Cubs

Cubs need to come up with answers for pitching problems

Cubs

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.”   

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  • 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.”