When the season was about to start I proclaimed the Cubs would be more competitive due to the fact their bullpen would be more capable and close out some of the victories they left on the table the last two seasons. Well I sure as hell looked like a fool for such a bold prognostication as the bullpen started out blowing leads once again. However when I made my declaration I was talking more about the kids I thought would make the team and not relying on vets like James Russell, and Jose Veras who are the real culprits in the early season collapses the Cubs have had. Now the kids are starting to filtrate their way up and factor into the Cubs high leverage situations.
Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Hector Rondon have been a big part of the pen as they initially made the roster, but were not really in when it mattered most. Those roles were given to Russell as the main set up man and Veras as the closer. I understood it as they were experienced in high leverage situations, and they were perhaps trying to increase their value to trade away for assets while opening up spots for newly groomed and developed prospects. It is however good to see the organization act upon the failures of these vets as it not only helps the team, but also shows the youngsters there are no free passes. Not even to vets. To the vets it shows a willingness to win now.
Early on Wesley Wright was a big part of the failure too, and did not pitch much because of it at one point going 9 games without an appearance, Recently however he’s been as good as any reliever on the team. He has solid stats across the board due to his recent success. In his last 7 appearances he’s pitched a total of 6 innings giving up 4 hits, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts and most importantly no runs while facing 22 batters in 7 total games played.
Cubs also seem to have a pretty good rotation of call ups at their disposal as they just sent Zac Rosscup down, but will be bringing him up again when he’s needed, and why not? He has a nice power repertoire as a southpaw and looked good in his brief time up. Wasn’t too shabby in the 10 games he appeared in at the end of the 2013 season either.
Brian Schliter has been pretty good too. basically had one bad outing in that disastrous game against the Diamondbacks on the 100th anniversary celebration game. That of course inflated his stats as do most bad outings for a reliever this early in the season. Other than that he’s been dealing and he’s probably more trade chip than core of this pen’s future.
Neil Ramirez is another exciting power arm to make his debut for the parent club. Of course its been only 2 games, and 7 batters faced but so far the only blemish has been a walk and he’s struck out 3. It’s mainly his potential to be another power arm that’s exciting in what’s quickly becoming a stuff staff.
Of course Grimm and Strop have been doing it since day one. Grimm had his first bad outing just this past Friday giving up a 2 run HR to Cardinal slugger Jhonny Peralta. Till that point only one earned run total. That HR ballooned his ERA to only 2.31 which gives you an idea just how good he’s been. He’s also struck out 13 in 11.2 innings, but needs to bring his walk total down (8) which is common for young fire-balling bullpen guys. Strop has been equally as impressive. In 11.1 innings he’s got 14 strikeouts and only 4 earned runs thus far with a respectable 3.18 ERA. A good portion of those earned runs came after James Russell relieved him.
The star of that bullpen thus far has been Rondon, and it’s recognized by manager Ricky Renteria as he was the first chosen to replace struggling closer Veras (who’s on the DL for an oblique strain) ahead of both Grimm and Strop thus far. Renteria however is still keeping his options open. This quote off of the Cubs official website.
“Rondon has been used in that particular situation but it’s still fluid,” Renteria said before Saturday’s game. “It’ll depend on where we’re at as to who we use in those innings.”
Rondon has really worked hard to get here after being selected as a rule 5 player in 2012, and clearly doesn’t intend on wasting his opportunity. From the same article by Carrie Muskat on chicagocubs.com
“It feels amazing right now,” he said. “Everything I’ve been working for last year, everything is coming together this year. It’s good for me.”
He seems to understand what it takes to be a closer.
“I need to be more aggressive,” Rondon said. “I need to make my first pitch for strikes. That’s big for me.”
Count Cubs starting catcher Wellington Castillo among those who feel the ninth inning is one Rondon can handle.
“That inning is not for everybody.” [Rondon] made his pitch. It’s all him.”
There are more on their way up too. Expect to see electric arms like Marcus Hatley, Alberto Cabrera, Hunter Cervenka, P.J. Francescon, Armando Rivero, Arodys Vizcaino, Tyler Bremer, Zack Godley, and Jose Arias up with the big club at some point this season.