Joe Maddon defends bullpen use amid criticism from Cubs fans

Joe Maddon defends bullpen use amid criticism from Cubs fans

Cubs fans criticizing manager Joe Maddon’s bullpen decisions is nothing new. Maddon has received flak regarding his bullpen use for much of his Cubs tenure, dating back to 2016 over his use of Aroldis Chapman in the World Series.

The latest criticism stems from Maddon’s bullpen use on Friday against the Brewers, when he inserted Pedro Strop into a 2-1 game in the bottom of the eighth inning. Strop, who has struggled in July (seven earned runs, 12 hits in nine innings), allowed two inherited runs to score, giving the Brewers a 3-2 lead – the game’s eventual final score.

In an interview with 670 The Score on Tuesday, Maddon defended how he’s used his bullpen as of late.

"Fans, again, they have this really ridiculous concept about bullpens and bullpen management," Maddon said on the Laurence Holmes Show. "They have no idea really what all goes into it. At the end of the day, you can make a decision that may be the absolute proper and right thing to do, but it doesn't work out and then it's perceived as being wrong.

“That's a really bad process. Again, we talk about the bullpen before the game. We set up our guys against their guys before the game ever begins. Sometimes it doesn't work. It's not going to be perfect every time."

Fans also expressed displeasure when Maddon pulled starter Jon Lester on Saturday after seven shutout innings on Saturday. The Brewers scored twice in the eighth to tie the game, with the Cubs needing four relievers to get out of the inning. Milwaukee later scored three times in 10th inning, scoring a walk-off 5-3 win.

To Maddon’s defense, the Brewers’ eighth inning and 10th inning runs were charged to Steve Cishek and Craig Kimbrel, respectively, two of the Cubs’ most reliable relievers. Maddon put his team in position to succeed, but it just didn’t work out, which he noted.

“So, you set it up beforehand. You try to put your guys in the best possible spot. When it doesn't work out, that doesn't mean it was wrong. It means it didn't work out in that moment. And that's called baseball."

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: The guys react to the breaking news of Rizzo returning to the lineup


Sports Talk Live Podcast: The guys react to the breaking news of Rizzo returning to the lineup

David Haugh, Hub Arkush and Phil Rogers join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The guys react to the breaking news of Anthony Rizzo returning to the lineup just four days after his brutal ankle injury. Plus they preview the huge Cubs/Cardinals showdown.

12:30- Mitch Trubisky says his offense believes they can turn things around. Will they?

20:30- NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay joins Kap to provide a scouting report on the Redskins.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs lose Cole Hamels to injury right as Craig Kimbrel returns

Cubs lose Cole Hamels to injury right as Craig Kimbrel returns

During his pregame press conference Thursday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon shared a laugh about his club’s NFL-esque injury report with one reporter.

“Questionable, probable,” Maddon said with a smile about his team’s long list of injury updates.

As funny as the moment was, there was some truth to it. Ahead of Thursday’s series opener against the Cardinals, the Cubs announced that:

-They activated Craig Kimbrel (elbow) off the 10-day injured list and Addison Russell off the concussion IL
-Cole Hamels will miss his start on Saturday due to left shoulder fatigue

To add to the fun, the Cubs announced 20 minutes before Thursday’s game that Anthony Rizzo was returning to the starting lineup just four days after badly spraining his right ankle.

Got all that?

While the Rizzo announcement was shocking, the Hamels news came as a surprise. The 35-year-old has struggled since returning from an oblique strain on Aug. 3, holding a 6.39 ERA in his last nine starts. He’s failed to pitch five innings in five of those games, including the last three.

Maddon didn’t express terrible concern over Hamels missing this weekend’s start, though he pointed out how the team has to be careful with injuries this time of year, as an extended absence could be the end of one’s season.

“Eh, I shouldn’t say heavily concerned, but anytime a guy like that says it’s bothering him a bit, you have to absolutely believe it,” Maddon said. “Especially at this time of the year, how much he loves to compete and play right now.

“There’s always some concern with that. We’ll just take his word and what the doctors have to say and then try and get him back as quickly as possible.

“If Cole says he’s hurting, he’s hurting, man.”

The Cubs expect Hamels to start next week, but whether that comes against the Pirates or the Cardinals is to be determined. Point being, the Cubs want to make sure Hamels is good to go before throwing him into the fold.

“I don’t know yet. I had a great conversation with him,” Maddon said. “This guy is so straight forward, pragmatic and honest. Let’s just continue to work with it daily and then see where it takes us.”

Maddon also mentioned how Hamels not starting this weekend has some positive repercussions. Not only does it give him extra rest, but the same can be said about Jose Quintana, who originally was slated to pitch Friday but will now start Saturday. Alec Mills – who has quietly been pitching well – will now start on Friday. Starting Mills also means Tyler Chatwood can stay in the hybrid relief role he has succeed in lately.

“Combined with the fact that Cole’s not doing that well, Alec has been pitching well and it gives Q one extra day," Maddon said. "All those things are in a way positive that we can fit it in this way. Having Alec throwing as well as he has to fit in there and not have to take Chatwood out of the role that we’ve got him in right now is also very helpful.

"You saw what Tyler did last night. Part of that little quick dab in and out last night is so that we can possibly use him more often. In a weird way, having this great depth that’s able to cover these particular maladies, I think we’re covered."

Kimbrel didn’t go on a rehab assignment, as the seasons of the Cubs minor league affiliates all have concluded. However, like Hamels, Kimbrel knows his body best and therefore, Maddon trusted that his closer was ready to return.

“I was very encouraged, from what I saw yesterday," Maddon said. “I thought he looked pretty normal, and again, when you talk to the guy conversationally, it’s very upbeat.

“He feels really good about himself, and he knows better than anybody how good he feels. I’m eager about it.”

Kimbrel returns to a Cubs bullpen that stepped up big time in his absence. Entering Thursday, the Cubs ranked No. 1 in MLB with a 2.35 ERA by relievers in September. Kimbrel’s numbers this season aren’t eye-popping – 21 games, 5.68 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 13-of-15 in save opportunities – but his impact on the Cubs bullpen goes beyond numbers.

Rather than go with a committee approach, Kimbrel gives the Cubs a bonafide closing option. In turn, the likes of Steve Cishek, Rowan Wick, Chatwood and Brandon Kintzler – who is nearing a return and will throw a bullpen session Thursday or Friday – can pitch earlier in games, lengthening the Cubs bullpen.

“When that happens, that permits us to move it back…Chatwood becomes available earlier, Rowan becomes available earlier. They all become available earlier, which lengthens the whole thing out.

“But when you have that one guy at the end that you know is at the end, all of a sudden, these first eight innings [are[ wide open, man. Just go for it.

With the season winding down, it’s all hands on deck for the Cubs. With a playoff spot still in reach, go for it they shall.

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