Chicago Cubs waste Shota Imanaga out in loss to Atlanta Braves

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

Imanaga’s stellar stretch meant the Chicago Cubs left-hander entered Monday’s start against the Atlanta Braves having navigated few innings with multiple runners on base. Through 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 multiple times he got out of it by removing the next batter.

Imanaga knew he needed to be careful with the Braves lineup, and in the process he dealt with the most traffic he had faced in any start this season. Despite the Braves putting 10 runners on against Imanaga, he worked around it to throw five shutdown innings. The Cubs, though, couldn’t get much going 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 statistic in the National League.

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

The Braves put at least two runners on in three of Imanaga’s five innings. He got out of the first and third by 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 for Ronald Acuña Jr. Imanaga and the Cubs thought Acuña failed to check his swing on a 2-1 pitch; however, first base umpire Junior Valentine ruled Acuña held up.

The sequence led to Counsell’s first ejection as Cubs manager. After he had been warned before the checked swing, Counsell was tossed for throwing his arms in the air after the checked-swing call, prompting him to pop out of the dugout to question Valentine.

The brief delay didn’t deter Imanaga. He got Acuña to fly out on the next pitch, a 3-1 fastball, to end the inning.

“I’m really grateful for Craig Counsell for coming out and showing more emotion than I do on the swing,” Imanaga said through interpreter Edwin Stanberry. “Regardless of if it was a swing or not, just him having my back I really appreciate.”

Cubs starter Shota Imanaga pitches in the first inning against the Braves on May 13, 2024, at Truist Park in Atlanta.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Cubs starter Shota Imanaga pitches in 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 have gone one more inning but was pulled after throwing 98 pitches in five innings.

“At the end of the day, I gave up zero runs, but I was thinking if I gave up a couple of runs, that’s OK,” Imanaga said. “So I think just keeping that in mind, that helped a lot.”

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