Joe Maddon backs Pedro Strop after another loss


ATLANTA -- While Chicago Cubs fans may be losing patience with reliever Pedro Strop, his manager isn’t wavering.

“It’s so strange,” Joe Maddon said after the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night. “I have so much faith in this guy. I really believe he’s that good.”

Strop gave up a bases-loaded two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning to Eury Perez to break a 2-2 tie. It was the second straight outing Strop gave up runs and the third in his past eight. In the inning, he walked Andrelton Simmons after intentionally walking A.J. Pierzynski before Perez’s big hit. The hole kept getting deeper.

“I went too fine in that at-bat,” Strop said of Simmons. “I should have just attacked him.”

Strop’s ERA rose to 3.40, not great for a high-leverage reliever.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Strop stated in the locker room. “It’s been really good or really bad. I think I need to do a better job of staying at one level.”

Strop has been streaky all season. He went the month of April, spanning 11 outings, giving up just two hits and no runs. In early May, he went through his first bad stretch, producing a 6.59 ERA for the month -- but then was lights out again in June. Heading into July, things got shaky once again and now he’s given up four runs in his past two outings, both losses, dropping his record to 1-5.

“We have to continue to work him through this moment,” Maddon said.

The manager thinks Strop is leaving too many fastballs up in the zone. Strop claims to be healthy and feels like his stuff is OK.

“We’re all going to have bad outings,” he said. “I have to minimize it.”

Strop is quickly becoming one of those guys that fans jump on at the first sign of trouble. He’s not in former reliever Carlos Marmol’s category just yet, but Strop is moving in that direction. His problem isn’t just his struggles -- it’s that they always come in key moments in the game because that’s only when Maddon uses him.

“I’m just trying to match them up based on their skill set,” Maddon said. “I know they have been rough performances lately, but I think this guy is outstanding. I do.”

Strop’s 1.01 WHIP is still very good. And his 44 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings prove he’s had good stuff, so there won’t be a change in his status as Maddon’s eighth-inning guy. At least not yet. In fairness, the good outings have been very good. It’s just those bad ones -- like Friday -- stand out.

“It’s not going the way I want it,” Strop said.