Pirates give Brault starting shot against Cubs

Pirates give Brault starting shot against Cubs

Steven Brault will make a rare start for the Pirates on Tuesday at PNC Park. But he is quite familiar with his opponent, the Cubs.

That's not necessarily a good thing.

Still classified as a rookie, the left-hander has pitched mainly in relief this season for the Bucs after starting seven games in 2016. Brault is a one-time fill-in for right-hander Ivan Nova, who is skipping a turn in the midst of a rough second half (3-6, 6.38 ERA).

Newly crowned as International League Pitcher of the Year after going 10-5 with a 1.94 ERA as a starter at Triple-A Indianapolis, Brault has pitched in relief in all six Pirates appearances this season. He is 0-0 with a 5.93 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.

In 14 Major League games, Brault already has seen the Cubs four times, resulting in a 9.35 ERA. Last week in Chicago, Brault yielded seven runs (four earned) in three innings over two appearances.

Maybe starting will be different.

"It was nice of them to give me a nice five-day warning, so I was able to get back on my schedule as well as I could," Brault said of his starting assignment. "I'm ready. I'm ready to go for [Tuesday]. I think it'll be a lot of fun."

Opposing Brault for Chicago will be right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who missed seven weeks in June and July with a tendon strain in his right middle finger, but hasn't missed a beat. In fact, he's been better. Hendricks was 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA before going on the DL. In eight starts since his return he is 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA.

"His velocity is back where it needs to be, and now there's a difference between fastball and changeup," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's looked every bit as good as he did last year [when Hendricks was 16-8 with a Major League-best 2.13 ERA].

Three things to know about this game

• Hendricks has yielded three runs or fewer in all eight of his starts since coming off the DL in July.

• In seven career games as a starter covering 32 2/3 innings, Brault has a 4.26 ERA. In seven games as a reliever over 15 1/3 innings, his ERA is 7.04.

• The Cubs are the first defending World Series champions to be in first place on Labor Day since the 2010 Yankees.

Bob Cohn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh who covered the Cubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.