Tyler Chatwood for closer? Um, hold that thought.
The bigger issue for the Cubs’ right-hander on Thursday night in Kansas City was that after two impressive starts to open the season, he took less than three innings to look like the rotation’s weak link.
That might sound harsh in a long season, but it’s not a long season. And the rotation was far and away the Cubs’ strength during a 10-2 start — including a six-game winning streak that went up in the smoke of Thursday’s blowout loss.
Quick takes from that 13-2 loss:
How bad was the worst start of the season so far for the rotation?
The eight runs Chatwood (2-1) allowed not only exceeded the number of outs he recorded (seven) on this night, but also were twice as many as the rotation allowed total during the six-game winning streak — which included 39 2/3 innings by the starters.
"The stuff looks fine from the side," manager David Ross said. "Just one of those nights."
Chatwood didn’t walk a batter, but he was rocked for 11 hits worth of hard contact, including two-run homers by Whit Merrifield in the second and Maikel Franco in the third, and four doubles.
"I made good pitches; they hit them. I made bad pitches; they hit them," Chatwood said. "I think my stuff was all still there, maybe not as sharp as I wanted to be with the sinker. But I still feel good. I feel like I was attacking, trying to execute a game plan and gave up hits on good pitches and bad pitches."
Q and A?
A few hours before Chatwood took the mound, Jose Quintana took a big step closer to returning from his thumb injury to rejoin the rotation — using all his pitches in a 35-pitch, two-inning game simulation in South Bend.
Barring a setback, he’ll extend during another sim game Tuesday and could be scheduled for his return soon after that.
That’s where starts like Chatwood’s on Thursday start coming into play when the Cubs start looking for the right arm to move to the bullpen when Quintana is back.
"Coming into this game this guy was one of our best pitchers," Ross said of Chatwood. "This guy was dealing. You're gonna have some nights that things just don't go your way. They took advantage of the mistakes he made. That's just baseball."
Speaking of the bullpen…
The Cubs couldn’t have picked a worse day for a short-start clunker in the early part of the season.
Thursday was roster cut-down day, when the Cubs sent relievers Rex Brothers and Justin Steele to the alternate site in South Bend to reduce the overall roster to 28, which now includes nine relievers.
Four were used to cover nearly six innings of work Thursday, although only Duane Underwood Jr. (13 batters, 51 pitches) is certain to be unavailable when the Cubs open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday. In fact, Ryan Tepera needed only 15 pitches in a four-up, four-down performance.
Perhaps most noteworthy was the mopup eighth that struggling closer Craig Kimbrel pitched, opening the inning by allowing a triple, walk and single before retiring the final three he faced.
Bats out of hell?
Even if Chatwood had kept it close, the Cubs’ winning streak might have been in jeopardy because of the way Royals starter Brad Keller looked in his return to the rotation after having tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Last year’s Opening Day starter for the Royals made quick work of the Cubs in five innings pitched — striking out seven and limiting the Cubs to three singles and two walks.
By the fifth, the Cubs started pulling the regulars from the lineup with the score 9-0.
By the end of the two-run ninth, Cubs pitcher Alec Mills took a turn as a pinch-hitter.
Where they stand
With the loss, the Cubs' record drops to 10-3. But the Twins, who shared the best record in the league with the Cubs, also lost on Thursday. (The Marlins are 6-1).
The Cubs head to St. Louis for a three-game series. The Cardinals are set to return to the field after 13 players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the postponement of their four-game series against Detroit this week.