Cubs blow ninth-inning lead then rally to beat Giants

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Starlin Castro homered in the fifth and played hero in the ninth, delivering a game-winning double as the Cubs avoided what would have been an ugly loss and defeated the Giants 4-3.

The Giants scored all three of their runs off new Cubs closer Kyuji Fujikawa in the ninth, taking Matt Cain off the hook and erasing a strong outing from Carlos Villanueva.

However, Sergio Romo, who was a perfect 6-for-6 in save chances this year, couldn’t hold the lead. He surrendered a rare homer to switch-hitter Dioner Navarro — just the fourth homer he’s ever allowed to a left-handed hitter — and then gave up two more hits, including Castro’s game-ender.

Some thoughts:

– Villanueva is the game’s unluckiest pitcher 12 days in. He left with a 5-1 lead over the Braves in his first start, only to see that blown. Today, his relievers needed to get just five outs, but still couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead. That’s left Villanueva 0-0 despite a 0.64 ERA.

– Castro could have ended the game 20 minutes earlier if he wanted. Hunter Pence hit what appeared to be a rally-killing double play ball Castro’s way in the top of the ninth, but Castro, even though he was as close to third as he was to second, went with an underhand toss to Alberto Gonzalez. The relay ended up being a bit slow, allowing Pence to barely beat it out.

– Castro also chose not to run on his game-ending double to the wall in center, thinking it was a homer. It didn’t matter a whole lot — the runner at first base was the one that mattered — but the game’s outcome would have still been in doubt had David DeJesus not come all of the way around to score.

– The homer hit by Navarro was an incredible oddity. Romo had allowed just three homers in 290 at-bats against left-handers previously, and the switch-hitting Navarro had homered off righties once every 65 at-bats, compared to once every 29 at-bats versus lefties.

– Before he became a closer, Romo was really more of a righty specialist in the San Francisco pen, often sharing innings with Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. His numbers against lefties were still terrific, but part of that is because he wasn’t typically getting to face the good ones. That’s changing now that the ninth inning is his alone, so it will be interesting to see if he proves more vulnerable to lefties.

Report: Pirates to convert JB Shuck into two-way player

JB Shuck
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Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports that the Pirates have decided to convert outfielder JB Shuck into a two-way player. Recent comments relayed from the club’s director of player development, Larry Broadway, indicated that the outfielder would be coached in developing his pitching skills while working at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Per Broadway, the change would be enacted to help the veteran outfielder develop some much-needed versatility in the majors, where he’s only ever been limited to outfield and DH responsibilities. Well, except for the two games in which he pitched an inning of relief: once, against the Nationals in a blowout 11-4 loss in 2016, then in a similarly painful loss to the Diamondbacks this past April. During the latter outing, he finished the game with a 13-pitch ninth inning after allowing just one hit and one walk.

Add to that one minor-league outing in 2012, and the 31-year-old Shuck has pitched just three times over the course of his 12-season career in pro ball. While he has three years of experience on the mound from his college days, he’ll need quite a bit of preparation to handle the kind of workload expected from a two-way outfielder/reliever: 20+ innings pitched over a season and 20+ games played as a designated hitter or position player.

Still, his lack of experience doesn’t seem to faze Broadway, at least not this early in the process. There’s no word yet on how soon Shuck would be expected to debut his new skillset on a major-league level.