CHICAGO -- After struggling early against a team that has always hit him well, Kyle Lohse settled down as the Brewers defeated the Cubs, 4-3, on a chilly Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Though the game figured to be a pitchers' duel given the starters -- Jeff Samardzija for Chicago and Lohse for Milwaukee -- and the weather (38 degrees at first pitch), it was anything but, at least early on. The Brewers scored four runs over the first two innings off Samardzija, while the Cubs answered back with three off Lohse in the second and third.
After giving up a two-out single to Luis Valbuena in the third, Lohse rattled off a dominant stretch to hand the game off to one of baseball's best bullpens with the lead intact. Lohse retired the final 13 he faced, Will Smith pitched a perfect eighth and Francisco Rodriguez picked up his 17th save in 18 chances.
"You know, you're not expecting all those early runs like that, and then you definitely don't want to give most of them back early like I did," said Lohse, who allowed three earned runs in seven innings for his seventh straight quality start. "It was just a weird early-going for me. I couldn't get command of much of anything, but you've been around long enough, you figure out how to grind through it and figure out what you need to do physically to get your body in the right position to make pitches, and that's what it was."
Lohse ruled out the weather as the cause for his early struggles. Rodriguez, on the other hand, said he didn't have a feel for the ball for the first five or six pitches he threw and had to rub his hands against the rosin bag and mound to get a better grip.
"You don't really want to go there," Rodriguez said. "It was bad. It was really cold. I didn't have any feel for the ball warming up, and in the game it was tough. And it's what, May 15th, 16th and it's still so cold like that? It doesn't help at all, but we got through it."
Rodriguez worked around a leadoff single by Starlin Castro to lock down career save No. 321, tying him with Jose Mesa for 15th on the all-time list.
"I don't pay attention to that yet," Rodriguez said. "Eventually I will, but that's something that's not on my mind right now. Hopefully after I retire, I would like to go through it, watch where I'm at and see if I'm really satisfied with the career that I had."
Rodriguez was more satisfied by the fact that he bounced back from his previous outing on Wednesday, when he allowed three runs and took the loss against the Pirates. Even with 300-plus saves, he was ready to erase any lingering thoughts about that rough inning.
"Especially when you have a bad outing the outing before, really bad, definitely ... and I was itching to go yesterday and it didn't work out, but as long as I get opportunities to go out there and pitch, there's a better chance that I'm going to do better than I did four days ago, three days ago," Rodriguez said.
The Crew jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Jonathan Lucroy's run-scoring single and Castro's throwing error. Jean Segura doubled the Brewers' lead with a two-run single the following inning. Segura finished with three hits and a run scored, raising his average to .261. His production so far this season has fallen short of the expectations created by the numbers he put up in his All-Star campaign last season.
"[Segura] really looked good," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's hard to tell when he doesn't swing the bat well. We watch him and we can't see the difference, just some games are there, and I don't know why last year was more consistent with what he was doing. We need to get him going and get on a long streak where he's on base a lot and he can run and create some problems."
Chicago cut Milwaukee's lead in half in the bottom of the second against Lohse, who came into Friday's game with a 5.15 ERA in 20 career starts against the Cubs. Nate Schierholtz singled and Darwin Barney homered with one out.
Junior Lake cut it to 4-3 with a solo shot to lead off the third. Chicago got two more on base via singles, but Lohse induced an inning-ending double play for the second consecutive inning to limit the damage. Lohse said he left both home run pitches, which were supposed to be running sinkers, up in the zone and center cut.
"Guys were trying to get Lohse up into the zone a little better," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He did a nice job. He's a very good pitcher."
Lohse handed the ball off to Smith, who picked up yet another hold and lowered his microscopic ERA to 0.44. The starter-Smith-Rodriguez combination is just how Roenicke would have drawn it up, and the first-place Brewers just keep humming along.
"I think we've been confident from the start," Lohse said. "We're just doing what we do every day. It's been tough with the guys that have been going down with injuries, and getting little nicks and all that stuff, but we have a bunch of guys in here who grind it out.
"That was a tough win today against a really good pitcher. We got some early runs and played great defense. Those are the things we need to do, and we're doing. And that's playing with confidence for me ... doing the things that we need to do to win those games."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.