Randy Rosario

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs call up Dillon Maples, demote Randy Rosario in bullpen swap

Cubs call up Dillon Maples, demote Randy Rosario in bullpen swap

The Cubs made a minor roster move on Friday, promoting right-handed reliever Dillon Maples from Triple-A Iowa. In a corresponding move, the team demoted left-handed reliever Randy Rosario to Iowa.

Maples has pitched in parts of two seasons with the Cubs from 2017-18, holding a 10.97 ERA in 15 appearances. The 26-year-old has struggled with his command at the big league level, walking 11 batters in 10 2/3 innings. He has struck out 20 batters over that span, however. 

Maples has fared well in Triple-A this season, posting a 3.38 ERA in seven appearances (eight innings). While he has walked eight batters, he has 16 strikeouts and opponents are hitting a measly .077 against him. Furthermore, he has walked just five batters compared to 14 strikeouts over his last 7 1/3 innings. 

Cubs president Theo Epstein discussed how Maples' recent success is due to him being more assertive on the mound.

"He's been on a good little roll of late," Epstein said. "His last four outings — the results have been nice, but how he's doing it is important, too. He's been a little more assertive with his fastball, wanting to throw his fastball more, throwing it in the zone, getting good results with it to help set up his other stuff. 

"I think that's an important step in taking control of how he does things. It's a process. With the type of pitcher that he is, he's an extreme guy. He's got extreme, wipeout breaking stuff, extreme spin, his control can get extreme at times outside of the zone. You have to live with the whole package and be happy with the progress and know it's not going to be perfect every time. 

"He's on a nice little roll and deserves a lot of credit for putting the work in and not just relying on the things he can do, but challenging himself in the areas that are tough for him in order to make some longer-term progress. We're not gonna rush anything or get ahead of ourselves."

Rosario made the Cubs Opening Day roster but has allowed at least one run in three of his last six appearances. The 24-year-old holds a 6.43 ERA in eight appearances (seven innings), allowing five earned runs and five walks.

With the move, Kyle Ryan is the only left-handed pitcher available out of the Cubs bullpen. That likely will not be the case for too long, as Mike Montgomery is close to returning from the injured list after mildly straining his left lat earlier this month.

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WATCH: Kyle Schwarber hit a missile home run...right into Randy Rosario's hat

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AP

WATCH: Kyle Schwarber hit a missile home run...right into Randy Rosario's hat

Kyle Schwarber hit an absolute missile of a home run Sunday afternoon to give his Cubs an early lead, but reliever Randy Rosario was actually the big winner of the moment.

Sitting in a folding chair in the Cubs bullpen with his fellow pitchers as Schwarber's liner came their way, Rosario simply took his hat off and plucked the dinger right out of midair:

That's certainly not something you see every day. 

The best part was, he was so chill about it, like it wasn't one of the most amazing moments in the young MLB season.

For Schwarber, it was his second homer in as many starts, both coming to the opposite field. He hit a solo shot Saturday night against the Rangers just to the left of the center field batter's eye (and to the right of the Cubs bullpen).

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