White Sox

Cubs looking for more out of Nos. 4-5 SPs

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Cubs looking for more out of Nos. 4-5 SPs

Last season, starting pitching was all doom and gloom for the Cubs. It was the main reason for their 71-91 record.

Early injuries knocked both Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells out of the rotation after just one start and the Cubs did not have any depth behind them.

As a result, Chicago was 26th in the MLB in quality starts with 76 and had the worst starter's ERA in the National League (4.79).

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer set out to right that wrong this season. And so far so good in the large scheme of things. But the Cubs are still looking for more from Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm at the back end of the rotation.

Matt Garza (1.23 ERA0.75 WHIP) and Ryan Dempster (1.880.91) have been simply fantastic and have four of the Cubs' six quality starts this year. Jeff Samardzija was brilliant in his first outing, picking up the Cubs' first win of 2012. After the Cubs offense staked him to a big lead in St. Louis on Friday, however, Samardzija got complacent and allowed five runs in the fifth inning.

But Volstad and Maholm have struggled some. Volstad hasn't been bad, he just hasn't necessarily been good. The big right-hander has a 4.91 ERA and 0-1 record in two starts, but a sparkling 1.18 WHIP shows he has pitched better than his numbers indicate. He also had a quality start on Saturday against the Cardinals.

Mahlom, meanwhile, is bringing the whole rotation's numbers down. He has allowed 12 earned runs and three homers in just eight innings pitched. Maholm, whom the Cubs signed as a free agent this offseason, has not gotten more than 12 outs in a start yet this season.

The Cubs will hang their hat on starting pitching this year, as their bullpen is inexperienced and the offense isn't set up to out-slug teams. Even in losses so far this season, the starters have battled enough to keep their team in the game. Maholm has gotten rocked early in his outings, but both times he was able to settle down and at least give the offense a chance.

Maholm has a 4.42 career ERA in more than 1,100 big-league innings. He will rebound and should still wind up with a more manageable ERA.

Prospects Zack Burdi, Luis Basabe to begin rehab stints in White Sox minors

Prospects Zack Burdi, Luis Basabe to begin rehab stints in White Sox minors

Tommy John surgeries have knocked out two top White Sox pitching prospects for 2019 (Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning), but one pitching prospect is set to make a notable step in his return from the surgery.

Zack Burdi will join Single-A Kannapolis on a rehab stint on Monday. Burdi had Tommy John surgery in July of 2017. In his first game action since the surgery, he made seven appearances last August with the Arizona League White Sox (rookie level). The Downers Grove native made five more appearances in the Arizona Fall League before being pulled from the league due to “general fatigue.” He talked about his recovery process on an episode of the White Sox Talk Podcast.

In spring training, Burdi was not invited to major league camp and he wasn’t on a minor league roster when the season began. With this news, he is set to hit another milestone in his return. If all goes well in Kannapolis, it is expected that Burdi will join Triple-A Charlotte, where he was in 2017 when he got hurt.

If Burdi can recapture his stuff, which profiled him as a back end of the bullpen pitcher, he could even join the White Sox sometime in 2019. He has to show he is healthy and back to his old self first though. The 24-year-old was taken with the 26th pick in the 2016 draft and is the No. 16 prospect in the system according to MLB Pipeline.

Another prospect will be joining Burdi in Kannapolis on a rehab assignment. Outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, No. 7 prospect in the system, will also join the Intimidators on Monday. Basabe broke the hamate bone in his left hand during batting practice in spring training. It was initially estimated that he would return in late May, so Basabe appears to be ahead of schedule. The 22-year-old spent the second half of 2019 with Double-A Birmingham and is expected to return there after rehabbing with Kannapolis.

Elsewhere on the White Sox prospect injury watch, Luis Robert left a game on Saturday with soreness in his left hand and is reportedly day-to-day. He was hit by a pitch in the first game of a doubleheader for Single-A Winston-Salem. He made one at-bat in the second game, a leadoff groundout, and then was taken out of the game. He did not play on Sunday.

Robert endured an injury-plagued 2018. He was limited to 50 games, but has been on fire early in 2019. Robert leads the Carolina League in batting average (.475), home runs (6), hits (28), runs (16), on-base percentage (.530) and slugging percentage (.915) and is tied for the league lead in RBIs (18) and stolen bases (7).

 

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Cubs back Tyler Chatwood after big-time performance: 'That's not a fluke'

Cubs back Tyler Chatwood after big-time performance: 'That's not a fluke'

Tyler Chatwood now has as many quality starts in 2019 as Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish combined.

The Cubs opted to give Chatwood a spot start Sunday against the Diamondbacks and the 29-year-old right-hander responded with a masterful performance, tossing 6 shutout innings in the Cubs' 2-1 walk-off win. He allowed only 2 singles and walked a pair, but also induced a double play after each free pass.

Manager Joe Maddon said he thought Chatwood may be able to get up to 75 or 80 pitches, but he didn't even need that many, tossing 71 pitches through 6 frames. He was still pumping 96 mph with his fastball in the last inning in his longest outing since April 29, 2018. 

"It's all about Chatwood today," Maddon said. "That was pretty spectacular. The command, the stuff, the ease with which he was throwing it. That was pretty outstanding. That's what we thought in the beginning [of his Cubs tenure] — we've talked about it a lot.

"As he gains feel for what he's doing, he's capable of that. That's not a fluke. He's capable of doing that kind of stuff. It's a nice first step for him, but it was really fun and interesting to watch."

Chatwood talked all throughout spring about the hard work he put into the offseason to clean up his mechanics and fight his way back after walking 95 batters in 103.2 innings a season ago.

"I feel like I'm back and my stuff's back and I'm commanding the ball like I know I can," Chatwood said.

Chatwood threw the first pitch of the game to the backstop and proceeded to walk the leadoff guy on four pitches, but he said that was due to being too amped up after going nearly two weeks in between appearances and eight months in between starts.

"I don't think I missed a spot in my warm-up and then throw four balls right away. Keep you guys on edge a little bit," joked Chatwood, who smiled and laughed with ease after his big outing. 

He settled in after that leadoff walk, erasing the free pass with a quick double play ball and then throwing first-pitch strikes to 12 of the final 19 batters he faced.

That's exactly the type of aggressiveness the Cubs wanted to see from him.

"He's got unique Chatwood-type mechanics," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said before Sunday's game. "It's about simplifying things for him — trying to give him 1 or 2 things to focus on and really solidify what he wants to do. And it's about being aggressive in the strike zone, being aggressive attacking.

"When you try to feel for the strike zone and you try to work your pitches around it, a lot of times, mechanically things go wrong. So it's about letting him be aggressive, letting him be himself and attacking, using all his weapons. Mechanically, though, the big thing is just simplifying things and really giving him a good, strong foundation to pitch off of and drive off it." 

The Cubs won't keep Chatwood in the rotation with Jon Lester on the verge of returning from his hamstring injury, but the right-hander certainly did all he could to keep his hat in the ring and this outing could be huge for his confidence moving forward.

"What a performance," David Bote told Kelly Crull on the field after getting the walk-off hit. "I know that felt good for him. He's the best teammate in the clubhouse, He works his butt off every day and I love to see him do well like that."

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