgThis series features plenty of star power, and it has been hyped accordingly for it. But few made mention of Ross before this start of this game, even though the young right-hander deserved it. He merely entered with an 0.79 ERA in his first four starts, a mark that would have led the league (better than even Cubs ace Jake Arrieta) if he had just a few more innings under his belt to qualify.

Ross very quickly made sure the crowd at Wrigley took notice of him. He struck out five of the first 11 batters he faced, including four in a row between the second and third innings.

Three of those strikeouts came on sliders, the pitch Ross has used effectively to put away hitters, especially those who bat from the right side of the plate. But he turned to his fastball to record a couple more strikeouts in the bottom of the third, including one that barely caught the upper edge of the strike zone to get Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs center fielder and leadoff man argued with plate umpire Vic Carappazza over the call, and when he wouldn't let up, Carapazza gave him the heave-ho.

A couple of Nationals batters also took issue with Carapazza's strike zone early in the game, most notably Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, though neither said enough to merit ejection.

Harper, who snapped out of a 1-for-23 slump yesterday in Kansas City by homering and delivering an RBI single, opened this game with a pair of walks. He did, however, get picked off first base in the top of the fourth, negating one of the free passes.

Update: Hendricks continues to be in complete control of this game. He's through six scoreless innings, having allowed only two hits (Taylor's third-inning double and Harper's sixth-inning single). The Nats have had only one at-bat so far tonight with a man in scoring position. Suffice it to say, it's tough to score a lot of runs that way.

Fortunately for the Nationals, Ross has been very good as well. Aside from the two-run fourth, he's been lights-out, in fact. And so this remains a 2-0 game after six innings.

Update II: It's now 5-0 after eight, thanks to Zobrist's two-run homer off Felipe Rivero. Zobrist has driven in four runs tonight for the Cubs, with the final run coming moments later when Jayson Werth couldn't catch Addison Russell's drive to deep left field.

The Nats had a golden opportunity to do something in the top of the eighth, when this was still a 2-0 game. Reliever Pedro Strop entered from the Cubs 'pen and immediately plunked Danny Espinosa and walked Clint Robinson. But Taylor, despite seeing only one pitch in the strike zone the entire at-bat, struck out. And Rendon then grounded into a double play to end the inning and kill the potential rally.

Update III: That's the ballgame. The Nats lose the opener of this big series 5-2. Werth hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth to offer a glimmer of hope, but it was too late. Ross pitched well and deserved a better fate, but it's tough to win with two hits from your own lineup. The two clubs will be right back here tomorrow afternoon at 2:20 p.m. EDT.

Nationals shut out by Cubs, 5-2, in opener of key ...
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