Wada mess: Even in victory, Cubs’ 5th-starter spot raises concern

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Neither Anthony Rizzo’s pat on the butt, or his two runs scored Thursday, could make Tsuyoshi Wada’s 3-inning start feel any better to the lefty.

At this point, can Edwin Jackson be far away from becoming the Cubs’ next flavor of the month in the fifth-starter role?

Or maybe the return of Travis Wood?

Cubs manager Joe Maddon refused to go there, even on a night he felt compelled to yank Tsuyoshi Wada from a start in the fourth inning for the second time in a week – just to have a chance to preserve an early lead that turned into a 6-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds Thursday night.

“I’m not even thinking that right now,” Maddon said when asked if there was any chance Wada would be replaced by the time his spot comes up again Tuesday. “

With the Cubs just three games into a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, it doesn’t take many starts like Wada’s to crush a bullpen.

“He’s an easy mark right now, there’s no question,” said Maddon of the finesse left-hander whose velocity has dropped slightly since an impressive season debut three weeks ago. “We need to try to get him back to where he had been those first couple starts. … I’m not saying it’s a dead arm, but it’s just a matter that he might be having to get through that particular phase [five starts in] and come back out the other side.”

The Cubs jumped to a quick lead in the first on Miguel Montero’s three-run homer, and Dexter Fowler added a solo shot in the third – the first into the newly opened, rebuilt right-field bleachers.

In between, Wada gave up a two-out, two-run triple to the pitcher, Michael Lorenzen, in the second. And after Fowler’s homer, he gave up rookie Chris Dominguez’s first big-league homer.

That was all Maddon needed to see, and Wood was called on for extended duty – retiring seven of the eight he faced.

Wada hasn’t been the only problem with the fifth-starter spot this season. Five of Travis Wood’s seven starts lasted five innings or less before he was replaced by Wada when Wada was activated from the disabled list.

Wood had a 5.59 ERA, 1.297 WHIP and just two quality starts in his stint in that spot, with the team going 4-3 in those games; Wada, 4.84, 1.388 with no quality starts, and the team’s 3-2 in his starts.

Combined, the fifth spot has produced a 5.31 ERA and averaged less than 4 2/3 innings per start. If they were one pitcher, it would make them the sixth-worst starter in the league.

Maddon said he plans to talk to Wada Friday about being more “assertive” again, and “primal.”

“I see him trying to be too complicated. Let’s simplify the whole thing,” Maddon said. “Trust your good stuff. He really is primarily a fastball pitcher, regardless of velocity. There’s such a thing as effective velocity, by throwing it where you want to. I’d just like to see him get back to that. Trusting your stuff. Don’t try to fool anybody. Believe what you’re doing.”

Wada, who lasted just 3 1/3 and 3 innings his last two starts (combined eight earned runs on 13 hits and two walks), told Japanese media his issues are more mechanics than any physical problem.

He’s also aware he’s walking a fine line in job security. “It’s not my decision,” he said with the help of a translator. “But if you look at the results, [a demotion] could be happening.”

Meanwhile, Jackson looked impressive in a 59-pitch relief stint over 3 1/3 innings Tuesday in Detroit, and Maddon called Wood the “star of the bullpen” Thursday for his 36-pitch night.

One possibility for the fifth spot – which Maddon all but pointed to with the way he had Wood warming before Wada’s first pitch of the third (and the way he used Hector Rondon in the ninth) — could be to piggyback the pair every five days, alternating which one starts, possibly utilizing lefty-righty matchups for some teams.

The quick hook would constantly be in play if that day’s starter didn’t have it, and has the potential to make it harder on the opposing manager to game plan his lineup and bench.

Neither denies his desire to start again.

“It’s fresher in my mind than his,” Wood said, “but I’m sure he’s right there with me, that our roles right now are down there in the bullpen, so we’re going to give that everything we’ve got.”

“Why wouldn’t I want it?” said Jackson, the $52 million right-hander, who has a 2.79 ERA in 15 relief appearances. “If they came to anybody in the bullpen and said, `You want to start,’ nobody’s going to say no.

“We could sit here and talk if, if, if – you can go back to if this happens, if that happens, all day. But right now I’m in the bullpen. And that’s all I’m concerned about.”

If the start of games every five days suddenly has been thrown into doubt, the way the Cubs finish games night have gained some clarity Thursday night.

Or maybe not.

Five days after Maddon threw the closer role into flux with a one-batter hook of “closer” Rondon, Rondon was back on the mound for the first time in the ninth.

But Jason Motte was warming on the bullpen mound at the same time.

“I thought he was really good tonight,” Maddon said of Rondon, who had struggled for much of the past month. “Until Ronnie settles in, it’s not about Rondon; it’s about the Cubs. I see nothing wrong with a safety net.”

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