One of the unnoticed benefits of Javy Báez’s game-ending single in the 11th inning Sunday against the Pirates was that it eliminated a 12th inning that would have belonged to the struggling Craig Kimbrel.
That was David Ross’ next man out of the bullpen, the Cubs manager said Monday.
Instead, we watched the man who would be — and should be — the closer pitch out of the contrived jam (man on second) that is the start of each extra inning this year, and earn the win.
Or did we?
One day after veteran Jeremy Jeffress needed just nine pitches to beat the Pirates in the best of four impressive bullpen appearances, Rowan Wick earned a four-out save in a 2-0 victory over the Royals on Monday night.
And just like that, the Cubs unveiled a closer-by-committee scheme, if not a closer controversy.
The way the first eight games looked, it's hard to imagine having enough reliable pitchers for a quorum. much less a bona fide committee, among the 14 pitchers who have occupied roster spots in the Cubs’ pen so far.
But until or unless Kimbrel (four walks, two homers, one wild pitch and four outs so far) gets right again, that’s the plan for closing out close games, Ross said after Monday’s game.
“I think every night will be different,” he said. “Every night we’re trying to find the best matchups and who’s throwing well.”
Jeffress is the one guy in the group who has the track record, the unflappable veteran presence and the cold-blooded performance so far this year that included escaping a pair of bases-loaded jams in addition to Sunday’s 11th-inning work.
Whether Jeffress was considered unavailable Monday because of high-leverage innings both Saturday and Sunday or Ross liked Wick’s 95-mph fastball/curveball mix against the middle of the Royals order, it was last year’s rookie success story on this night.
“It’s going to be a full team effort down there,” Ross said. “I’m not scared to pull the trigger in a lot of areas with a lot of those guys. They’ve done a really good job of answering the bell here lately and we’ll continue to assess on a daily basis.”
For now it has meant eight consecutive scoreless innings the last two nights against two of the worst teams in baseball for a Cubs bullpen that ranked last in the majors in ERA and several other categories.
That’s not what Ross means when he talks about looking for matchups.
But 10 games into 60-game season, that bullpen almost certainly will continue to be assessed on a daily basis top to bottom.
And with its $43 million closer looking like the weakest link since September, the end of any game with a close lead might be the most intriguing thing to watch with this team for as long as this pandemic season might last.