CHICAGO (AP) — Jordy Mercer insisted the Pittsburgh Pirates will keep searching for a way to stop this freefall.
They looked like they were on to something early in the game. Instead, their slide continued.
Mercer led off the game with a homer before Jonathon Niese gave up three long balls, sending the Pirates to a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh lost for the ninth time in 10 games while the major league-leading Cubs (46-20) improved to a season-high 26 games above .500.
“Obviously you want to win,” Mercer said. “We want to get back to winning ways. We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep pushing and our confidence is not going to waver, that’s for sure, especially this group of guys. We’re going to stay confident and keep pushing and keep fighting.”
The Pirates are now two games below .500 for the first time this season at 33-35 — quite a fall for a team that was 28-19 about three weeks ago.
Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and David Ross each homered for Chicago to back Jon Lester.
Mercer hit his first career leadoff homer. He also doubled and scored in the third and got hit by a pitch on his left big toe with the bases loaded in the fourth to give the Pirates a 3-1 lead.
Niese couldn’t hold it. The left-hander gave up four runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings and lost his second straight start.
“It’s not fun to lose,” Niese said. “We’re not trying to lose. That’s what’s happening. We’ve got guys who work hard here.”
Ross cut it to 3-2 in the fourth when he squeezed in a run, and Bryant tied it in the fifth with his drive well beyond the left-field bleachers.
Ross put Chicago on top with his homer to left on a 3-2 pitch. The Cubs’ bullpen made it stand, with Hector Rondon working the final four outs for his 12th save in 14 chances.
Rizzo and Bryant each hit their 16th home run, and Ross made it 4-3 with a solo drive in the sixth that chased Niese (6-4).
Shortstop Addison Russell and third baseman Javier Baez each made neat stops in the field to help the Cubs win on a night when Dexter Fowler left the game because of discomfort in his right hamstring.
Lester (9-3) went six innings, allowing three runs and seven hits. He struck out seven and walked three after issuing none in his previous three starts.
Russell made a slick play in the third when he lunged to his left to snag Jung Ho Kang’s liner. He picked up the ball after it popped out of his glove and flipped to second to start an inning-ending double play.
Baez came through with a nifty play to rob Sean Rodriguez in the sixth when he slid to his left and fired to first from his knees.
The Pirates placed right-hander Juan Nicasio on the restricted list to tend to a family matter. It’s unclear when Nicasio could return, though he’s expected to miss his scheduled start Tuesday against the Giants. Wilfredo Boscan may fill in.
Pirates: LF Starling Marte was out of the lineup for a second straight day because of bruising and swelling under his left eye. He entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth and remained in left field. … Mercer said his nail was cracked after being hit by a pitch. “It should be all right. It hurt, though,” he said. … Manager Clint Hurdle said C Chris Stewart was unavailable on Saturday. He returned to the lineup Friday after missing two games with general soreness.
Cubs: Fowler came up hobbling after running out a grounder to third leading off the bottom of the first inning on Saturday. Albert Almora Jr. replaced him in center field in the second. … Manager Joe Maddon said Jorge Soler (strained left hamstring) is “progressing well,” but he has “no idea about the finish line.”
Cubs RHP Kyle Hendricks (4-6, 3.05 ERA) tries to improve to 4-1 at Wrigley Field, while touted rookie Jameson Taillon (1-0, 1.93) looks to build on a dominant first career win for Pittsburgh. The right-hander took a no-hitter to the seventh while pitching eight scoreless innings against the New York Mets on Tuesday.