Cubs' Chatwood waits his turn, gets start against Pirates

Cubs' Chatwood waits his turn, gets start against Pirates

Tyler Chatwood took the high road when he was demoted from the Chicago Cubs‘ rotation in late July. The right-hander figured going to the bullpen would give him a chance to work on his control and be ready should he get a chance to start again.

That chance comes Saturday when Chatwood (4-5, 5.06 ERA) will start against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. That was announced Friday when the Cubs placed Mike Montgomery on the disabled list because of left shoulder inflammation. Left-handed reliever Randy Rosario was promoted from Triple-A Iowa.

Montgomery had been scheduled to start Saturday, but he felt discomfort during a bullpen session Thursday.

“It was weird because I didn’t know that Monty was dealing with anything, but, obviously, you’re excited any time you get to start,” Chatwood said.

“I feel good, and I’m in a good place.”

He was the odd man out of the rotation when Chicago acquired Cole Hamels.

“Obviously, you never want that, but I think there’s some stuff I need to work out,” Chatwood said at the time. “So this will give me an opportunity to do that. Then, hopefully, whenever I start feeling good again, get back into the rotation.”

He admitted going to the bullpen made it easier to work on his delivery midseason.

“It’s hard to try overhaul your mechanics … in the middle of a year and get big league hitters out, especially when you’re on a first-place team,” he said.

As a reliever this month, Chatwood has given up four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings in three games, including a scoreless, one-hit inning against Pittsburgh on Aug. 1.

He will be matched against Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-7, 3.49 ERA) Saturday, and he will have a couple of tough acts to follow.

Chicago (71-50) moved to a season-best 21 games above .500 on Friday with its second straight 1-0 win over the Pirates (61-62), who have lost five in a row overall and are below .500 for the first time since July 15.

Hamels on Friday and Jon Lester on Thursday had strong starts against Pittsburgh as the Cubs won on solo homers, by Ian Happ on Thursday and Kyle Schwarber on Friday.

The Pirates not only have been shut out in the first two games of the four-game series, but they also tied a club record Friday by hitting into seven double plays.

“We couldn’t find dirt, plays, and they have a good defense,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Ineffective Pirates offense is nothing new to Musgrove, who has received miniscule run support lately. He has given up seven earned runs in 27 innings in four starts since the All-Star break. He has lost three straight decisions with just one run of backing, total.

His last start was a 4-3 loss Sunday in San Francisco, when he gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings but struck out six, threw 70 of 92 pitches for strikes and had just two extra-base hits against him.

“I thought he pitched, obviously, better than the result of giving up four runs,” Hurdle said. “He’s been efficient. He’s been effective.”

Against the Cubs, Musgrove is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts, including a 2-1 win May 30 when he gave up one run in seven innings.

Chicago Cubs Minor League Wrap: August 17

Chicago Cubs Minor League Wrap: August 17

Iowa Cubs

The Iowa Cubs couldn’t escape from the Oklahoma City Dodgers, 6-4 in 11 innings.

Duane Underwood Jr. started and allowed two runs on four hits over six innings. Underwood walked two, one intentionally, and struck out six. He also hit three batters.

The I-Cubs bullpen did not allow a run until the bottom of the 11th, when Casey Coleman gave up three runs, including a walk-off two-run home run by Andrew Toles. The final line on Coleman was three runs, two earned, on two hits over two-thirds of an inning. Coleman struck out one.

Second baseman Mike Freeman came off the disabled list and played his first game for Iowa since June 19. He was 2 for 5 with a double. He scored three runs.

This game featured four hit batsmen and four ejections, including both managers. I-Cubs skipper Marty Pevey was the only member of the Cubs ejected.

Tennessee Smokies

The Tennessee Smokies were subjugated by the Birmingham Barons (White Sox), 6-1.

Smokies starter Keegan Thompson didn’t make it out of the third inning. He gave up one run in the first, two in the second and three in the third. The final line on Thompson was six runs on nine hits over 2.2 innings. One of the six runs was unearned. Thompson walked three and struck out three.

Second baseman Trent Giambrone went 2 for 3 with a walk and the lone Tennessee RBI.

Third baseman Craig Hodges went 2 for 4 with a double.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans shut out the Buies Creek Astros, 1-0.

Cory Abbott threw the first six innings and gave up just three hits. He walked two and struck out nine.

Manuel Rondon had a three-inning save. He allowed three hits. He struck out five and walked no one. It was Rondon’s first save since 2013.

That’s 14 strikeouts for the two Pelicans pitchers.

Tyler Alamo doubled home Andrew Monasterio in the fourth inning for the only run of the game. Alamo was 2 for 3 and Monasterio went 0 for 2 with a walk.

