Method behind Maddon? Cub pen rolls with no roles

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Things have been going so well for the Cubs lately, they even got a series of violent storms through the area Monday that they might as well have requested.

It gave them a rainout just about the time the bullpen could use it most, and it won’t even get hit with a doubleheader Tuesday, since Monday’s game was rescheduled for what had been a mutual off day Aug. 24.

Manager Joe Maddon suggested even before the game was called that a day off might return his well-used pen to “solvency.”

But even before the helping hand from the heavens, a funny thing was happening to a relief corps that had been a shaky, work in progress since April:

A bullpen with no designated closer and no identifiable eighth-inning ace, which added a ninth arm Sunday, has a 1.54 ERA over its last 20 games – second-lowest in the majors during that span.

It’s .183 batting-average-against in that span is best in the majors.

Why? Nobody knows – as in nobody out there knows when he’s going to get the call to warm up anymore.

Since Hector Rondon had his closer title pulled more than a week ago, the Cubs have gone with committee approaches to almost every role in the pen.

“I think it helps a lot,” Maddon said. “I think for the most part it’s always made sense to do it like we’re doing it right now – unless you have this spectacular group that’s just able to do it often and do it against anybody.”

The Cubs looked briefly like they might have the start of something like that, when Rondon and Pedro Strop came off of strong finishes in 2014 to take the back-end roles out of spring training, and Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez made it four power guys in the late-inning mix.

Early injuries and poor performances derailed the best-laid plans quickly.

Grimm has since returned strong from an early-season forearm injury. And Ramirez (shoulder) is scheduled Wednesday to start an injury-rehab assignment at AA Tennessee, nearly two months after going on the DL.

“He could be a huge part of what we’re doing,” Maddon said. “Getting him back could really solidify that whole group.”

Meanwhile, the mix-and-match, any-inning approach has helped overcome short and poor starts in recent weeks by Tsuyoshi Wada, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, helped cover extra-inning affairs two of the last three games and helped the Cubs reel off a 6-2 mini-run that has them a season-high seven games over .500.

“They probably don’t like it in the beginning, but at least they understand and they know,” Maddon said of guys having to adjust their game routines when they don’t know their daily roles. “I don’t want to said I don’t care that they [understand], but I don’t expect them do. It’s just a matter of us trying to win games, ad this is how we’re set up right now.”

“You have to be ready at all times,” said Jason Motte, who’s back up to 97-mph nastiness after recovering last year from Tommy John surgery (and produced 12 straight scoreless outings). “That’s the way it is, regardless. I don’t know if guys are cool with it, or not cool with it, but we’re down there ready to go whenever the phone rings.”

NOTES: The Cubs reached agreement over the weekend on a $3 million bonus for first-round draft pick Ian Happ, the University of Cincinnati switch hitter taken ninth overall. Like top-pick Kyle Schwarber a year ago, the Cubs signed Happ for an “under-slot” price, allowing them to be more competitive signing players with signability issues drafted lower than sheer talent projections might suggested. Happ’s bonus is $351,000 less than the restricted allotment MLB assigned to the No. 9 slot. …

–The Cubs won’t use Monday’s rainout to skip the struggling Wada (who had been scheduled Tuesday), opting instead to keep the rotation in line, pushing everybody back one day. Jake Arrieta (6-4, 3.16) now starts Tuesday.

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