With the Cubs’ starting pitching in a bit of a rocky patch right now, the bullpen becomes all the more crucial.
If it keeps pitching like it did in Friday’s 5-3 win over the Braves, there’ll be no rush for the starting staff to find its footing.
After starter Kyle Hendricks only made it five innings, the Cubs’ relief corps turned in four spotless innings Friday, with four different pitchers retiring 12 of the 14 hitters they faced. Jason Motte, Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop each pitched a perfect 1-2-3 frame. Hector Rondon, as he tends to do, made things a little more interesting in the ninth, giving up a double and a walk around his three outs. But he got those outs nonetheless, making it a scoreless performance for the quartet of relief arms.
“They’ve been doing it for me all year,” Hendricks said. “One of these days I’m going to pay them back, I’ll turn it around. But those guys down there have been solid all year. It takes a lot of pressure off me. When I’m coming out of a game, I know the score’s going to stay pretty close to that and give our lineup a chance.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
Cubs pitching in general has been significantly improved over the past two games after a two-day deluge of Tigers hits, homers and runs in a brief two-game set where the Cubs yielded 25 runs and 40 hits. Thursday, in the series opener with the Braves, Jake Arrieta was stellar, and three Cubs relievers allowed just one run over three innings. Throw in Friday’s performance, and Cubs pitching has let up four runs in two games after allowing a quarter century of them in the prior two.
The bullpen, of course has been a big part of that. Friday, Cubs relievers shaved 0.03 points off their collective ERA, dropping it to 3.40.
“The bullpen did a good job,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “The guys have been outstanding overall. I know we had a tough series against Detroit, but we’ve just got to forget about it and move on. From that point on, the guys have been doing a good job.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon needed four innings of relief Friday, and according to him, everything went to plan. The order in which Cubs relievers pitched Friday was the order Maddon envisioned, and nothing that happened in the game required changing that up — mainly because Cubs relievers made sure nothing happened.
The first of those guys used, Motte, is having quite the rare season for a late-inning reliever. He earned the win Friday, his eight of the season, which ties him for second on the team with Jon Lester.
That’s not a typical amount for a bullpen arm of his sort. And according to Hendricks, Motte was letting everyone know about his accomplishment after the game.
“Yeah, 8-1. He was yelling about it,” Hendricks said. “He’s done unreal all year. He’s come in after me a lot of times and kept the score right there. He definitely deserves it.”
Maddon seemed to like hearing that Motte was 8-1.
“Is he really? Got to get him out there more often, man.”