MILWAUKEE — It's still a strange sight watching the Cubs cycle through relievers out of the bullpen in close games without Pedro Strop as a central part of that group.
Saturday night, Joe Maddon called on six different relievers — Kyle Ryan, Steve Cishek, David Phelps, Derek Holland, Rowan Wick and Brandon Kintzler. Yet even with closer Craig Kimbrel on the injured list (right elbow inflammation), Strop's number still wasn't called and clearly isn't in Maddon's circle of trust at the moment.
It's understandable why, as Strop carries a 5.40 ERA and 1.34 WHIP on the season with 6 blown saves.
After starting the year looking like his usual self (2.53 ERA) and serving as the team's closer, Strop has a 6.94 ERA in 30 games since May 4. That includes an outing on May 6 when he gave up 3 runs and took a blown save and a loss against the Marlins and went on the shelf a day later with a hamstring injury.
The 34-year-old also missed a couple weeks with a neck injury and generally has struggled to maintain his velocity throughout the season.
"Yeah, it's been a hard year for me on and off because of injuries and stuff," Strop said. "It's been a while where I've felt really good now and I feel healthy. I was off a little bit mechanics-wise, but right now, I feel pretty good and my last couple outings have been where I want to be.
"Hopefully I get a chance and an opportunity to get in the game so I can pitch the way I used to pitch so they can see and say, 'OK, he's ready to be in high-leverage situations again.' Hopefully I get the chance."
With the ascension of other guys in the bullpen (Wick and Ryan, especially) and Kintzler's resurgent season, the Cubs bullpen has been able to get by without Strop pitching in high-leverage spots for the most part.
But they can use all the help they can get down the stretch and this is a guy who has 119 holds and 29 saves over his seven seasons with the Cubs, serving as a linchpin in this bullpen for the better part of the last decade.
Prior to 2019, Strop had never finished a season with an ERA above 2.91 and these were his numbers across the board as a Cub before this difficult season:
That's an elite reliever who accounted for 331.1 innings in that span.
He also pitched through some extreme pain in the NL Wild-Card Game last October in a gutsy performance coming off a bad hamstring injury.
It just hasn't been the same this season, but Strop feels close to where he wants to be — "we're right on the cusp," he said.
Strop allowed an unearned run in Friday's game and Maddon said that was the best he's seen the veteran reliever look in a little while. He followed that with a scoreless eighth inning in Sunday's loss, erasing a one-out walk with a double play.
"The slider's gotten sharper, probably a tick up in velocity also," Maddon said. "Stroppy just wants to play. He's so competitive, but he's also very pragmatic — he knows where it's at right now compared to where some of the other guys have been pitching. But if this guy finds it moving down the stretch run, it could be very valuable.
"His work's been great. It's been outstanding. It's trending in the right direction for him. Right now, there's so many guys that are doing a nice body of work there, so we just gotta work him back into it."
Strop is in the last year of his contract with the Cubs and has been lauded as an integral piece of the clubhouse chemistry and a leader in the bullpen over his years in Chicago.
Even throughout a difficult season, he's still maintained his jovial personality.
"There's too many games in one season to mourn over one thing, whether it be injury or a bad outing or somebody else's injury or bad outing," Ryan said. "[Having a guy like that] raises your clubhouse morale and team morale and on-field morale. A smile is very contagious and Stroppy's always smiling."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.