Thursday, July 10, 2014
Cubs' pitching competition should heat up
By Jesse Rogers
Now that three Triple-A Iowa pitchers have made their major league debuts, the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make after the All-Star break.
Kyle Hendricks settled down after a shaky first inning in his major league debut on Thursday.
The early results from Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks are meaningless. Judging a starting pitcher on his debut, or even the first few starts, would be silly. Nerves and unfamiliarity with the opposition can derail a rookie more than anything else. It didn't help that it looked like Hendricks was squeezed by the home plate umpire in his debut inning on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds as he gave up three runs in the first before settling down to retire 16 of his next 19 batters for a no-decision.
Beeler threw six innings, giving up one unearned run in his first start last month but wasn't as sharp in Wednesday's appearance against the Reds as he walked four without a strikeout in five innings, while giving up four runs. Wada may have been the sharpest of the group in his debut on Tuesday when he gave up five hits in five innings but no earned runs.
Then there's Dan Straily, acquired from the Oakland A's for Samardzija and Hammel last week. He has started one game for Triple-A Iowa, going five innings and giving up four runs but none were earned. However, he wasn't able to pitch around an error that opened the floodgates in a four-run second inning for the Omaha Storm Chasers.
"Now that I'm here it's up to me to prove that I'm ready," Straily said after his start. "I'm back to square one. It's about performance."
Performance will probably dictate who gets a majority of the starts in the second half. Cubs president Theo Epstein already indicated Straily would be part of the mix as he has the most experience, even starting a playoff game last fall for the Athletics. Straily said he was sent down this season because he lost command of his fastball but he believes it's coming back.
Straily, 25, was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA this season after going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA last season. Even he indicated a break from the AL West could do him well. The Cubs have had luck bringing pitchers over from the American League and Straily's numbers could improve with weaker opposition.
That leaves three pitchers for one spot if Straily gets a regular turn in the rotation. All three will get more chances at the major league level and if one excels -- or another clearly isn't -- then the Cubs might just hand the job to that person. Hendricks, in particular, is going to need a few times through the league before any kind of assessment is made on him. His game isn't based on his stuff so much as knowing how to pitch. He'll need to learn opponents and make adjustments before we can know if he's a regular for the rotation for next season.
Beeler did well keeping the ball down in his debut but less so in his second start while the 33-year-old Wada might just be a depth guy as his age and situation don't necessarily dictate a regular starter moving forward. Still, whoever is pitching well coming out of the All-Star break will end up getting the majority of starts in the final couple of months.
Let the competition begin.
One of the highly touted pitching prospects in Triple-A Iowa's bullpen is Arodys Vizcaino. The flamethrower says he's not trying to hit 100 mph on the radar gun as much, just get hitters out. He struggled on Monday against the Storm Chasers, giving up three hits and three runs in less than two innings of work. That's eight runs given up in five innings since moving to Triple-A.
With Cubs' bullpen roles solidly defined right now, don't look for Vizcaino to get a call-up until things go well in Iowa. At the very least he should be at Wrigley Field by September as rosters will expand.
Outfielder Matt Szczur continues to flash his glove but his bat probably won't move him into a prime starting role at the major league level. He's batting just .245 with a .308 on-base percentage. But if he can improve at the plate his glove could come in handy as he continues to make the easy and difficult plays for Iowa in the outfield.