Highlights. The Pelicans did not turn seven double plays in this game. In fact, they didn’t turn any.

South Bend Cubs

The South Bend Cubs fell to the Ft. Wayne TinCaps (Padres), 6-5.

Starter Javier Assad allowed four runs on four hits over 5.2 innings. He struck out seven and walked two.

Reliever Jake Steffens gave up a two-run home run in the seventh inning to take the loss. Steffens’ line was two runs on three hits over 1.1 innings. He struck out one and did not walk anyone.

Second baseman Clayton Daniel had a pair of doubles in a 2 for 3 game. He also walked once. Daniel scored three times.

Right fielder Chris Singleton went 2 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. He also had one run batted in.

DH Delvin Zinn was 2 for 5 with two RBI and one run scored.

The SB Cubs loaded the bases in the top of the ninth with one out, but Austin Filiere hit into a game-ending double play.

Eugene Emeralds

The Eugene Emeralds were shut out by the Boise Hawks (Rockies), 11-0.

Eury Ramos gave up two runs in the first inning and three in the second and this game was never close again. Ramos allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits in two innings of work. He walked two and struck out one.

Third baseman Jake Slaughter went 2 for 4 with a double.

AZL Cubs

Cubs 1 beat the Rangers, 4-0.

Bailey Clark pitched two scoreless innings in a rehab appearance in this game.

Cubs 2 beat Indians 2, 3-2.

Kyle Schwarber's HR springs Cubs to 1-0 lead after 1 hour, 47 minute rain delay

Kyle Schwarber's HR springs Cubs to 1-0 lead after 1 hour, 47 minute rain delay

The start of Friday night’s game between the Cubs and Pirates at PNC Park was delayed by rain for one hour, 47 minutes.

But Kyle Schwarber didn’t show any rust, as he smacked a solo home run off Trevor Williams in the second inning as the Cubs hold a 1-0 lead entering the third.

Cole Hamels has allowed one or no earned runs in each of his first three starts as a Cub, and he’s induced a double play in each of his first two innings.

Hamels, acquired from the Rangers in a four-player trade July 27, has a 2.91 career ERA against the National League Central — his lowest against any division. He made his Cubs debut here against the Pirates on Aug. 1 and allowed an unearned run on three hits while striking out nine in five innings of a 9-2 win.

Ian Happ will bat leadoff for the 13th time this season. Happ, who started the season in the leadoff spot before struggling, is 5-for-11 lifetime against Williams.

Javier Baez, who batted the last two games in the leadoff spot, will bat fifth.

Catcher Willson Contreras, who was limping toward the end of Thursday’s 1-0 win, will get a rest. Victor Caratini will start in his place.

The Hamels-Williams matchup is a battle of Rancho Bernardo High School alumni. Hamels graduated from the San Diego school in 2002, Williams in 2010.

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Cubs have best NL record right now, but fixing their rotation is a must during the stretch run

Cubs have best NL record right now, but fixing their rotation is a must during the stretch run

The Cubs enter Friday at 70-50, a pace of 94 wins and good for the best record in the National League. And yet, they have had a gigantic flaw, at least to this point. The starting rotation has been pretty bad overall, pitching to a 4.17 ERA. That ranks them just 10th in the NL. 

There are problems when it comes to putting a competitive rotation out there day in and day out, and it looks like the only possible solutions must come from within the organization, given that there aren’t really any good starting pitching names in the August rumor mill (like Justin Verlander last year, for example). 

The problems

Let’s examine the opening day rotation. 

Jon Lester: In seven starts from July 8 through Aug. 11, Lester pitched to a 8.65 ERA, allowing an opposing batting line of .350/.420/.664. He gave up 11 home runs in 34 1/3 innings. Through his good first half run, there were reasons to believe he’d regress, and he certainly has in a big way. 

Yu Darvish: Of Darvish’s eight outings, four times he allowed at least four earned runs while not completing five innings. He allowed exactly one run in each of his other four starts, but still, he’s pitching to a 4.95 ERA and has only made eight starts. He’s trying to work back from arm issues, but it’s taking forever. He’s on the 60-day disabled list now. 

Kyle Hendricks: His three-year ERA trend: 2.13, 3.03, 4.11. Uh oh.

Jose Quintana: The lefty has the worst ERA of his career by a decent margin. He’s coughed up 20 home runs in 125 innings, and he’s walking more hitters than ever (4.0 BB/9 compared to a career mark of 2.6). He’s nibbling far too much, and that’s an even bigger problem given that he has had terrible command for the most part. So he tries to nibble on the corners and either walks too many guys or misses with a middle-middle fastball that ends up in the bleachers. 

