Xavier Cedeno

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.

Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

The Cubs bullpen has been under the microscope recently as they've hit another rough patch.

With Pedro Strop on the injured list, Cubs relievers have combined for a 5.04 ERA and 1.72 WHIP over the last week, allowing 32 hits and 11 walks against only 15 strikeouts in 25 innings.

The Cubs are shaking things up, sending veteran left-hander Xavier Cedeno to the injured list with left wrist inflammation and promoting right-hander Rowan Wick from Triple-A Iowa.

"We had to get things straightened out out there," Joe Maddon said of the bullpen. "Cedeno's still not 100 percent right, so we made that move. Wick's up and he's been pitching really well. We liked him in spring training; he provides length if we need it also, so there were a lot of reasons to do it, but he was pitching well enough to be here, too."

The Cubs acquired Wick, 26, from the Padres back in November for minor leaguer Jason Vosler. Wick has pitched well in Triple-A Iowa this season — in 13 outings, he has a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while striking out 25 batters in 19 innings. 

Of his 13 appearances, 7 have been of a multi-inning variety and he hasn't allowed a run in his last 3 games (6.2 innings). He said a key to his success has been the ability to throw three different pitches for strikes and has been in a good flow lately of getting ahead in the count.

Wick made 10 appearances for the Padres in San Diego last year, sporting a 6.48 ERA in 8.1 innings.  The results weren't what he wanted in the big leagues, but that experience is something he can rely  on now.

"[I learned] that I can pitch here and that I belong," Wick said. "To be comfortable and hopefully pitch well."

Cedeno, 32, signed with the Cubs just before spring training started, but has been hampered by the same wrist issue all spring. He was first activated off the injured list less than two weeks ago and did not give up a run in 5 appearances, though he surrendered 4 hits and 3 walks in just 2 total innings of work.

With Wick in tow, the Cubs bullpen now looks like this:

Steve Cishek
Brad Brach
Brandon Kintzler
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery
Tyler Chatwood
Carl Edwards Jr.
Rowan Wick

Strop is working his way back from a hamstring injury and threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, so his return may not be far off. 

Brandon Morrow resumed his throwing program Monday, as well, but is still weeks away from returning even in a best-case scenario.

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How Xavier Cedeno's addition impacts Mike Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen

How Xavier Cedeno's addition impacts Mike Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen

The Cubs showed up to Wrigley Field Saturday with a drastically different bullpen than they had to begin the week.

Actually, the Cubs' bullpen has shifted dramatically even in the span of one day with Xavier Cedeno's addition into the mix after dealing with a wrist injury for the last couple months (Allen Webster hit the IL with a radial nerve issue in his right arm).

While the Cubs are still trying to maneuver everything without closer Pedro Strop (who hit the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring strain), they now have a trio of lefties in the bullpen after spending more than a week with Kyle Ryan as the only southpaw.

Cedeno's arrival changes the equation for the entire bullpen, but he will have a significant impact on how the Cubs will use Mike Montgomery. 

Montgomery was activated off the injured list in Strop's spot Wednesday and threw 5 innings of relief Thursday after Yu Darvish, shutting down the Marlins in impressive fashion.

With Cedeno in the fold, that permits the Cubs to keep Montgomery in a long relief role if they choose (which could include piggybacking Darvish's starts in the short term) without having to rely on him for a one- or two-batter stretch against an opposition's tough lefties.

"To have the other lefty really permits the wild-card moment that Monty's capable of doing," Joe Maddon said. "He was good the other day. He was really good. I told him right afterwards, I loved his assertiveness, his confidence. Everything about him was just like, whoa. Really lasered in - his focus was that good. He maintains that, you're gonna see him do that often. That's not an anomaly moment for him.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while, period. We had heard he threw like that in the minor leagues, came back up here, the guys told me in the bullpen was spectacular and then we saw it in the game."

Montgomery got off to a slow start in spring training because of a shoulder issue that prevented him from getting as stretched out as he - or the team - would've liked heading into the season. He started the year in the bullpen and struggled, hitting the injured list with a lat issue after only a week of action.

The Cubs took their time bringing Montgomery back, letting him get stretched out in the minor leagues to the point where he threw 6 innings and 76 pitches in his final rehab outing. 

Now he's available for length out of the bullpen in extra inning games, if a starter is knocked out of a game early or even as an option to piggyback after Darvish, who is averaging just over 4 innings a start to date. Montgomery's length also allows the Cubs to give him a spot start if a need comes up or even go to a six-man rotation, though Maddon said the team probably wouldn't add an extra starter into the mix until after the All-Star Break at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Cedeno and Ryan form a valuable southpaw duo in the bullpen for shorter outings (though Maddon acknowledged Montgomery could still be available for brief appearances based on the availability of the other two lefties on a given day).

Ryan is solid against lefties, but induces a lot of weak contact and groundballs against right-handed hitters, too. He's had a tough week, but overall has a 2.04 FIP to go with 16 strikeouts in 13 innings and it did not take him long to enter Maddon's circle of trust.

The 32-year-old Cedeno has permitted a .223 batting average and .583 OPS against left-handed hitters over the course of his eight-year career. He was really good last year for the White Sox and Brewers, going 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 48 outings. 

Cedeno can be particularly effective for the Cubs as they finish out their series with the Brewers, who have some tough lefties - led by Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas in the starting lineup, but also guys like Travis Shaw and Eric Thames off the bench.

After this weekend, the Cubs then move on to Cincinnati where some guy named Joey Votto resides and poses a big threat as a left-handed hitter.

This is exactly why the Cubs went out and signed Cedeno to a big-league deal right before spring training started.

"I've watched this guy pitch for a bit; been a big fan for a while," Maddon said. "He permits us to really match up left on left, however he's able to get righties out, too. Love his veteranship. It's exciting."

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