Knock on wood: Trevor Cahill has resurrected his career with Cubs


Knock on wood: Trevor Cahill has resurrected his career with Cubs

When Joe Maddon needed to call on a reliever to pitch the eighth inning of a tense, must-win postseason game in St. Louis, how many people expected Trevor Cahill to be the guy?

Maddon's bullpen is constantly changing, but even still, it was a bit shocking to see Cahill - a guy who wasn't even with the big-league Cubs until Aug. 31 - called upon in such a crucial moment of Game 2 against the Cardinals, a game the Cubs absolutely had to have after dropping the NLDS opener the night before.

But to anybody following the Cubs closely over the last six weeks, it shouldn't have come as a surprise.

[RELATED - Kyle Schwarber has become larger than life during Cubs postseason run]

Since joining the Cubs, Cahill has been good. Like, really good.

He carved out a role as a high-leverage arm out of the bullpen with 11 dominant appearances to close out the regular season after he got called up just before the Sept. 1 roster expansion.

Including the playoffs, Cahill has a 2.34 ERA and 0.86 WHIP while striking out 28 batters in 19.2 innings.

Miguel Montero spent three years catching Cahill with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2012-14 and he said this is the best he's ever seen the big right-hander.

"Bottom line right here, he's throwing a lot of strikes," Montero said before Cahill picked up a win in the NLDS-clinching Game 4 Tuesday. "In Arizona, he was really wild. He was spiking fastballs, he as probably getting ahead really quick on the hitters and then he just ended up walking them.

"Right now, he's been doing a great job for us, knock on wood. He was a pretty good acquisition by the organization in late August. I was really happy when we signed him. I actually remember texting somebody in the front office saying, 'Hey, that was a great sign.'

"Sure enough, he's been looking, and like I say - knock on wood again - hopefully he stays good."

[RELATED - Chemistry matters for Cubs team taking the playoffs by storm]

Cahill was 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and earned a trip to the All-Star Game and ranked ninth in the American League Cy Young race as a 22-year-old with the Oakland A's in 2010. But his transformation into a valuable high-leverage arm has been quite striking from the pitcher he's been recently, even earlier this season.

Cahill lost his role in the Diamondbacks rotation last year and wound up with a 3-12 record, 5.61 ERA and 1.608 WHIP.

This season, he had a 7.52 ERA in 15 games with the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and was outright released by the team in late June. He signed with the Cubs as a free agent Aug. 18 and the rest is history.

"It just says a lot about [Cubs president Theo Epstein] and them for signing me," Cahill said. "I was in a place where I didn't think anybody wanted me. I was pitching batting practice in Triple-A.

"Apparently, they saw something in me. [Theo's] like, we want you to go to Triple-A and see what you can do out of the bullpen. I went there and fortunately, pitched well.

"They called me up and I didn't know what capacity they'd use me in. But I was just like, 'I'm gonna be ready all the time.' Fortunately, I've pitched well enough. I still don't know what capacity they're gonna use me in, but I'm just ready to go from the first inning to the ninth."

Cahill said he was at the point where he was seriously wondering whether he had a future in baseball at age 27 and with an All-Star nod on his resume.

But it all worked out and now he's one of Maddon's most trusted relievers, in part, because the Cubs let him be himself.

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

If that sounds familiar, it should, because it's the same story Jake Arrieta went through after struggling with the Baltimore Orioles and then finding Cy Young-level success with this Cubs pitching infrastructure.

"He was probably, mentally-wise, he lost it a little bit," Montero said. "He probably didn't have anybody helping him, behind him, and then he came here and as soon as he came here, I sat down with him and said, 'You know what, I heard you were changing your delivery in Arizona in Spring Training, I heard they changed your arm angle and whatnot, blah, blah, blah.

"I want you to be you. Just go out there and throw the ball. Just be you and don't worry about the rest. I mean, he's been impressive, man. He's probably been as good as I've ever seen him."

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”