Rizzo, Castro Lead Cubs Past Reds

CINCINNATI — Rick Renteria said he hasn’t experienced any surprises in his first month as Cubs manager.

“It’s a lot of work,” Renteria said. “A lot of ups and downs, and I’m hoping we have more ups than downs moving forward.”

To gain some semblance of momentum in the final five months, the Cubs will need more sustainable contributions from players other than Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Castro and Rizzo contributed their share Wednesday night, and their teammates provided ample support in the final three innings to pull away to a 9-4 victory over the Reds at Great American Ballpark to cap a 9-17 record in April.

After experiencing a rough 2013 that played a role in the dismissal of Dale Sveum as manager, Castro and Rizzo each have shown signs of reverting to productive seasons.

Castro came through in the third with a game-tying RBI single. With runners at first and second in the fifth, Castro showed patience that wasn’t evident last season when he drew a walk to load the bases. The Cubs eventually scored two runs to give winning pitcher Edwin Jackson (2-2) a much-needed cushion.

In the ninth, Castro ripped a double off the top of the center field wall for his third hit to raise his batting average to .308.

Perhaps the most dramatic improvement among the Cubs’ players has come from Rizzo against left-handed pitchers, who limited him to a .189 batting average in 2013.

Rizzo ripped a two-run homer off Tony Cingrani in the first to raise his batting average against lefties to .387 (12 for 31).

Two of Rizzo’s four home runs have been hit off left-handers. He was walked in his next four at-bats. The last Cubs player to draw four walks in a game was Carlos Pena against the Pirates on Sept. 4, 2011.

But Rizzo’s biggest contribution Wednesday occurred in the fifth when he scored the Cubs’ fifth run with some clever moves.

Rizzo tagged up on Nate Schierholtz’s fly to left, eluded a sweeping tag attempt from catcher Brayan Pena before touching the back of home plate.

Schierholtz also strengthened his case to face left-handers more frequently with a two-run single off Sean Marshall. The hit also took some stress off the usually upbeat Renteria, who was ejected twice for arguing balls and strikes in April.

“I’m hoping not to break any records,” Renteria quipped.

With Thursday’s off day, Renteria had the luxury of using as many relievers as needed and he pulled Jackson after 88 pitches in 52/3 innings.

In the seventh, Wesley Wright struck out Joey Votto to end the inning and extend his scoreless streak to seven appearances.

The biggest hope for the future in the Cubs’ bullpen might be newly-promoted Neal Ramirez, who made his second major league appearance in the eighth with a one-run lead and struck out Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier in succession.

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