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Cubs recall righty starter for possible new look rotation

12 months agoAndy Martinez

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs are well aware of Drew Smyly’s struggles.

Since May 28 and prior to Friday’s outing, he’s pitched to a 6.89 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. The Cubs are 3-7 in those 10 outings and it’s a far cry from the Smyly who started the year with a 2.60 ERA and 0.97 WHIP and came within 6 outs of a perfect game against the Dodgers.

In his last turn in the rotation, the Cubs opted to use an opener, Michael Fulmer for the first 2 innings of the July 22 game against the Cardinals. Smyly pitched 3.2 innings after the righty and allowed 6 hits and 5 runs (4 earned).

With his turn up next in the rotation on Friday, the Cubs again opted to skip it, calling up righty Hayden Wesneski from Triple-A to start against the Cardinals and piggybacking Smyly after him. The Cubs optioned Michael Rucker to Iowa to make room on the active roster.

The strategy worked. The pair combined to pitch 6.1 innings and the Cubs’ offense and bullpen did just enough as the Cubs won their 7th straight, 3-2, preserved by a terrific catch by Mike Tauchman in center to end it.

Wesneski was solid as the opener, allowing just a leadoff, solo home run to Lars Nootbaar in his 2 innings of work. The righty had 4 strikeouts and allowed 2 hits and a walk.

Smyly entered in the 3rd and allowed another home run to Nootbaar, but settled in after that.

He retired the next 10 hitters before allowing a double to Nolan Gorman in the 6th. He rallied with a strikeout of Nolan Arenado and inducing an inning-ending groundout to Willson Contreras. Smyly exited the game after a one-out walk to Jordan Walker in the 7th. His final line read: 4.1 innings, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts.

It was exactly what the Cubs could have helped for as they looked to lighten the load on their bullpen.

“Just trying to get the best pitchers as a whole,” manager David Ross said before the game. “Get our best arms up here. [Wesneski’s] been throwing the ball really well. We’ve had some taxing innings on the bullpen a little bit, so just giving [Michael] Fulmer or whoever would have started today a little bit of a breather before we go to Drew.”

The Cubs’ offense, meanwhile, did just enough to g

While Smyly had struggled in his last 10 outings, some underlying metrics hinted that the lefty was a bit unlucky. His batting average on balls in play was .346, suggesting some misfortune.

“We’re looking at players and guys that you expect to be doing better, you look at a lot of those metrics and things that are kind of out of the norm,” Ross said. “He’s definitely a guy that’s in that category.”

That’s why the Cubs haven’t totally lost faith in the lefty. They know exactly what he can provide. Using an opener to maximize matchups — and give someone like Wesneski continued experience in the big leagues — is valuable and allows Smyly to get things back on track.

“Just trying to find a softer landing for him to pitch his innings, that’s all, get his pitch count,” Ross said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t know if it’s a long-term thing that we feel we’re gonna go to consistently, but we’re definitely trying to maximize that in this one moment. [We’re] playing a team 8 times within 10, 11 days and [they have] a heavy right-handed based lineup that’s hit lefties really well [and] with Drew probably not the best version of him.  

“There’s a lot of factors that go into that with how he’s pitching and what the numbers are telling us.”

Wesneski had played a nice role for the Cubs in June out of the bullpen, giving them some length while the Cubs tried to find roles for others in their bullpen. The team knew, though, that long-term his role was as a starter, so he was sent back down to stretch out as a starter.

In three starts at Iowa, Wesneski allowed 2 earned runs in 8 innings across three starts with 19 strikeouts and 2 walks. In his last outing on July 22, Wesneski went 5 innings, allowing 4 hits and striking out 8.

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