Adam Eaton

Cubs getting creative with their ever-changing bullpen

Cubs getting creative with their ever-changing bullpen

The Cubs are in the middle of a pennant race and in an effort to keep their bullpen fresh and to help slow down Bryce Harper and the Nationals, they're pulling out all the stops.

They inked veteran left-hander Jorge De La Rosa to a deal Friday morning, sending rookie Randy Rosario to Triple-A Iowa and pushing Yu Darvish to the 60-day disabled list to create room on the roster. (That doesn't mean Darvish has suffered a setback. He's already been on the shelf more than 60 days and moving him to that list creates an opening on the 40-man roster for De La Rosa.)

They also shifted their starting rotation to briefly go to a four-man unit and roll Mike Montgomery back into the bullpen.

Montgomery just tossed 6 shutout innings in Kansas City earlier in the week and feels like he's really turned a corner with a new curveball grip and the ascension of his changeup.

But the Cubs also want to limit the wear and tear on his arms while he's on pace to throw a career high in innings.

Montgomery will start next Saturday Aug. 18 in Pittsburgh while Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks will throw against the Brewers in an all-important two-game showdown at Wrigley Field next week.

"We're just trying to be proactive with Mike," Joe Maddon said. "That's all. Talking about him pitching so well and he has. We just think we want to monitor his time out there a litlte bit so that he can be effective into September."

Maddon believed Montgomery's confidence is "soaring" as well and called the 29-year-old left-hander "invaluable" to the Cubs for all he's done in 2018. But now Montgomery will slot into the bullpen starting Saturday and provide another option to get the slew of Washington left-handed hitters out. 

It's not just Harper — the Nats boast a strong supporting cast of left-handers in Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

Harper and Soto are still very good even when facing southpaws — Harper has an .836 OPS vs. lefties compared to .897 vs. righties while Soto actually carries a higher OPS vs. lefties (1.145) than righties (.917) — but the other three are severely neutralized in splits.

Murphy's OPS vs. lefties is .520, Eaton's is a minsicule .347 and Adams has a .640 OPS. All three guys entered the series with an OPS at least .820 or higher against righties.

Even if it's only for one batter over the weekend, Montgomery gives the Cubs a unique option and then can shut him down on the off-day Monday and work back up to his start next weekend in Pittsburgh.

De La Rosa also will get in a lot of work against left-handers in his initial foray into life as a member of the Cubs bullpen, Maddon confirmed.

The 37-year-old veteran has been very tough on left-handed hitters throughout his 15-year major-league career, holding them to a .231 average and .652 OPS. 

Righties have had more success against De La Rosa on the whole (.803 OPS), but that's taken a huge jump up in 2018 — right-handed hitters are batting .324 with a .927 OPS off De La Rosa this season.

De La Rosa said he's ready for any role with the Cubs after being designated for assignment and subsequently released by the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this month. It's a low-risk signing for the Cubs, who are still searching for some left-handed help in the bullpen (though they do have a bunch of righties who can attack left-handed hitters well). 

In 42 games with the D-Backs, De La Rosa had a 4.63 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, but a lot of that damage came in one outing in Colorado last month, when he surrendered 7 runs in 1.2 innings. Going into that game, De La Rosa carried a 3.00 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.

Allowing a baserunner-and-a-half per inning is not the stuff of an elite closer and taking away a reliever's worst outing would make any pitcher's stat line look significantly better. 

But De La Rosa could be a diamond in the rough for the Cubs as they search for another left-handed weapon in the bullpen and if not, the cost is minimal.

On day Lucas Giolito makes 2018 debut for White Sox, Adam Eaton has monster afternoon for Nationals

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AP

On day Lucas Giolito makes 2018 debut for White Sox, Adam Eaton has monster afternoon for Nationals

Adam Eaton might go down as one of the most important figures in the White Sox rebuild.

He won't be playing alongside the likes of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito. But the trade that sent him to the Washington Nationals stocked the White Sox farm system. It's already yielded a pair of exciting young big league pitchers in Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and could end up producing a third rotation piece in Dane Dunning. The haul was a big one at the time and could prove even bigger, depending on what Giolito, Lopez and Dunning become. That trade, along with the one that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for Moncada, Kopech and others, jolted this rebuild to life two winters ago.

