Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Dominating.

That’s how a smiling Theo Epstein described Yu Darvish‘s simulated game at Wrigley Field Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of the “Friendly Confines,” the Cubs’ clubhouse was getting used to the idea of closer Brandon Morrow on the disabled list.

Such is life for the current state of affairs for the Cubs pitching staff with their two biggest additions from the winter now on the shelf at the same time.

Darvish threw roughly 50 pitches in his sim game against hitters Ian Happ and Tommy La Stella. He worked in all his pitches and liked the way his fastball and slider felt, but needs to refine his curveball and splitter with more work.

“I feel good,” Darvish said through a translator. “There was some anxiety beforehand, but I think it turned out to be better than I expected.”

Darvish said the anxiety stemmed mostly from his past elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2014.

“Definitly the elbow aspect,” Darvish said. “The anxiety came from whether I could throw at 100 percent condition.”

This is the second time Darvish has mentioned his past elbow injury is in the back of his mind as he’s worked through the current triceps issue. He said the same thing last week in Milwaukee after his first bullpen session.

Remember, too, Darvish was concerned about the possibility of cramps in his arm in his Cubs debut in Miami in late March.

It appears as if he has some mental hurdles to work through with his history of elbow problems, but he hasn’t reported pain in weeks now and the MRI showed no structural damage in late May.

The Cubs do not yet have a set plan for Darvish after this sim game and will evaluate how he feels Thursday. If the reports are all good, he could head out on a rehab assignment shortly.

Darvish said he would only need one rehab start before he’d be ready to rejoin the Cubs rotation.

Meanwhile, Morrow’s back tightened up on him in the wee hours of Monday morning after the Cubs made the trip back from the night game in St. Louis. He hurt his back taking off his pants, he said, and was unavailable Monday and Tuesday before the Cubs put him on the disabled list Wednesday morning.

“It’s just one of those freakish things,” Maddon said. “People bend over and hurt their backs all the time.”

The Cubs have been uber cautious with Morrow all year with his injury history and now that they’re in the midst of a stretch of 14 games in 13 days thanks to Tuesday’s doubleheader, can’t afford to not have a fresh arm in the bullpen.

“We thought it would be wise to give him a couple days,” Joe Maddon said. “It’s like a back spasm, back tightness. We just can’t go with one less pitcher right now coming off the doubleheader. 

“…It’s for him, too. I don’t want him to go out there and pitch coming off that right now. There’s really no reason to rush it back. Prefer him getting 100 percent well, getting him back out there when it’s right and then moving on from there.”

In Morrow’s absence, Maddon will play matchups with the closing options as he did in Game 1 Tuesday. Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Pedro Strop all have experience closing.

The Cubs also don’t have an update yet on Carl Edwards Jr. as he works his way back from a shoulder injury. He’s been throwing from flat ground and looking “outstanding,” Maddon said, but the team doesn’t have a finish line yet. Edwards would probably need a short rehab stint before returning, too.

Then there’s Brian Duensing, who is currently on the bereavement list due to the passing of his grandfather. The Cubs expect to have their left-handed veteran back by Friday.

All told, the Cubs are without Morrow, Edwards, Duensing, Mike Montgomery (rotation) and Eddie Butler (DL – groin) from their Opening Day bullpen. Only Cishek, Strop and Wilson remain from the group.

In their stead are Luke Farrell, Justin Hancock, Randy Rosario, Rob Zastryzny and Anthony Bass – all 5 of which have been pretty successful during their time in Chicago.

As if there wasn’t already enough complications with the Cubs pitching staff, here are three more:

-The weather in Cincinnati this weekend
Tyler Chatwood‘s wife is about to have the couple’s first child
-Monday’s rain/light-out at Wrigley Field pushed Chatwood back a day, so he cannot start Saturday’s game

Let’s start with the weather. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was a 100 percent chance of rain all day in Cincinnati on Thursday, where the Cubs begin a four-game series. The forecast doesn’t look much better for Friday, either.

Even if the Cubs are able to play every game as scheduled, who will start Saturday? It can’t be any of the current rotation members given none would be on regular rest. 

Chatwood would be in line to start Sunday’s series finale in Cincinnati, but that’s only if his wife isn’t given birth at the time.

So right now, the Cubs don’t know who’s going to start either game this weekend. They could call somebody up from the minor leagues or give the ball to Farrell, who is still stretched out enough to give them 4-5 innings or so.

“It’s totally by ear,” Maddon said. “This is absolutely seat of the pants. We have Farrell, of course. By not using Farrell [Thursday or Friday], he would be a consideration, no question. 

“But other than that, we got a baby on the way, we got all kinds of stuff going on, so we’re just gonna have to play that by ear.”

With the pitching shortage, it makes what Jon Lester (7 shutout innings Wednesday) and Mike Montgomery (6 innings in Game 2 Tuesday) even more important to the overall health of the unit, eating up innings at a desperate time.

The Cubs’ next off-day won’t come until July 2, barring any weather delays. So this stretch will be huge for how Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff/front office handles the pitching staff.

But hey, at least it’s only June and not October.

Kluber is first to 11 wins, Indians rout White Sox 12-0

Kluber is first to 11 wins, Indians rout White Sox 12-0

Corey Kluber became the first pitcher with 11 wins this season and Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis hit three-run homers as the Indians routed the Chicago White Sox 12-0 on Wednesday.

Reigning AL Cy Young winner Kluber (11-3) allowed only a second-inning single past third base by Omar Narvaez and a third-inning walk to Charlie Tilson in seven dominant innings.

The right-hander struck out seven and retired the last 14 batters before giving way to George Kontos to begin the eighth. Josh Tomlin surrendered a double to Jose Abreu in the ninth before completing the combined two-hitter.

