SAN DIEGO – Justin Grimm is only two weeks removed from a month on the disabled list, and he’s already looking like a key stabilizing force for a team that leads the majors in one-run games, one-run victories and that has more pitching changes than almost any other team in the majors so far.
How much did the Cubs miss him from their bullpen?
Only three teams in baseball have more blown saves than the Cubs’ as the heavily used pen was forced in his absence (and subsequent DL stint of Neil Ramirez) to rely more heavily than planned on Jason Motte, Edwin Jackson and since-released Phil Coke.
Grimm, the 2014 workhorse linchpin of a strong pen, said he’s still searching for the feel on his fastball, but his slider has been good enough that he’s recorded nine of his 14 outs by strikeout since his return from a forearm injury.
That included Wednesday night’s impressive outing in the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Padres, when Grimm got a surprisingly early call in the pen as manager Joe Maddon pulled starter Tsyoshi Wada with two out and two on in the fifth.
“Honestly I was thinking, I’m going to start moving around after this half inning,” he said of the moment before getting the call. “Then it’s like, `I’ve got to get chucking.’ “
Grimm started by walking the first batter, with a wild pitch mixed in, loading the bases. but he struck out Matt Kemp to end the threat, and followed with a scoreless, two-strikeout sixth to earn his first win of the season.
Pitching coach Chris Bosio says the return of Grimm is huge to the Cubs’ ability to get back to a reliable late-inning routine.
Next is getting back Ramirez (shoulder), who’s scheduled to throw for Bosio in Phoenix on Friday and is said to be making strong progress.
“We’ve had a pretty difficult schedule with new pieces,” Bosio said. “We’ve got a winning record. And there’s room for improvement. We haven’t had Neil Ramirez, and we didn’t have Grimm for a stretch. But we’ve added other pieces, and I really think that we haven’t even hit our stride. … I like our pen.”
Bosio calls his relief corps “hungry” and “very critical of themselves.” And some of the numbers, including increases in strikeouts and decreases in walks, are positive signs, he said. And they’ve been able to stay away from giving up a lot of extra-base hits.
“We’ve got to pitch, and we’ve got to catch it to be a good pitching staff,” Bosio said. “And it goes hand in hand. When we catch it, we usually perform pretty well. When we don’t walk guys we perform well.”
The Cubs didn’t commit and error Thursday or walk a Padres batter. And Kyle Hendricks pitched a five-hit shutout in a 3-0 win at Petco Park.
“Those things go hand in hand,” Bosio added. “But I like my pen, I really do.”