ST. LOUIS — The Cubs shook up their bullpen on Tuesday, adding right-hander Anthony Varvaro, bringing back lefty James Russell and still feeling like they’re not done moving pieces around.
This isn’t sustainable for a team that envisions itself as a contender: The bullpen blew its fifth save in Monday night’s 10-9 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, while the rotation has accounted for only 12 quality starts through 24 games.
“We’ve let some games slip away that we could have won,” general manger Jed Hoyer said at Busch Stadium. “But that is the nature of bullpens. They can be volatile. We’ve played a sixth of the season and we’ve already had, I’d say, two good stretches and two bad stretches. We just have to even those things out a little bit.”
The Cubs claimed Varvaro off waivers from the Boston Red Sox, where he had gotten squeezed out of a bullpen that needed more of a long man. Varvaro had gone 6-4 with a 2.74 ERA and 19 holds across the previous two seasons with the Atlanta Braves.
[SHOP: Get the latest Cubs gear here]
In corresponding moves, the Cubs placed outfielder Chris Denorfia on the disabled list, optioned right-hander Gonzalez Germen to Triple-A Iowa and designated right-hander Blake Parker for assignment.
Russell — who had been drafted and developed by the organization and traded to the Braves at last summer’s deadline — dominated at Iowa. After getting released by the Braves near the end of spring training, Russell signed a minor-league deal and put up 12 strikeouts against zero walks in 9.2 scoreless innings with Iowa.
The shape of the bullpen will change again with Justin Grimm. The question now is whether he will make a second rehab appearance with Iowa or get cleared to rejoin the Cubs after recovering from his right forearm injury.
Neil Ramirez — another hard-throwing reliever for what was supposed to be a lights-out bullpen — is scheduled to throw off a mound on Wednesday at the team’s Arizona complex as he works through right shoulder inflammation.
“Knock on wood, guys will get healthy, but it’s hard to count on that,” Hoyer said. “You have to almost assume that you’re going to be scrambling all the time, because when one guy gets healthy, a lot of times another guy might go down. I don’t think you can look forward and say: ‘When we’re healthy.’ Because that never seems to ever really happen.”