The Cubs made three changes to the pitching staff Tuesday and more roster moves are expected in the coming days. Joe Maddon and the front office are attempting to find the right pieces for the pen while dealing with injuries and a starting staff that is not pitching deep enough into games.
LHP James Russell and RHP Anthony Varvaro were added to the bullpen and RHP Gonzalez Germen was optioned to Iowa. All three relievers were not part of the Cubs’ plans when the season started. And both Russell and Varvaro were not in the organization a month ago.
One of the roster moves the Cubs could make is activating RHP Justin Grimm from the disabled list. Prior to Tuesday’s game, multiple reports stated the front office was deciding if Grimm needed more rehab time with Iowa or if he was ready to rejoin the big league club. RHP Neil Ramirez is scheduled to throw a bullpen Wednesday at the Cubs’ facility in Mesa. The Cubs have not given a timeframe on when he could return from the DL.
Losing Grimm and Ramirez have hurt the bullpen and left a big hole that hasn’t been filed in the middle innings. But neither reliever should be viewed as saviors for a bullpen or pitching staff that has underperformed. As Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, a team cannot say its issues will be solved once a player or players return from the disabled list.
“Knock on wood, guys will get healthy, but it’s hard to count on that,” Hoyer told Comcast SportsNet. “You have to almost assume that you’re going to be scrambling all the time, because when one guy gets healthy, a lot of times another guy might go down. I don’t think you can look forward and say: ‘When we’re healthy.’ Because that never seems to ever really happen.”
The Cubs’ bullpen ranks ninth in the National League in ERA (3.87), fourth in WHIP (1.23) and 11th in innings pitched (79). It is the sixth inning that has been the glaring problem. The Cubs have been outscored in the sixth inning 20-8 in 25 games according to a report from Carrie Muskat.
Following Tuesday’s game, Maddon said the Cubs are not thinking about making changes to the starting staff the next time through the rotation despite less than average outings from Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks. Cubs’ starters have lasted only five innings in three of four starts. Jon Lester completed seven innings and Jason Hammel went six innings with a cracked finger nail in his last start.
Maddon told the Tribune, “Some guys are pitching very well. I think there’s another gear within our pitching staff. I like our pitching staff a lot. The relievers are beat up a little bit. You have to fight through, and guys have to pick up the slack. We haven’t done that. Everyone has gotten an opportunity.”
Joe Maddon has been consistent that he has faith in Kyle Hendricks and Jed Hoyer is also not worried about the way Hendricks has pitched this season.
Kyle Hendricks is not pitching with the command he displayed after he was called up last season. And he simply does not have the stuff to pitch from behind in the count. Hendricks has completed six innings only one time in five starts.
The Sun-Times reported the Cubs could turn to LHP Eric Jokisch or LHP Tsuyoshi Wada if the team decides to make changes with the rotation. Jokisch showed he needed time in the minors to continue his development in the spring. Jokisch is 1-0 in four starts for Iowa this season with a 4.00 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP (eight runs on 22 hits with eight walks and 12 strikeouts).
Tsuyoshi Wada is on a rehab assignment with Iowa that is about to expire. Wada was assigned to Iowa on April 17 and can be on a rehab assignment for 30 days. Wada has a minor league option left, but he has to give permission in advance before he can be optioned to the minors. Wada had his best outing of the season in his last start (seven innings, two unearned runs on two hits with a walk and five strikeouts) after briefly spending time with Chris Bosio in a bullpen session at Wrigley Field.
Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the Cubs will stay with 13 pitchers “until we feel like we’re rested enough” which is not optimal for a 25-man roster currently carrying three catchers and Edwin Jackson, who can obviously only be used in mop up duty when he feels zero pressure.
The Cubs’ starting staff has to pitch deeper in games. Even the best bullpens cannot be leaned on for three to four innings a game without defencies being exposed or a disabled list that grows longer by the day. The Cubs rank 13th in the National League in innings completed by it starters (146 innings in 25 games).
While the focus has been on the bullpen, it is only going to get worse until the rotation averages six-plus innings per start instead of the five-plus innings (5.84) Joe Maddon is currently receiving.