ATLANTA — Cubs manager Joe Maddon still believes Pedro Strop can be an important part of his team’s playoff push despite the right-hander’s pair of high-profile losses over the last week and a half.
Eury Perez’s go-ahead two-run single in the eighth off Strop sent the Cubs a 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves Friday night at Turner Field, leaving the 30-year-old to wonder how a promising first half has started to come unraveled recently.
In Strop’s last appearance before Friday, he gave up a go-ahead two-out two-run home run on a 1-2 fastball to St. Louis Cardinals All-Star Jhonny Peralta that delivered the Cubs a gutting loss to the National League Central leader. Friday in Atlanta was another frustrating night for him.
“I don’t know. I really don’t what to say about it,” Strop said. “It’s either been really good or either really bad. I think I gotta do a better job staying on one level. We all know we’re going to have bad outings but I gotta minimize it.”
Joe Maddon, though, said after the game he hasn’t lost confidence in Strop.
“It’s so strange,” Maddon said. “I have so much faith in this guy, I really believe he’s that good. He let it get away from him, but I really believe he’s one of the best. We just gotta continue to work him through this moment.”
The common thread between Strop’s two rough outings is a pair of walks to players to whom he should’ve pitched aggressively.
Before Peralta’s home run, Strop issued a four-pitch walk to a struggling Matt Carpenter (who had eight hits in his previous 57 at-bats). On Friday, Maddon had Strop intentionally walk A.J. Pierzynski with first base open to face Andrelton Simmons, who had a .233 batting average since June 1 entering Friday.
Strop walked Simmons, too, firing both a 2-2 slider and 3-2 fastball into the dirt.
“I wanted to throw a slider for a strike and I couldn’t execute the pitch,” Strop said. “I might’ve went too fine on that at-bat, I should’ve just attacked him.”
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Perez then jumped on Strop’s first-pitch slider and knocked it into right for the game-winning hit.
Strop said he’s feeling fine health-wise, though Maddon said it’s more mental and hasn’t seen him be assertive enough in recent appearances. This is a guy who had a 2.21 ERA for the Cubs a year ago and rebounded from a rough stretch in early May to post a 1.78 ERA between May 8 and July 7.
Maddon’s confident Strop can fix the problem again. But as the innings grow more important into August and September, the Cubs can’t afford to have Strop continue to give away close and late games.
“I know they’ve been rough performances lately, but I really think this guy’s outstanding,” Maddon said. “… We gotta get his confidence back up because stuff-wise, he’s got premier stuff. There’s no doubt in my mind.”