Carl Edwards Jr.

Cubs place Carl Edwards Jr. on 10-day IL with left thoracic strain

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USA TODAY

Cubs place Carl Edwards Jr. on 10-day IL with left thoracic strain

The west coast has not been kind to Cubs relievers.

A day after Steve Cishek suffered a bizzare injury playing long toss, the Cubs placed Carl Edwards Jr. on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to June 10) with a left thoracic strain. In a corresponding move, the Cubs called up left-handed reliever Tim Collins from Triple-A Iowa.

Edwards' injury comes on the heels of one of his best stretches on a big league mound in 2019. While his ERA stands at 5.40, he has pitched much better since returning from a Triple-A Iowa on May 6. Edwards holds a 2.02 ERA in 13 1/3 innings over that span. striking out 15 batters compared to just three walks. Opponents are hitting just .093 against him during that stretch.

Collins will be available for the Cubs on Thursday, as the Iowa Cubs are in the midst of a three-game series in nearby Fresno. While seeing Edwards go down is not ideal for the Cubs, Collins will add another lefty to the bullpen against a Dodgers lineup that hits righties (.269/.350/.479) better than lefties (.251/.337/.425).

In five games with the Cubs this season, Collins holds a 3.86 ERA, allowing two runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

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Cubs rotation has given the bullpen a heck of an assist lately

Cubs rotation has given the bullpen a heck of an assist lately

Even before the Cubs bullpen gets a major boost when Craig Kimbrel joins the mix in a couple weeks, Pedro Strop and Co. have received another shot in the arm.

Since Cole Hamels lasted just four innings on Memorial Day in Houston, the Cubs bullpen has only been relied upon to account for 29 innings. That's the lowest total in Major League Baseball and also includes an extra-inning game and a three-hour rain delay that knocked starter Jose Quintana out after four innings in St. Louis two weekends ago.

In a 13-game span, relievers have only needed to cover about two innings a game, as Cubs starters have been pitching into the seventh inning on an everyday basis.

That's normally a good recipe for success, but it didn't work out that way for the Cubs Monday night in Colorado in a 6-5 loss. Yu Darvish worked around one rough inning to toss six frames again, but Mike Montgomery and Steve Cishek each gave up a run in the late innings.

It was only the Cubs' second loss in their last eight games, as they've been leaning heavily on their rotation.

"When you get those kinds of performances, then you can actually use the bullpen the way you want to," Joe Maddon said. "You go theoretically perfect before the game and then after that, when the game's in progress and it's not going as you would like it to, then all of a sudden you start going to Plan B and C.

"So when the starters are able to do that, that's what makes for a good bullpen — really good starting pitching makes for a really good bullpen."

During that time, no Cubs reliever has been taxed. Carl Edwards Jr. is the only pitcher who has appeared in half those games and leads the relief corps with 5.1 innings. Nobody else has thrown more than 5 innings in those 12 contests.

Maddon has only had to call on a reliever to throw on back-to-back days on four occasions in the two weeks — once by Edwards, once by Cishek and twice by Kyle Ryan.

Just as important: The Cubs needed a reliever to get more than three outs just three times in the same stretch (and two of those instances were Tyler Chatwood and Edwards eating up innings after the rain delay in St. Louis).

Again, this is all before Kimbrel arrives and truly lengthens the bullpen in all the ways the Cubs have mentioned. If everybody remains healthy, when Kimbrel joins the club and pushes Strop back into a setup role, it would increase Maddon's circle of trust and ensures the Cubs won't have to heap too much on one guy's plate.

Over the last two seasons, the Cubs bullpen has faded down the stretch — at exactly the time relievers become most important. They're hoping that doesn't happen again this fall.

The Cubs still ended up leading the National League in ERA last season, but by the time Game 163 and the Wild-Card Game rolled around, Jesse Chavez was the team's only healthy and trusted reliever. Strop and Brandon Morrow were hurt (though Strop pitched through the pain in the playoff game), Edwards had struggled for more than a month before he was deemed inactive for the Wild-Card game with a forearm issue and Cishek seemed to run into a wall in early September as he set new career highs in appearances and innings pitched.

Thanks in large part to this current stretch, Cubs relievers have had a manageable workload so far this season. Cishek and Ryan are the clubhouse leaders in appearances, but they're only on pace for 71 games and Maddon has backed off Cishek since he was asked to get a seven-out save May 19 in Washington D.C.

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Pair of Cubs relievers trending in opposite directions

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USA TODAY

Pair of Cubs relievers trending in opposite directions

ST. LOUIS — As the Cubs bullpen righted the ship following that 2-7 stretch to begin the season, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Ryan were a big part of the turnaround for different reasons.

Edwards was sent to the minors before that road trip even ended after allowing 6 runs in 3 appearances. With Mike Montgomery also heading to the injured list at the same time, the Cubs called up Allen Webster and Ryan, who immediately helped stabilize their bullpen.

Now, as the Cubs are once again mired in a tough stretch (2-8 in their last 10 games), the opposite is taking place: Ryan is trending downward and Edwards is on the way back up. 

Ryan gave up a pair of homers in Saturday night's loss and has now surrendered 12 hits and 8 runs (7 earned) in 7 innings since he "froze" in the ninth inning of a loss to the Marlins on May 6.

That's a far cry from the previous 12 innings in which Ryan allowed just 2 earned runs (1.50 ERA) and only a baserunner an inning (8 hits, 4 walks). 

Meanwhile, Edwards has been moving in the right direction, allowing runs in only 2 of his 11 appearances since rejoining the big-league bullpen. More importantly, he's walked just 1 batter in 10.1 innings and he's throwing a strike 65 percent of the time.

"When he's throwing his curveball for a strike and not bouncing it and the hitter has to honor that, the fastball becomes even better," Joe Maddon said. "With him, when he's not over-boogeying on the curveball and it can be a strike, that's when he can really be effective."

Edwards has worked mostly in low-leverage situations since being recalled, so he's not yet back to fulfilling his role as the X-factor in the Cubs bullpen. But he carved through the toughest part of the Cardinals lineup Saturday night, retiring Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna in order (with some help from his defense). 

Ryan's precipitous drop in production is even more concerning on multiple levels — when he's struggling, the Cubs don't necessarily have a reliable lefty to go to out of the bullpen (Mike Montgomery's ideal role is a multi-inning spot) and also the fact that Ryan is now getting hit hard after he spent the first month inducing a lot of weak contact and groundballs.

The home runs he gave up Saturday night were only the second and third of the season.

"He kinda looks the same to me — maybe just execution of the pitch or the selection, those kinds of things," Maddon said. "I have a lot of confidence in him. He's a strike-thrower; he normally puts the ball on the ground. Home runs are really unlikely, normally, against him. 

"So I'll just keep moving it forward. They were the right guys for him [to face], but it just didn't play out for him [Saturday]. But I have a lot of confidence in the guy — he's always ready; he's a professional. I do believe he's capable of getting on a good run for us."

The bullpen will always be a polarizing topic surrounding this comes team.

Things should stabilize at least a little bit for the relief corps once Pedro Strop returns (which should be early this week), but it would certainly behoove the Cubs if Edwards continues along this path and Ryan can turn things around.