CINCINNATI – The Cubs are under no illusions as they prepare for the July 31 trade deadline: It’s the pitching, stupid.
Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer already placed their bets on big bats in the draft, on the international market and through trades. The next 10 days should be focused on acquiring another quality starter, even if it’s not someone at the level of David Price or Cole Hamels.
“You can’t have enough pitching,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I really believe that. Offensively, we have it. It’s here. Some of it’s dormant at times, but you got to work through it. Everybody goes through those moments during the season.”
The Cubs trudged through a suspense-free 9-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park.
In an ideal world, Kyle Hendricks – with his poise, command and Ivy League education – would probably become the reliable No. 5 starter on the playoff team the Cubs envision themselves becoming.
Hendricks didn’t get hit all that hard – two infield choppers, shortstop Addison Russell’s throwing error and a walk to Joey Votto set it in motion – but the Cubs still got buried in a 4-0 hole in the first inning.
“‘Weird’ is a good word for it,” Hendricks said. “Honestly, I’ll be the first one to tell you when I don’t make good pitches. But I thought I was throwing pretty well, even from the first. Just some bad breaks. It wasn’t my day.”
Hendricks looked sharp at times and made it through six innings, giving up five runs and getting nine strikeouts. But these issues aren’t specifically about Hendricks (4-5, 3.66 ERA).
With the bullpen in “dire straits” – Maddon’s words – the Cubs had to scramble after using six relievers in Tuesday night’s 13-inning victory. And the starter – Jason Hammel, who hadn’t pitched since July 8 – used a brace to get through five innings and talked afterward about the “lingering effects” from his hamstring injury and developing soreness in his calf muscle.
“Our trainers aren’t giving me like the whole panicked-or-concerned vibe about it,” Maddon said. “So I think he’s going to be OK. At this point, honestly, I’m not (concerned). But you never know.”
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To strengthen the bullpen, the Cubs called up Yoervis Medina from Triple-A Iowa and designated Clayton Richard for assignment. Medina got rocked in the seventh, giving up four runs and needing 42 pitches to finish the inning.
The Cubs hope Richard will stay in the organization after a whirlwind July – plucked from Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate and two spot starts bookending that emergency appearance when Hammel went down.
The Cubs can line up Hammel (Sunday vs. Philadelphia) and Hendricks (Monday vs. Colorado) on normal rest next week at Wrigley Field. And then possibly bring back Iowa right-hander Dallas Beeler – Wednesday’s Game 2 starter – on July 28 against the Rockies.
This is a lot of uncertainty for a team that has legitimate playoff hopes and entered this doubleheader with a 3.30 rotation ERA that trailed only the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates in the National League.
Jon Lester is the $155 million ace with two World Series rings. Jake Arrieta and Hammel became part of the All-Star conversation in the first half. Pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello deserve a lot of credit for the infrastructure they helped build here.
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The bottom line is the Cubs need to do something to get through the final 68 games and into October. The pitching isn’t a mirage. It’s just inherently fragile. If there’s any help on the way…
“I’m not getting any sense,” Maddon said. “I’ve not spoken to Theo or Jed at all about any of that.
“I don’t really worry about that stuff, because I have faith in the guys that are there, that we’ll figure it out somehow. And hopefully be able to get a chance to hold onto Clayton as well.
“Big picture, I got to be more about today. And so that’s where I’m at, man. They’re the ones putting it together. It’s our job to make it work. I am certain we’ll be fine.
“Our guys will figure it out somehow.”
Eventually, someone from the front office will send you a text message.
“Exactly,” Maddon said. “I’ll get a text. I’ll read it. And then I’ll do whatever it says.”