NEW YORK — The Cubs unveiled a new pitcher Saturday, a right-hander hoping to exploit a change of scenery to take a step toward becoming part of the Cubs’ long-term pitching plans.
Yet, somehow, everything about Saturday night in New York still seemed to be about what was going on with minor-league hitters 1,000 miles away in Des Moines, Iowa.
In fact, when top prospect Kris Bryant of Class AAA Iowa limped to the clubhouse in the top of the third inning in Des Moines — about the same time Dan Straily lost the strike zone in the sixth inning in New York — it sent Cubs-related Twitter activity into overdrive.
Cubs officials remain hopeful the kid who leads professional baseball with 40 home runs — the No. 1 prospect in the game, according to some rankings — isn’t seriously hurt.
He appeared to aggravate a left-toe injury suffered a few days earlier when he fouled a ball off of it. X-rays Saturday night were “inconclusive,” the team said. He was to have an MRI exam on Sunday.
While his playing status this week was not clear, he is expected to be fully recovered by next season’s anticipated big-league debut.
If anything, the reaction served as another reminder of how upside-down the common perception of this team has become as fans and baseball insiders wait for the long-promised impact of hitters such as Bryant and AAA teammate Jorge Soler to join Javy Baez, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in the majors.
Meanwhile, the state of the Cubs’ pitching future is a far more serious issue than Bryant’s health — a big factor on this night in the Cubs’ third consecutive loss, 7-3 to the New York Mets
That’s a big part of why Straily was on the mound — six weeks and a day after he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the 4-for-2 trade that sent homegrown ace Jeff Samardzija packing.
Straily, who raved about the change-of-scenery impact on his mind and performance at AAA since the trade, showed a mixed bag in his Cubs debut, barely reaching 90 mph while giving up three quick runs in the second, settling down until the sixth, and then “unraveling” in a four-run inning he couldn’t finish.
“That’s something that can’t happen,” he said of the problems in the sixth that turned a 3-1 game into a late-inning rout. “I had them on the ropes right there and then lost a fastball in [to hit David Wright with one out]. … I didn’t have my best stuff out there and was able to keep them enough off balance until I couldn’t find the strike zone in the sixth.”
Until hitting Wright, Straily had retired 12 consecutive batters and looked on the verge of a quality start.
“He was probably one batter away from getting out of that one inning,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has actually really good tempo. After that initial [trouble in the second] he settled in.
“I’m sure we’ll see him again.”
Straily, a 10-game winner for Oakland during a playoff season in 2013, was called up for the one spot start and optioned back to Iowa after the game. He is expected to rejoin the club in September, along with recently acquired left-hander Felix Doubront.
Those two, along with right-hander Jacob Turner (currently in the bullpen), will get starts down the stretch as the Cubs evaluate what they have in-house before looking at the free agent and trade markets this winter.
“That middle stretch of innings, that’s more the type of guy I am,” said Straily, who remains optimistic about showing more of that next time.
“All day today it felt pretty new, with the excitement of getting to pitch for a new team and all the good stuff that goes along with it,” he said.