Kluber now has one more victory than Washington’s Max Scherzer and the Yankees’ Luis Severino.

Ramirez put the Indians ahead 3-0 in the first with his team-high 22nd home run off starter Reynaldo Lopez (2-5). He also extended his on-base streak to a career-high 28 games, scored three times and stole a base.

Kipnis’ three-run shot and Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run double were part of a six-run sixth against Bruce Rondon that pushed the lead to 11-0.

Yonder Alonso added three hits and Yan Gomes doubled twice for Cleveland, which swept the three-game series by a 24-5 margin. The Indians have won 17 of their last 21 games against Chicago at Progressive Field, including all six this season.

The White Sox matched their longest losing streak of 2018 at seven and fell to a season-low 25 games under .500. Manager Rick Renteria was ejected by home plate umpire Will Little in the sixth for arguing a strikeout.

Right-hander Lopez allowed five runs, four earned, in 4 1/3 innings and is 0-3 with an 8.31 ERA in three career starts against Cleveland.

Brantley was caught stealing in the third, ending the Indians’ franchise-record run of 23 successful stolen base attempts dating back to May 23.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cleveland right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall was a late scratch with bilateral calf soreness. He was sidelined with a strained right calf from April 8-June 5 and missed six weeks in 2017 with a similar injury.

UP NEXT

White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito (4-7, 7.19 ERA) takes on Athletics RHP Chris Bassitt (0-2, 2.45 ERA) in the opener of a four-game series Thursday in Chicago.

Indians RHP Shane Bieber (1-0, 3.97 ERA) faces Tigers RHP Mike Fiers (5-3, 4.09 ERA) as Cleveland continues its nine-game homestand Friday.

———

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday’s game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team’s road trip to St. Louis. It’s being labeled as “lower back tightness.”

“It’s frustrating any time you can’t get out there, and especially when you can’t go because of something stupid like taking your pants off,” Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that’s put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday’s series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

“I don’t want to downplay anything,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We’ll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it’d be the kind of thing where he’d probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

“But we felt like it wasn’t going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he’s not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL.”

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday’s doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.

The candidate who would rock Home Run Derby: Ichiro

The candidate who would rock Home Run Derby: Ichiro

More players seem to be shying away from the Home Run Derby every year. Scott Servais believes he has the perfect wild-card entry.

The Mariners manager is starting a campaign for Ichiro Suzuki to get a crack at the derby next month at Nationals Park.

“He comes out every day, he takes BP seriously, and everybody remembers when Ichiro was on top of his game he was slapping the ball all over the place, but he has power,” Servais told MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. “And I know, it’s batting practice and it’s 60 mph, but he can still handle the bat.”

Suzuki was taken off the Mariners’ active roster in May and named a special assistant to the chairman to begin his semi-retirement. He has left the door open for a potential return at some point — signs point to the Mariners’ 2019 season opener in Japan — but is still around the team every day helping out.

On Tuesday, Suzuki was out on the field at Yankee Stadium throwing early batting practice to his teammates. Then, when the Mariners took regular batting practice, Suzuki jumped in the cage himself and hit like he normally would as if he were playing in that night’s game.

“He takes BP every day and he is launching balls,” Servais said. “It’s really fun to watch. That would draw a lot of fans.”

Suzuki has hit 117 home runs in 2,651 career MLB games. In Japan, he crushed 118 home runs in 951 games.

“Somebody the other day said, ‘Ichiro should go to the home run hitting contest, it would be awesome,’” Servais said. “Write-in vote, ‘IchiForDC,’ and let’s run with it.”

Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby last year but has told The Post’s George A. King III he’ll skip this year’s event. The Yankees slugger went into a funk after last year’s derby and eventually needed offseason shoulder surgery; he would not say whether the injury stemmed from the event.

Kluber first to 11 wins as Indians hammer White Sox

Kluber first to 11 wins as Indians hammer White Sox

Corey Kluber allowed just one hit in seven innings of work to become Major League Baseball’s first 11-game winner this season as the Cleveland Indians rolled past the visiting Chicago White Sox 12-0 on Wednesday at Progressive Field.

The win gave the Indians the three-game series sweep and push their winning streak to four.

Conversely, the loss was the White Sox’s seventh in a row.

Jose Ramirez‘s three-run home run in the first inning was all Kluber (11-3) needed as he bounced back from his worst outing of the season in his prior appearance (four runs in five innings in a 6-3 loss to Minnesota) by dominating the White Sox.

Omar Narvaez’s two-out single in the second inning was the only hit off Kluber, who struck out seven, walked just one and did not allow a Chicago runner to reach second base. He retired the final 14 batters he faced after walking Charlie Tilson in the third inning.

Reynaldo Lopez (2-5) took the loss for the White Sox, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits and four walks with six strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

Ramirez’s homer to center field plated Francisco Lindor and Michael Bradley to get things going for the Indians. Cleveland added to its lead with single runs in the fourth (RBI single by Rajai Davis that scored Yan Gomes) and the fifth (Yonder Alonso double to score Ramirez) and staked Kluber to a 5-0 cushion.

The Indians dispelled any doubt surrounding a White Sox comeback with a six-run sixth. Edwin Encarnacion‘s bases-loaded double off White Sox reliever Bruce Rondon pushed across Davis and Lindor and sent Ramirez to third. Ramirez then scored on a wild pitch by Rondon to increase the Cleveland lead to 8-0. Jason Kipnis then ripped a three-run home run to right-center, with Encarnacion and Alonso trotting home in front of him.

Tyler Naquin’s RBI groundout in the eighth drove in Alonso and capped the Indians’ scoring.

Chicago’s only other hit came in the ninth as Jose Abreu ripped a one-out double off Indians reliever Josh Tomlin.

–Field Level Media