Cubs need to come up with answers for pitching problems


Cubs need to come up with answers for pitching problems

MILWAUKEE — If everything’s going so great around the Cubs, why did backup catcher David Ross pitch for the first time since Little League?

Joe Maddon almost always delivers money quotes for the media, and he doesn’t believe in throwing his players under the bus. The manager is thoughtful, engaging, refreshing and aware of life outside baseball. But there are also times where he goes into happy talk and starts sounding like Rick Renteria.  

“We got our butts beat, but I was really, really pleased with the effort once again,” Maddon said, leading off his postgame session with reporters following Saturday night’s 12-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. 

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But the Cubs (15-14) can’t gloss over the issues that keep building around their pitching staff, whether it’s a rotation that hasn’t eaten up enough innings, a bullpen searching for answers or a shaky defense that keeps giving opponents extra chances:

  • Travis Wood only lasted four innings against the worst team in baseball, giving up six runs, four earned, as his ERA nearly ballooned to 5.00. Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 5.61 ERA) will start Sunday afternoon against the Brewers (10-21).

Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have accounted for 11 of the rotation’s 14 quality starts. The Cubs simply aren’t getting enough length out of the back end of their rotation.

“You just keep putting them out there, man,” Maddon said. “You put your guys out there until it happens. You keep working with them. You keep showing a positive message to them. The work’s good. The work’s great, actually. For some of the guys, it’s just not playing all the way through yet. But it will.”

And if it doesn’t, then the Cubs might have to start looking harder at external solutions.

“Obviously, you’ll talk about things,” Maddon said. “You’ll talk about things internally and try and figure out if there’s a better way to do things, absolutely.”

  • This definitely stresses the bullpen and opens up the middle of the game to the weaker spots on the pitching staff. Edwin Jackson couldn’t get an out in the fifth inning and was charged with three runs. Phil Coke allowed both inherited runners to score and now has a 6.52 ERA.

There are no great answers for Maddon in that situation.

“Every team, every GM, every manager…you’re always evaluating,” Maddon said. “That conversation exists all the time, even through what appears to be good moments and then bad moments, too. You’re always looking to see if there’s something we can do a little bit better.”

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  • Pedro Strop admitted he hasn’t been feeling the same oomph with his fastball lately, but he wouldn’t break the code and blame it on his workload.

“I’m not that person,” Strop said. “Maybe somebody else will say it, but not me. I just like to battle, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Strop began the season with 12 scoreless outings but has since watched his ERA jump to 4.26. He woke up on Saturday tied for the major-league lead with 16 appearances.

“I’m kind of used to that,” Strop said. “And it’s early in the season, too, so I don’t want to use that as a complaint. My fastball, it doesn’t have that life that I need, and we’re working on it.”

Maddon believes everything will even out with Strop, who reemerged as an elite setup guy since getting traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season.   

“I’m not worried, because the numbers are the same,” Maddon said. “He might be feeling something right now, but the numbers are the same.”   

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

  • At the same time, closer Hector Rondon feels like he hasn’t been pitching enough to get into a really good rhythm, because the Cubs haven’t had that many save opportunities. Rondon went five days between his fourth and fifth saves, and then another five days between his fifth and sixth saves this season.

Rondon admitted he might have lost his edge on Friday night, not having the same adrenaline rush with a four-run lead and nearly blowing it before hanging on for a 7-6 win. Rondon also shook off catcher Miguel Montero a few times and threw Milwaukee 19 straight fastballs, all between 94 and 96 mph.

“You should never get wild with your fastball only,” Maddon said. “When you’re out there just throwing fastball, fastball, fastball and you’re walking people, throw something else. That’s like Catching/Pitching 101: Do not permit a pitcher to get wild with his fastball — and a pitcher should know that.”  

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

On Saturday, the Cubs announced that they are placing starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day I.L.with right shoulder inflammation. 

Following Hendricks' injury, the Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick from Triple-A. Wick will be available on Saturday night and beyond, as the Cubs continue their four-game series against the Dodgers. 

This obviously a significant blow for the Cubs, as Hendricks is the team leader in innings pitched (88.1).

Prior to his loss on Friday night, Hendricks had won three straight outings, giving up less than 3 ER in each game. 

The Cubs have plenty of options to replace Hendricks for the time being. With an off day until Monday, they could keep their rotation intact. Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are options, and the Cubs could push Hendricks next start back to by going with a spot starter. 

Stellar pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is another intriuging option, and he is coming off of a great outing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On Fridaym he racked up 9 strikeouts, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER. 

The 24-year old Alzolay is ranked as the Cubs' fourth-overall prospect and the Hendricks injury could open the door for Alzolay to get called up.

The more likely scenario is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon chooses to use Chatwood. 

Chatwood is the only pitcher outside of the everyday rotation to have made a start this year and is the most obvious stopgap solution until we get further updates on Hendricks' status.