<
>

Cubs' Wada making a pitch for 2015 rotation

8/15/2014

CHICAGO -- While the Chicago Cubs will search for pitching this offseason, they may have found a couple of hurlers for their starting staff already. Rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks is garnering most of the headlines -- as he should be -- but 34-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is carving out a nice second half run himself.

He's 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in six starts since being called up from Triple-A Iowa, including a gem Wednesday against the talented right-handed lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers. Wada gave up two solo home runs in his final inning of work en route to a 4-2 win. What's working for him?

"Executing," his catcher John Baker said. "Everything that he's throwing. He puts the ball where he wants to put the ball. And he's not shaking me off. Maybe twice [Wednesday]. So I can take the pressure and he can just pitch."

Wada signed with the Baltimore Orioles at 31 years old after coming over from Japan in 2012. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, he pitched in Triple-A last season but the Orioles let him go after his two-year deal was up and the Cubs grabbed him.

His major league debut was anything but assured after a rough spring training, giving up 14 hits and eight walks in 9 2/3 innings with an 8.38 ERA. He was actually released and then re-signed to a minor league deal but it included an option for 2015.

"It was my first spring training in Arizona so at first I was kind of struggling to grip the ball and the command of it," Wada said through an interpreter. "After a while I got a better handle of it."

It's well known spring training in Arizona isn't always kind to pitchers. The ball flies. Still, Wada knew something was up.

"There are guys that still put up the numbers," he said. "I was thinking, 'What's the best solution to get the results that I want.' As time went by I was able to figure it out."

There was concern from others as they watched him in the spring. He simply couldn't get anyone out.

"His velocity was down too," Baker said. "He was throwing 83-84 mph on his fastball; it's pretty easy for guys to hit the ball. When he tops out at 92 mph it looks even faster. He built up the arm strength, I guess."

There's some deception to Wada's delivery, which has thrown hitters off balance. Manager Rick Renteria saw it right away but also saw reason for concern.

"The only thing I was concerned with when he was pitching was his arm side command," Renteria said. "It was about his command. You could see he had some sneaky life, but it was a matter of if he was going to get it into a zone."

As soon as Triple-A Iowa's season started Wada found what he was looking for. As good as Hendricks has been in the majors, that's how dominating Wada was in the minors this season, going 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 18 starts. Now he's finding his groove with the Cubs.

"He has that pause in that windup that's thrown off their timing just a little," Baker said. "But it's not all about the deception. It's deception plus command."

Which brings us to next year. The Cubs may be on a search for more pitching, but they're still going to need bodies like Wada. At this point there's no reason they wouldn't pick up the option on 2015 as just about nothing else is for certain with the Cubs on the mound.

"I don't want to characterize it as No. 1 quality or whatever but we know we have to add pitching," general manager Jed Hoyer said recently of the upcoming search. "We know we have an imbalance [of hitting prospects vs. pitching in the minors] and I think that will be a main area of focus in the offseason and probably several offseasons."

The Cubs aren't yet in that add-at-all-costs mode. They'll search and probably sign a bigger name but they'll definitely bring in some more arms for depth. Wada is already here and despite his age, he's the perfect stopgap for another year -- unless of course the Cubs end up competing next season. Then he might become even more valuable.

"He's been around," Renteria said. "This isn't a young kid."

As rebuilds go, a rotation of Jake Arrieta, Hendricks, Travis Wood, Wada and Edwin Jackson -- if he's still around -- could be what the Cubs go to spring training with. There's also 25-year-old Dan Straily, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade, who will make his Cubs debut Saturday, and the recently acquired Jacob Turner, who was sharp in relief Thursday.

More than likely they'll add a top-of-the-rotation hurler moving everyone down one. It still could mean Wada is throwing every fifth day.

"I'm not thinking about that," he said. "I'm just trying to finish strong."