Rookie Jen-Ho Tseng has rough debut, but Cubs rout Mets, focus on pen

Mission accomplished?

The Cubs sent what was basically a Class AAA battery to start against the Mets on Thursday night, and debuting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng and his rookie catcher, Taylor Davis, lasted just three rough innings.

But the Mets are terrible, so the Cubs won anyway in another rout, 14-6, for 39 runs in a three-game sweep.

And Tseng’s start was never about Tseng as much as it was about helping to fix, for the stretch drive, what has ailed the Cubs’ bullpen since the All-Star break.

Jen-Ho Tseng gave up four earned runs, including home runs on back-to-back pitches in the third, in his three-inning, big-league debut.

“It is a concern; I can’t deny that. Absolutely,” manager Joe Maddon said of his bullpen, which has ranked among the worst in baseball since the break, with both an ERA and a walk rate north of 5.00. “It’s such a big part of this time of the year. It’s a big part of the playoffs.”

Maddon trusts so few of his relievers in high-leverage situations on the eve of a showdown series against the Cardinals that the Cubs chose to move lefty Mike Montgomery back to the bullpen instead of starting him Thursday. He pitched two innings of scoreless relief and got the win when the Cubs pounded the Mets for five runs in the fourth (and five more in the sixth).

Meanwhile, Maddon also quietly had “the talk” with closer Wade Davis this week. The Cubs’ All-Star is now on call, for the first time this year, to be ready to work more than an inning at a time if necessary the rest of the way.

“He’s aware. He’s on board,” Maddon said. “But I’m trying to avoid that as long as we possibly can.”

Maddon plans to continue to lean on right-handers Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop and lefties Brian Duensing and Montgomery to get leads to Davis.

Everybody else in the bullpen is basically auditioning at this point for greater responsibility and playoff roles, assuming the Cubs close out the division.

Meanwhile, an admittedly nervous Tseng walked the first batter he faced on a 3-2 pitch behind Jose Reyes’ legs, leading to the first run of the game. His fourth and fifth pitches in the third were both hit for home runs.

But Maddon raved about Tseng’s stuff.

“There’s something in there, man,” he said.

Progress for Arrieta

Frontline starter Jake Arrieta, who has been sidelined by an injured right hamstring since Sept.  4, threw a 25-pitch bullpen session Thursday — his first test of the leg from a mound since the injury.

He said the hamstring feels good and that he hasn’t experienced any carryover soreness or tightness during daily rehab work.

Next up is a vigorous, full-speed bullpen session Saturday, after which — barring injury — a target date could be set for his return.

That could be early in next week’s series in Milwaukee, which would align him for another start in the following series against the Cardinals, and one more against the Reds in the final day or two of the season, if necessary.

“I think we’re in a really good spot,” said Arrieta, who wants three more starts. “I feel like it actually could be a blessing in disguise as far as getting a little time off and not having to rush this back. Because if this were to happen today, it would be a different story.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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