ST. LOUIS -- Alright, now that the Chicago Cubs have completed their annual pulling of their closer from his job, who should be next in line to save games?
Last year was a more obvious situation as Kyuji Fujikawa was signed as a late-inning guy and when Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s gig, Fujikawa was next in line -- until he got hurt. Then the Cubs had to bring Kevin Gregg back and he actually stabilized things for a while. Fast forward to this year, Gregg is gone, Fujikawa is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and Jose Veras has been banished like so many before him.
There are three obvious in-house candidates, all right-handers:
Pedro Strop: 7G, 0-1, 4.76 ERA, 1-1 SV, 5.2 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 8 K’s
Justin Grimm: 7G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 9 K’s
Hector Rondon: 6G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 9 K’s
The favorite to take the job is Strop. Most observers thought he might be the closer as last season ended as he was being groomed for that role. But Strop has had some control issues and he’s already given up two home runs, not the kind of stuff that works in the ninth inning of close games.
“One big key is the ability to throw strikes back there,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday morning. “We all feel better if the other team has to get hits to beat us and in the one-run save, the ability to get a walk and a bunt, it could (evaporate) in a hurry. So throwing strikes is going to be at a premium back there.”
Strop’s 1.41 WHIP wouldn’t lend itself to being the guy, according to Hoyer’s description, but that’s in limited innings over the course of less than two weeks of the season. If Rick Renteria wants to go with who’s hot right now then Rondon is the guy. He hasn’t given up a run in 16 innings going back to last year when he really came on late in the season. He was a Rule 5 pick in 2013 and he didn’t disappoint the Cubs by being on the roster for the whole year as required by rules. After a crazy night, his 1-2-3 first career save Friday in the 11th inning stood out.
Grimm brings a little bit more of the classic closer’s mentality to the job and has no problem getting into and out of jams as he did in the 10th inning Friday. He’s already walked hitters in high-pressure situations in front of Andrew McCutchen and Yadier Molina, then went on to strike them both out.
If not for his own slow start Strop would be the choice, but Renteria may as well ride Rondon until he cools off. If it’s closer by the committee, then the hot hand should be the guy barring a massive match-up edge. Rondon could be a long-term bullpen arm so some experience at the back-end couldn’t hurt. Same applies for Strop, who should eventually get a chance to close games this season as well. But if Veras needs to right his ship, so does Strop right now. The choice is Rondon.
Or else call Gregg again. He’s available.