Cubs' Hammel stays unbeaten vs. Nationals

Cubs' Hammel stays unbeaten vs. Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Jason Hammel remained unbeaten in his career against the Washington Nationals and as a batter collected just his fifth hit of the season.

But the starting right-hander was frustrated -- a word he used several times -- that he did not get to pitch deeper into the game as the Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Friday in the first of a three-game series.

"I prepare myself. That is what a professional athlete does. Deep in the game you are going to be up to 100 pitches," Hammel said.

But Hammel was pulled after 92 pitches and with his team leading 4-1 in the last of the seventh after he gave up a leadoff double to second baseman Anthony Rendon.

Hammel had thrown 101 and 108 pitches in his previous two starts but had lasted between 90 and 99 pitches in the three starts before that.

"It is very frustrating. I honestly believe you learn how to pitch when get to 100. I guess it is what it is right now," he said. "I made a couple of mistakes. I gave up a few extra-base hits today. Overall I pitched well. The guys put up a ton of runs. It makes it easier to pitch."

Hammel, whose ERA stayed at 2.98, did not blame manager Rick Renteria for the lower pitch count. The veteran right-hander feels the decision is coming from someone above the manager. Hammel (8-5) is 8-0 in his career in 10 starts against the Nationals (46-39), who saw their five-game winning streak end.

"Whenever we had opportunities, whenever we had guys in scoring position, he just made pitches," Washington center fielder Denard Span said of Hammel. "He was able to throw his breaking balls in the right location and get us out. That was the difference in the game."

Hammel gave up two runs and five hits in six innings before Virginia native Neil Ramirez came on with no outs in the seventh and retired the side after allowing an RBI single by catcher Wilson Ramos that cut the lead to 4-2.

"Go ahead and make a change there and not let (Hammel) get into a situation (in the seventh). The guys did a nice job of playing behind him. I thought we had some really good at bats," Renteria said.

The Cubs (38-46) won their fourth in a row as center fielder Justin Ruggiano (three hits, including a homer) added on an insurance run with an RBI single in the ninth to make it 5-2.

"Obviously he is swinging the bat better," Renteria said of Ruggiano. "They are a lot of guys in the lineup that are heating up. That was a big homer he had. I think he feels good. We will just keep going with these guys and see where it takes us."

Shortstop Starlin Castro (two hits) followed with a two-run single to up the margin to 7-2 against reliever Jerry Blevins in the ninth.

Left fielder Chris Coghlan, right fielder Nate Schierholtz and second baseman Darwin Barney also had two hits for the Cubs, who had nine hits and four runs in seven innings against Washington starter Tanner Roark (7-6).

"They did what they did last time: base-hit me. I thought I pitched well. They just beat me," said Roark, who lost at Chicago on June 27 by the same 7-2 score.

Chicago took a 4-1 lead in the fifth when Coghlan scored on a groundout by first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Ruggiano hit a solo homer to lead off the third to give the Cubs a 3-1 edge.

Hammel gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the second when he lined a shot that glanced off Roark and the ball went into left field for an RBI single to drive in Schierholtz.

Washington right fielder Jayson Werth tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer in the first.

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first as Coghlan, who had singled, scored on a double play grounder off the bat of Rizzo.

The game drew 41,274 fans, the most ever for a July 4 game at Nationals Park.

Washington left fielder Bryce Harper was hitless in four at bats with two strikeouts in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He is 3-for-15 with six strikeouts since coming off the disabled list Monday.

NOTES: The scheduled pitchers for Saturday are Washington LHP Gio Gonzalez (5-4, 3.93 ERA) against Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija (2-7, 2.83) ... Washington entered play Friday with a team ERA of 3.04, the best in the National League. The Nationals are second in NL bullpen ERA at 2.46 ... The Cubs entered Friday with an all-time record of 117-97-3 on July 4 games but had lost 12 of the last 15 on that holiday ... Washington entered Friday with a mark of 6-2 at home and 6-3 overall on July 4. ... The Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep at Fenway Park over the Boston Red Sox. It was the second year in a row the Cubs swept a series on the road against the defending World Series champs: Chicago swept the Giants in San Francisco in 2013.