CHICAGO -- The Cubs' season has been tough enough that they didn't need to see Starlin Castro lying on the ground at home plate in pain after being hit by a pitch.
Castro recovered -- and hit a triple in the ninth and scored -- but the Cubs came up short, 4-3, to the Reds, who took the series. Chicago stranded 12, while Johnny Cueto struck out seven, Joey Votto hit an RBI double and Cincinnati took advantage of botched plays in the sixth inning to score the go-ahead runs.
"That's what you call an ugly win," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Just sort of which team played worse today, and we're fortunate enough to come away with the win."
The Cubs' miscues came in the sixth. With the game tied at 2, Rodrigo Lopez (0-1) walked Ryan Hanigan and Cueto was safe on a throwing error by catcher Geovany Soto, who hit the pitcher in the back with his throw. Zack Cozart was safe on another error by Soto, whose throw pulled Blake DeWitt off first. Hanigan scored when Drew Stubbs hit into a fielder's choice. Scott Maine took over for Lopez and hit Ryan Ludwick with a pitch to load the bases, then walked Jay Bruce to drive in a run.
"Walking the leadoff guy, it snowballed the whole inning as well as the bunts," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "They were giving us outs and we didn't get outs on the bunts."
"They were good bunts, but that bunt play has got to be made, it's got to be made," Soto said.
What may have contributed to the problem was that Joe Mather was at first, not Bryan LaHair, in the sixth.
"We're supposed to charge, but I think [Mather] may not have read it properly where he thought Geo was going to be able to get there easily," LaHair said of the plays. "Sometimes when you don't play over there enough it's hard to be perfect. He can handle the position. He's going to be fine."
Randy Wells got a no-decision in his substitute start in place of Ryan Dempster, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right quad. A candidate for the Cubs' rotation this spring, Wells opened the season at Triple-A Iowa, where he was 1-0 with a 9.42 ERA in three games. On Sunday, he gave up two runs on six hits and five walks over five innings.
"It's always tough to watch your teammates on TV, but we were down there [with Iowa] and it was what had to happen and you can't sit there and dwell on it," Wells said. "You have to do what you can do down there to help your team win. It's good to be back up. The circumstances are rough. Hopefully I can pitch better the next time out and we'll see what happens."
Dempster's DL time was backdated to April 18 and he's expected to miss two starts.
"He got some big outs when he had to," Sveum said of Wells. "He made some pitches and did a good job for five innings and did a good job getting out of some jams."
The Reds took a 2-0 lead in the third, and the Cubs tied the game in the fifth, taking advantage of an error by Cincinnati. Chicago had runners at the corners with two outs when Cueto tried to pick off Castro at first. Votto was unable to catch the ball and Mather, running at third, scored on the error. LaHair then hit an RBI single to tie the game.
Castro was Cueto's last batter in the seventh when he was hit on the left elbow. The shortstop fell to the ground in pain.
"I felt like it broke my whole arm the first time he hit me," Castro said. "But after I laid down [on the dirt] and ran the bases, the hurt was gone and I felt pretty good."
Castro stayed in the game and wore a protective brace on his elbow in the ninth when he tripled off Sean Marshall.
"I think [Castro] was more shocked [after he was hit]," Sveum said. "I don't think it got him on the bone -- it got him more on the flesh, thank God."
Indeed. Castro has been one of the few bright spots for the Cubs this season, reaching base safely in 55 of his last 56 games since last Aug. 15. He has a 10-game hitting streak and was batting .425 in that stretch.
"I'll be ready for tomorrow," Castro said. "If it's up to me, I won't [get hit again] ever."
Chicago and Cincinnati combined for 14 errors in the three-game series. That's the most in a Cubs' three-game set since April 28-30, 1989, when Chicago and San Diego committed 15. The weather hasn't helped either. No excuses, Soto said.
"Everybody's cold, so it doesn't matter," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.