WASHINGTON – The Cubs don’t have the pitching equivalent of a Javier Baez or a Kyle Schwarber down in the minors.
There’s no first-round pick on the verge of joining the rotation, no obvious future No. 1 starter ready to live up to the Baseball America hype, no one for Cubs fans and the Chicago media to obsess over right now.
Theo Epstein’s front office will be looking to upgrade the rotation between now and the July 31 trade deadline, because Friday’s 7-5 loss to the Washington Nationals again showed why the Cubs will need more to stay relevant into October.
Tsuyoshi Wada couldn’t finish the fourth inning at Nationals Park, getting booed by the crowd of 36,124 as he ended his night by intentionally walking Washington superstar Bryce Harper to load the bases.
Combined, the Cubs are paying Wada, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood almost $21 million this season, and they wish someone would have stepped forward and grabbed the fifth-starter job by now. They didn’t want to picture those three pitchers lining up in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings in Game 53.
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“I do understand that there are two possible rotation guys in the bullpen,” Wada said through his interpreter, Nao Masamoto, the major-league video coordinator and Pacific liaison.
“If I said I don’t feel the pressure, I would be lying. But it’s just the same as last year. I understand the situation I’m in. I have to pitch every time.”
Wada made an impression during last season’s 13-start audition (4-4, 3.25 ERA), filling in after the Cubs traded away 40 percent of their rotation and earning a major-league contract.
But Wada (0-1, 4.19 ERA) hasn’t thrown six innings in any of his four starts for the Cubs this season. The Nationals (30-25) had already seen Wada on Memorial Day, and the 34-year-old lefty has trouble facing a lineup the second and third time through the order.
So it wasn’t a total surprise when Danny Espinosa launched a three-run homer that flew over the visiting bullpen and into the left-field seats in the second inning. Wada, who gave up five runs on nine hits, needed Jackson to bail him out of that bases-loaded jam by getting Anthony Rendon to pop out.
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Wood’s two scoreless innings made you wonder if the Cubs could turn to someone who earned an All-Star selection in 2013 and made 30-plus starts in each of the last two seasons.
“I have not even gone there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I really think Wada’s done a nice job. You saw what Woody did out of the ‘pen tonight. That was outstanding, too. For the most part, Woody out of the ‘pen’s been really good.
“If Wada had his good stuff, and they had got on him a little bit like that, then I might be…I don’t know you want to use the word concern.”
Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have combined for 22 of the team’s 27 quality starts, and the Cubs seem to believe Kyle Hendricks will help solidify the back end of the rotation.
If not, there will be times where the Cubs (28-25) will waste a two-homer night from Anthony Rizzo, who drove another ball toward the left-center field wall before Denard Span made a great catch to rob the All-Star first baseman.
Maddon talks about coming from The Land of Run Prevention, where the Tampa Bay Rays won with pitching and defense. The Cubs won’t generate any real momentum if they don’t know what they’re going to get out of their rotation.
“We were entitled to score eight runs today, too,” Maddon said. “We chose not to score eight runs, and that was a big part of our loss, so I don’t look at it that way. We’ve been more offensively challenged than anything recently. And that’s where we got to get rolling a little bit. Just get some guys back on track, because you got to win once in awhile 6-5, 7-6.”