CLEVELAND – On a night teammates scored 17 runs in the Cubs’ most lopsided win of the season, the smallest Cub on the field Wednesday night had just one thing to say to anybody with a microphone or notepad after the game:
“I am a badass,” said soft-tossing, soft-speaking left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada – whose seven scoreless innings were all but lost in the glare of a season-high 18-hit surge and nine innings of kid-slugger heroics in a 17-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Wada (1-1) admitted he wasn’t even sure what it meant. Manager Joe Maddon told him after back-to-back starts of barely three innings to pitch more aggressively and then after winning to use the new word.
For all the runs Wednesday night – the four hits by Kyle Schwarber in his starting debut, grand slam by rookie Kris Bryant and three more Cub homers – it might have been the most significant development of the night.
Wada was pitching for his rotation job Wednesday night – even if the Cubs don’t have a lot of great in-house alternatives if they need to make a change.
It’s why team president Theo Epstein said this week that starting pitching is the team’s top priority as it looks to add to an aspiring contender over the next six weeks before the July 31 trade deadline.
“Pennant races can be won or lost based on who has the best starting depth, and, frankly, that’s not an area of strength for us right now,” Epstein said. “If you asked us if there’s one single thing we’re spending most of our time on besides urgent matters that come up, it’s sort of game planning how to establish a little more starting depth right now. Because we’re going to need it.”
Wada knows it, too. Even after his best of six starts this season – by far – he knows he likely will have to prove himself all over again every time he takes the mound. It’s the nature of pitching for a team that expects to win as much as an occupational hazard for a fifth starter.
“I wasn’t worried about that. I wasn’t thinking about it,” said Wada, through team interpreter Nao Masamoto. “Joe told me to be aggressive, so whatever the result was, I was just focusing on what Joe told me to do.”
He gave up just four hits, all singles, in the 107-pitch start, striking out the first two batters of the game and at one point retiring 11 straight.
“I hope this is like a step-by-step [process], and every outing will be better each time,” he said, “and then, hopefully, I will be able to say ‘badass’ again.”
He had plenty of company on this night:
–Schwarber, in his big-league starting debut as the designated hitter, tripled for his first big-league hit and added three singles for four hits off four different pitchers;
–Bryant’s grand slam came off outfielder David Murphy, who came in from left field to pitch in relief of designated hitter Ryan Raburn. Bryant takes a 13-game hitting streak into Thursday.
–Anthony Rizzo snapped a 0-for-20 skid with a two-run homer in the Cubs’ six-run second – during which rookie Addison Russell also hit a two-run shot.
–And veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia, who lined a three-run homer over the center field wall in a four-run third, had a career-high four RBIs.
Combined with Wada (and two scoreless from newly added reliever Yoervis Medina), it added up to the most runs scored in a Cubs’ shutout victory since 1969 (19-0 over San Diego).
All of which, apparently, can be summed up in one word.
“I wasn’t sure what ‘badass’ means,” Wada said. “But you guys are laughing, so obviously, it’s a good thing to say.”