So White Sox fans ought to feel good about seeing Eaton succeed. They missed that chance last year, as he was sidelined for almost the entire season with a torn ACL. But he's starting 2018 in strong fashion, including a monster day Saturday in the Nats' win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Eaton went 5-for-5 and came a triple shy of the cycle, homering, bashing out a pair of doubles, scoring four runs and driving in three.

Talk about a huge afternoon.

Eaton's big 2016 season allowed Rick Hahn to ship him to the nation's capital in exchange for such a big prospect package. He finished in the top 20 in American League MVP voting, slashing .284/.362/.428 with 29 doubles, an AL-high nine triples and some great defense.

This is the kind of day the Nationals assumed would make him worth the price they paid to the White Sox. Though it's pretty safe to say the White Sox are happy with the return. Giolito, perhaps the best pitcher on the major league roster, makes his first start of the 2018 season Saturday night.

How the Jose Quintana deal changed everything for Cubs and White Sox this winter and beyond

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AP

How the Jose Quintana deal changed everything for Cubs and White Sox this winter and beyond

ORLANDO, Fla. – White Sox general manager Rick Hahn didn’t really pay attention to how Jose Quintana performed for the Cubs in the playoffs, the opportunity he desperately wanted during those lost seasons on the South Side.

“Not so much,” Hahn said. “I saw a little bit of it here and there, but my kids are probably the better ones to ask about how he did in the postseason than me.”

Hahn’s kids weren’t made available to the reporters staking out the lobby this week at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, and the White Sox executive wasn’t the same popular media target he’d been during last year’s GM meetings.       

The Quintana trade that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break changed everything for the Cubs and White Sox, how the two franchises will approach the rest of the offseason after checking out of this resort hotel on Wednesday and leaving Florida. It could also frame the next three, five, maybe even 10 years of Chicago baseball.

Getting top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease from the Cubs – on top of the returns for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Melky Cabrera – positioned the White Sox as a team that can be patient and opportunistic and keep cultivating one of the industry’s best farm systems and methodically building a perennial contender.  

“I had one GM say something to me recently about being cautious for doing deals – with his tongue in cheek – because of how well we did,” Hahn said. “I said: ‘All I did was notice former White Sox players all over my TV screen in October.’ So it works both ways.”

Imagine how desperate the Cubs would feel trying to replace 60 percent of their rotation – without the financial flexibility created by Quintana’s club-friendly contract.

Imagine how a front office that fired multiple coaches from a staff that went to a third straight National League Championship Series might react to not playing in October.   

Imagine how much heat manager Joe Maddon would be feeling if Quintana hadn’t come to the rescue and stabilized the team and energized the clubhouse.

“It was well worth it,” Epstein said. “Without Jose Quintana, I don’t think we make the playoffs, honestly, (after) seeing what happened to our starting rotation. Jonny Lester went down. Jake Arrieta went down. ‘Q’ was a consistent performer for us in the second half. He pitched really well in two of the three playoff games.

“The bottom line: I don’t think we make the playoffs without him. And the biggest factor in that deal was not even 2017. It was 2018, ’19 and ’20 and solidifying a pitching staff and putting us in a position to be able to make a couple more moves and have a really outstanding starting rotation.”  

This is the price to acquire pitching: Hahn played along with a question that compared Jimenez to David Ortiz and suggested he could become the Big Papi-like presence that turned the Boston Red Sox into World Series champions in 2004, 2007 and 2013.  

“That’s possible,” Hahn said. “I don’t like putting too big a name on guys. Let him be the first Eloy Jimenez instead of the next David Ortiz. That said, if he could match him from a ring standpoint, that would be a positive. It would be a nice step or standard to emulate going forward.”

One year later, the GM meetings ended with the White Sox moving in the right direction, no more wondering if they would actually go through with a teardown, now setting their sights on what the Cubs have become on the North Side.

“Honestly, I didn’t watch a ton of the postseason,” Hahn said. “I get a little uneasy watching other teams perform when we’ve been eliminated. But certainly it was difficult to turn on a game and not see a former White Sox player out there doing well and contributing. If anything, that made us hungrier for our fans to experience it with quality players in our uniform.

“I’m certainly happy for the players that were out there and got that opportunity. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that you also think about the missed opportunity where we didn’t have the chance to have them in the postseason while they played for us.”