Cardinals to host first-place Cubs in second game of series tonight

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (AP) — The Chicago Cubs had Jason Hammel on a short leash in last season’s final months and didn’t hesitate to lift him in the fourth inning of their playoff clincher against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hammel is attempting to regain the Cubs’ faith this season and is off on the right foot after two starts.

He’ll try to extend his string of promising efforts Tuesday night while Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia has the difficult task of following up the best outing of his career.

Hammel didn’t give the Cubs much reason to trust him by posting a 5.65 ERA in his final nine regular-season starts in 2015, and he failed to make it through the sixth inning in all but two of those games. The right-hander gave up a two-run homer to St. Louis’ Stephen Piscotty in the opening inning of Game 4 of the NL division series and was pulled following a four-pitch walk to Jhonny Peralta to begin the fourth.

Hammel was even more ineffective in last season’s final start, allowing five runs in 1 1-3 innings in the Cubs’ final game in its NLCS sweep at the hands of the New York Mets. That was likely at least a small reason for Hammel turning to pitching instructor Tom House, who reportedly helped fine-tune his mechanics and his mentality this offseason.

That work has paid off so far as Hammel is 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA in his first two starts. He earned his first victory in 2016 on Thursday by tossing six scoreless innings in an 8-1 win against Cincinnati.

“I’m staying aggressive and not beating myself up like I was,” Hammel told MLB’s official website. “As long as I can stay with the thought process that I have right now and continue to execute when I need to, then it’ll be good.”

Garcia didn’t need to retool after going 10-6 with a career-low 2.43 ERA in 2015. He had a tepid start to this campaign by allowing four runs in six innings in a 7-4 win in Atlanta on April 8 but made up for it in a big way Thursday against Milwaukee.

Garcia pitched a one-hitter with a career-high 13 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory.

“Every time he walks out there he has a chance to throw a no-hitter,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s amazing what he can make the ball do when he is in a good rhythm. This is what we expect to see. When he’s healthy, he’s special.”

Garcia (1-0, 2.40) will face the Cubs for the first time since getting charged with five unearned runs in two innings in Game 2 of the NLDS, a 6-3 loss in St. Louis. He’s 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA in five regular-season starts against Chicago but the most recent was April 23, 2012.

Hammel went 1-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three regular-season matchups versus St. Louis in 2015 and will try to help the Cubs (10-3) build on a 5-0 win in this season’s first meeting with the Cardinals (7-6). Dexter Fowler pushed Chicago to 6-1 on the road Monday with a solo homer and his sixth multihit performance in 13 games, going 2 for 5.

Fowler is batting .378 with a 1.211 OPS, three homers and 10 RBIs, but he is 1 for 11 lifetime against Garcia including playoffs. Jorge Soler had a home run and a double off him in the NLDS.

Yadier Molina is 6 for 13 with three doubles against Hammel, and Matt Carpenter is 3 for 14 with six strikeouts including the postseason.

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