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Cubs’ bullpen falters late as team drops tough opener in Milwaukee

1 year agoAndy Martinez

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs’ offense took a hit in the series opening, 8-6 loss to the Brewers.

Nick Madrigal left the game with right hamstring tightness in the 4th inning of Monday’s game against the Brewers. The third baseman charged after a popup in foul territory and ran into the padding along the wall in foul territory down the third base line. Madrigal said he felt the hamstring “grab” at him as he charged for the ball. 

Head athletic trainer Nick Frangella and manager David Ross came out to check on Madrigal, but he stayed in the game for a few more pitches. With 2 outs in the 4th, starting pitcher Drew Smyly’s day was done, and Michael Fulmer came in. During that pitching change, Madrigal came out of the game with Christopher Morel shifting to third base from the designated hitter spot.

“I was frustrated,” Madrigal said after the game. “I wanted to finish that game, but everything in my head told me I gotta get out of here. These are important games, this series is important. I wanna be in there. We’re gonna have a lot of conversations and see how I feel tomorrow morning and go from there.”

Ross chose to shift Morel to third base instead of Jared Young, who was at first and has played 36 innings at the hot corner this season in the minors. 

“It’s [either] put JY at third [and] Mancini at first, [but] JY played hardly any third base,” Ross said after the game. “Just killed the DH there and tried to manage it accordingly and we just didn’t throw strikes. Gave too many free passes and guys have been really good, weren’t as sharp today.”

The Cubs bullpen, which had been very dependable in June, struggled in the loss, allowing 5 runs in the 7th and 8th innings. All of the runs were charged to Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr., who had been two of the most trusted arms for Ross in his bullpen. 

“Nine free passes with a 6-run lead early on, just can’t happen,” Ross said. “We gotta throw strikes. Challenge guys, make em earn it. We gotta be aggressive cause it’s what this team does. They walk, they strikeout. Three true outcomes and not really slugging that much and we gave them a lot of free passes with a 6-run lead.

“That’s unacceptable. We gotta play better defense. Little things when you lose a game like this.”

If Madrigal misses any amount of time, it could create some roster questions for the Cubs. When Patrick Wisdom landed on the IL and Miles Mastrobuoni was optioned to Triple-A, Madrigal was really the Cubs’ only option at third base and played well. Since being recalled on June 9, Madrigal is hitting .328//409/.466 with 6 extra-base hits, 8 RBI and 5 stolen bases, showing just how valuable he could be to the team’s offense.

Wisdom has been on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa and is 2-for-10 with a home run in 3 games. He was scheduled to play in another rehab game on Monday with Iowa, but was not in the lineup, per Des Moines Register reporter Tommy Birch. If Madrigal lands on the IL, the Cubs could activate Wisdom and add his power bat to the lineup. The team also could opt to recall Miles Mastrobuoni and have a left-handed option to play third base.

“He’s been down there with rehab process as well,” Ross said. “So yeah he definitely will be in the conversation. I’m sure we won’t push Nick with the All-Star break coming up.”

With Morel moving to third, the Cubs lost the designated hitter. In the top of the 5th, Fulmer was due up to bat third and he went up to the plate and struck out on 5 pitches. It was Fulmer’s first plate appearance since July 3, 2018, when he went 0-for-2 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field as a Tiger.

Fulmer was stellar in relief of Smyly, pitching 2.1 scoreless innings, inducing an inning-ending grounder to William Contreras with runners on second and third and pitching shutout frames in the 5th and 6th.

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