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ATL@MIA: Eovaldi allows two runs over eight innings

Nathan Eovaldi's fastball is one of the fastest in the Majors, and the Marlins right-hander should be able to use that to his advantage when he faces the Cubs for the first time in his career on Friday at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs had the lowest batting average against fastballs of any team in baseball, at .234, going into Thursday night's game against the Mets. Eovaldi's fastball has averaged 95.8 mph this year, and he's held batters to a .244 clip with it.

After throwing 45 of his 69 fastballs for strikes in his start against the Braves on Sunday, Eovaldi said he was able to command the pitch the best he had all year.

In eight innings, he gave up two runs on six hits without walking a batter. Eovaldi is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA in his last three starts after starting the season 2-2 with a 3.62 ERA in nine starts.

Pitching for the Cubs will be Jason Hammel, who didn't give up a walk in his last start either. He didn't give up much of anything against the Brewers, actually, yielding just four hits and striking out eight batters.

Hammel has a 6-3 record and a 2.78 ERA in 71 1/3 innings this year, and he has given the last-place Cubs a chance to win every time he takes the mound.

That might come as a surprise, since Hammel finished 2013 at 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA for the Orioles last year.

"I saw him in Colorado and I thought he was a good pitcher then, quite frankly," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I'm not surprised at the success he's having. He's got a great angle, good velocity, he mixes his pitches and he's got tremendous poise on the hill. He's going out there and just doing what he's capable of doing, which is attacking the strike zone and making pitches when he needs to."

Marlins: Stanton, Hech like Windy City
Giancarlo Stanton has homered against all 11 opponents the Marlins have faced this season. He hit a two-run shot in the Marlins' win over the Rays on Thursday.

It might be hard to keep Stanton off the board in Chicago during this series. In his career, he's .310 with two homers and eight RBIs at Wrigley. Against Hammel, he's 3-for-6 with a double.

Adeiny Hechavarria might prove to be a problem for the Cubs, too, since he's a career .308 hitter against them. But Chicago might want to worry more about his glove than his bat.

Hechavarria has dazzled on the field this season, and manager Mike Redmond praised his defense on Thursday.

"This guy is a special player," Redmond said. "We love the way he plays defense. And he's still improving. His offense is still a work in progress."

Cubs: Bullpen bolstering starters
Chicago's starters have struggled to stay in games lately. In the last turn through the rotation, the only starter to make it past the fifth inning was Hammel. The four other starters combined to throw 17 2/3 innings in their last trips to the mound.

So there's been a lot of pressure on the bullpen. Relievers pitched 24 2/3 innings in six games entering Friday. Excluding a four-run, six-hit performance last Friday, the bullpen has performed well, giving up nine hits and three runs while registering two wins and two save.

Cubs relievers are fifth in the National League with a 3.10 ERA.

"It's fallen into a balance," Renteria said after Wednesday's game. "Right now, the way we've been using them, they've fallen into particular slots."

Worth noting
• Marlins rookies Justin Bour and J.T. Realmuto got their first Major League hits on consecutive singles on Thursday. They both had productive debuts, going a combined 4-for-9 with four RBIs.
• The Cubs are one of three National League teams that Miami owns a winning record (84-82) against. And for a team that's struggled on the road, the Marlins should be happy to return to Wrigley, one of two NL parks where they own a winning record (44-43).
• Chris Coghlan will be facing his former team for the first time since signing with the Cubs. After finishing sixth in the Majors with a .321 average and winning the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Award, Coghlan's time with the Marlins was mired in injuries and struggles. He was non-tendered by Miami in December.

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