Chicago Cubs spoil Shota Imanaga’s outing in loss to Atlanta Braves

ATLANTA — Shota Imanaga hasn’t faced much adversity in the first six weeks of his major league career.

Imanaga’s stellar streak allowed the Chicago Cubs left-hander to start Monday’s start against the Atlanta Braves after going through a few innings with multiple runners on base. In his first seven starts, Imanaga pitched with at least two runners on in just nine of his 41 2/3 innings. Two of those innings involved fielding errors, and on several occasions he got away with retiring the next batter.

Imanaga knew he had to pay attention to the Braves’ lineup, and in doing so, he had to deal with the most traffic he had faced in any early season. Although the Braves put 10 runners on against Imanaga, he worked around that problem to pitch five shutout innings. The Cubs, however, couldn’t do much offensively, managing five hits in a 2-0 loss at Truist Park.

Imanaga’s 0.96 ERA is the lowest by a Cubs starter through the first eight starts of a season since 1912, when earned runs became an official National League statistic.

“He kept making pitches,” manager Craig Counsell said. “There was traffic this evening, that’s normal. But he pitched brilliantly to get out of it. So a good start, a start that will happen over the course of a season, and it gave us a chance to win.

The Braves put at least two runners on in three of Imanaga’s five innings. He came out of the first and third, striking out Matt Olson to strand two in each inning.

Imanaga’s shining moment came in the fourth. A two-out walk to Zack Short loaded the bases on Ronald Acuña Jr. Imanaga and the Cubs thought Acuña had failed to control his swing on a 2-1 pitch; however, first base umpire Junior Valentine ruled that Acuña held.

The streak led to Counsell’s first ejection as Cubs manager. After being warned before the controlled swing, Counsell was ejected for throwing his arms in the air after the controlled swing was called, prompting him to come out of the dugout to question Valentine.

The brief delay did not deter Imanaga. He got Acuña grounded on the next pitch, a 3-1 fastball, to end the inning.

“I’m really grateful to Craig Counsell for coming out and showing more emotion than I did on the swing,” Imanaga said through interpreter Edwin Stanberry. “Regardless of whether it was a swing or not, I really appreciate just the fact that he has my back.”

Cubs starter Shota Imanaga throws during the first inning against the Braves on May 13, 2024, at Truist Park in Atlanta.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Cubs starter Shota Imanaga throws during the first inning against the Braves on May 13, 2024, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Imanaga would have liked to play one more inning, but was pulled after throwing 98 pitches in five innings.

“In the end, I didn’t give up any points, but I thought if I gave up a few points, it wasn’t a big deal,” Imanaga said. “So I think keeping that in mind, it helped a lot.”

Two pickoffs helped Imanaga navigate the baserunners. He caught Acuña at first and Ozzie Albies at fifth. Imanaga became the first Cubs left-hander with two strikes in a game since Jim Davis on July 5, 1954 in Cincinnati.