The Cubs envisioned Aroldis Chapman changing the entire shape of their bullpen – and the feel of playoff games – when they decided to take the off-the-field baggage and acquire the superstar closer in a 4-for-1 trade with the New York Yankees in late July.
And then manager Joe Maddon tried to squeeze four-out saves from Chapman, only to find out that the 100-mph lefty prefers to work one inning at a time.
And then Hector Rondon – another dominant closer bumped into the eighth inning with Chapman’s arrival – started feeling tightness in his triceps muscle. The Cubs already had to be cautious with a pitcher who missed almost three seasons with right elbow issues and came back from Tommy John surgery. Rondon hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 2 and will try to get in a bullpen session on Friday at Wrigley Field.
And now Pedro Strop – one of the league’s top setup guys – is looking at a four-to-six-week recovery period once he undergoes surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee.
“We’re just trying to build to that ninth inning with the lead,” Maddon said. “We can still do that. We’re going to miss him, though. Stropy’s that guy that I feel really good against the other team’s best hitters all the time.”
The Cubs needed 11 innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night, with John Lackey warming up in the bullpen and Anthony Rizzo drawing a walk-off walk as the exclamation point to a wild 4-3 win. Maddon used five relievers to cover the final five innings, including Justin Grimm, who has been shuttled back and forth from Triple-A Iowa because of his minor-league option and the 25-man roster crunch, the Cubs now hoping he will resemble the trusted reliever he became during last year’s playoff run.
“I know what I’m capable of doing here,” Grimm said. “This is where I belong.”
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Joe Smith – the funky right-hander acquired from the Los Angeles Angels as part of the trade-deadline dealing for Theo Epstein’s front office – should take on bigger responsibilities now.
“It will give more opportunities to different guys,” Maddon said. “Particularly Joe Smith, I think, is really going to be the guy that will be utilized more often because of it. Grimm has his strong points, too, that we can utilize. We’re still waiting to find out about Hector and exactly when he’s going to be available again. So there’s that to consider, too, but it’s still a really strong bullpen.”
Mike Montgomery hasn’t been the next Andrew Miller the Cubs wished for when they traded with the Seattle Mariners. And until Thursday night, the lefty hadn’t pitched in August, with Maddon saying the Cubs wanted to stretch him out and needed to keep next week’s doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers in mind.
Montgomery fractured Matt Holliday’s right thumb with an accidental pitch, and accounted for two scoreless innings against the Cardinals and earned his first win as a Cub.
“It’s my job is to be ready for anything,” Montgomery said.
After Strop heard his left knee pop on Wednesday night, Carl Edwards Jr. got three big outs in the eighth inning of an eventual 3-1 win over the Angels, retiring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons in a row. But given his rookie status and slender frame, the Cubs are not ready to use Edwards (1.42 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19 innings) in back-to-back games.
“Not yet,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to push it yet. I don’t think it’s time to go there. He was spectacular (against the Angels). I don’t know (if it’s) because we gave him the appropriate rest in between appearances. Just talking to the guys that have had him (before) in the organization – and how he’s been utilized to this point – I’ve listened regarding (C.J.). It’s worked out pretty well to this point.”