Hector Rondon saved 59 games over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
And with the Cubs boasting baseball’s best record with 22 wins in 28 games, you’d think Rondon would again be looking like one of baseball’s best closers.
Problem is, he’s had little opportunity to show it.
The Cubs’ offense has been so good — with it’s out-of-this-world plus-98 run differential — that Rondon has gotten just five save opportunities on the year. He’s converted all five, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cubs as a team rank near the bottom in the big leagues when it comes to saves. One of just two teams in the majors with at least 20 wins, the Cubs rank only ahead of the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins when it comes to saves. No team has had fewer save opportunities than the Cubs’ mere six.
Rondon did get a save opportunity Friday, setting the Washington Nationals down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth inning to lock down an 8-6 win.
And he has been dominant. He’s appeared in 11 games, throwing 10 1/3 innings and allowing just four base runners and one run, striking out 17 hitters in the process.
But manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that he needs to be careful with Rondon. He’s discovered the closer pitches better when he has regular work, as opposed to just pitching when a save opportunity presents itself — which with this Cubs team hasn’t been often.
“My take on Hector is the more you pitch him, the better he throws,” Maddon said. “I thought early on when we just threw him out there once in a while he wasn’t nearly as sharp. Yesterday he was very sharp. So there’s that fine line between resting somebody and giving them enough work to be sharp.
“With him I think we have to be aware of that because I gave him that long period in between where I was talking about a lot of times closers don’t need that and are still able to throw a strike. But I think with him there’s a certain amount of feel involved and I’ve got to get him out there even when there’s not a save situation, maybe three days max just to maintain the feel because he looks much sharper when he plays on a consistent basis.”
Of course, this is a good problem to have. No one thinks they can win by too many runs, and that’s another point of emphasis for Maddon.
“We have this concept, you go for the jugular late in the game,” Maddon said Friday. “When you have a lead in your last at-bat, I love for us to push another run across. It really takes away from the believability on the other side, the momentum on the other side. So if it takes away a save opportunity, so be it. It’s a contrived notion anyway. I know you get paid for it and all that, which I love that guys make their living. But for me it’s about us winning, so let’s go ahead and add on at the end and not worry about the saves.”