Tyler Chatwood: Ninety walks in 99 2/3 innings and a 5.06 ERA. Brutal. He can’t take another start this season. [UPDATE: He’s getting on Saturday, as the Cubs have had to place Montgomery on the disabled list]

The solutions?

Cole Hamels: He’s pitching again Friday night, and he’s been stellar so far (1.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 20 K, 4 BB, 18 IP). If he keeps throwing well, replacing Chatwood with Hamels is a master stroke. 

Mike Montgomery: Montgomery has made 13 starts in Darvish’s place, and he’s 4-3 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Looking at the peripherals, Montgomery shouldn’t be counted on as a frontline starter at all, but if he’s your No. 5, you’re in fine shape. That means the rest of the guys need to step up. As noted above, the Cubs just placed Montgomery on the disabled list, but there aren’t indications it’s a long-term concern. 

Lester: Very encouraging outing Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Lester was his old self: dotting the corners, staying down in the zone and mixing in his offspeed stuff effectively when needed. He only allowed five hits in six scoreless innings while striking out eight and not walking anyone. The command and stuff were as impressive as the line. Him staying in this mode the rest of the way would do wonders for the Cubs. Of course, it’s always possible he goes in the other direction.

Darvish: It’s been at least three weeks since the Cubs reported that Darvish has felt pain in his throwing program. He’s progressed through throwing off flat ground and then bullpens to having thrown a few simulated games. He’s now likely going on a minor-league rehab assignment this weekend, per the Chicago Tribune. It’s possible he’s back the first week of September. In Darvish’s last three starts last regular season, he pitched to a 0.47 ERA with 21 strikeouts against one walk in 19 1/3 innings. He then allowed only two runs in 11 1/3 innings in the first two rounds of the playoffs before his high-profile, pitch-tipping meltdown in the World Series. He’s capable of a strong run. It’s also possible he won’t be back at all. 

Hendricks: After giving up two runs in the first inning to the Cardinals on July 29, something seemed to click back in place for Hendricks with his stuff and command. He threw six more innings without giving up a run that game. Since then, he’s been susceptible to one bad inning (and the bullpen gave up two of his runs on Wednesday, skewing his line), but overall has looked a lot more like the 2016 Hendricks than not. If he can get that one inning thing under control, the Cubs have something. Then again, he’s been fickle, so he’s a continued question mark. 

Quintana: I’ve got nothing here. There isn’t much I’ve seen or in the profile that bodes well for the rest of this season. 

A playoff rotation of the good versions of Hamels-Lester-Darvish-Hendricks makes the Cubs the best team in the NL. A playoff rotation with Hamels, Montgomery and questionable versions of Lester and Hendricks is pretty shaky. 

The Cubs are good enough to win the World Series, but they need the rotation to come together, in addition to getting good/healthy versions of Kris Bryant and Brandon Morrow back. If these things don’t come together, it’s possible to see the Cubs bounced in the NLDS, lose the Wild Card Game or even miss the playoffs altogether. 

How this group comes together goes a long way in determining the path to and/or through the NL playoffs these last six weeks. 

Anthony Rizzo's staredown with Pedro Strop was a mind-meld moment

Anthony Rizzo's staredown with Pedro Strop was a mind-meld moment

Anthony Rizzo didn’t have to say a word to reliever Pedro Strop. His look — reminiscent of Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind meld, without the touching — did all the talking necessary late in Thursday night’s CubsPirates game.

Let’s set the scene: Two outs, bottom of the ninth, Cubs up by a run. Strop has just hit the Pirates’ David Freese with an inside pitch, so the tying run is on first with the potential winning run coming to bat. High-stakes moment.

The Cubs infield gathers for a conference on the mound. After some strategy chatter, the group disperses, though Javy Baez lingers for a few last words (and maybe a sunflower seed or two) while Rizzo remains stone-faced and silent as he stands behind Strop. When Strop turns to face Rizzo, the Cubs first baseman stares grimly and unblinkingly at the reliever, left hand cocked on hip, for several seconds. Strop, hat cocked to the left per usual, smacks the baseball into his glove, looks up and returns the stare, his face also expressionless.

With the mind meld complete, Rizzo returns to his position. Strop, as if on command, induces the Pirates’ Elias Diaz to hit a harmless grounder to — who else? — Rizzo, who fields it and steps on the bag for the final out in a 1-0 victory.

Does Rizzo have hypnotic powers? Was he communicating telepathically with Strop? Was this rehearsed or spontaneous? And how did both players manage not to burst out laughing?

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