WASHINGTON – The story of the Cubs’ pitching depth was told in the span of a few batters in the fourth and fifth innings Friday night during a 7-5 loss to the Washington Nationals.
After fifth-starter Tsuyoshi Wada was done getting beat up for 3 2/3 innings by the Nationals, demoted starter Edwin Jackson was called from the bullpen to get the final out of the fourth. Then demoted starter Travis Wood was called from the pen to pitch the next two innings.
Whether that says more about the Cubs’ rotation or its much-maligned bullpen, what comes next for both could be among the more intriguing subplots of the Cubs season over the next several weeks.
Wood’s six-up, six-down outing threatened to make heroes out of Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Montero in a comeback bid until the Nats scored two late runs off Justin Grimm and Zac Rosscup.
Rizzo drove in three with his 10th and 11th homers of the season, off Tanner Roark (2-2), and Montero added a homer in the sixth, two batters after Rizzo’s second. Rizzo just missed a third homer in the eighth when center fielder Denard Span leaped and crashed into the wall to snare the drive just below the top of the wall and rob Rizzo of extra bases.
But it was the pitching on this night that offered a glimpse of where the Cubs are likely to continue to focus the most front office work to upgrade a club that continues to flirt with playoff hopes.
Some of that might come closer to the July 31 trade deadline with the possible addition of a starter or veteran late-inning pen guy. Some might come with more bullpen moves in the short term – especially with the timeline of Neil Ramirez (shoulder) looking less certain every week.
The Cubs are continuing to monitor free agent closer Rafael Soriano, who recently switched from agent Scott Boras to the agency that represents Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitcher Jason Hammel – and who is scheduled to throw for the Cubs and other teams next Thursday in the Dominican Republic.
“Me and Raffy have a really good relationship,” said Maddon, who had Soriano during a 45-save, All-Star season in 2010 in Tampa Bay. “I haven’t spoken to him. But I like the guy. He knows how to pitch.
“The thing I always talked about with him as a closer was he was a guy that didn’t’ just throw the ball 100 mph. He and I used to have a lot of conversations about how we attack certain hitters in a game, because he really sees things. He’d be in the bullpen, and he watches really well, and he’s got definite ideas on how to get out hitters. I’ve always appreciated his pitch-ability.”
Maddon did not deny that he also might appreciate some upgrades to his pitching staff via the front office guys.
“We’re always looking to get better,” he said. “Every team is.”
Whether it’s adding a Soriano to the bullpen, going after a veteran starter (the Cubs will be in the Cole Hamels mix as long as the Phillies shop their All-Star left-hander), or shuffling in-house candidates, the end of the rotation is a precarious place to be for a Cubs pitcher.
And Wada (0-1), who replaced Wood in the rotation May 20 when activated from the disabled list, fully understands what’s at risk every time he tries to fool a lineup for five or six innings with upper-80s heat and curve that wasn’t sharp on Friday.
“I do understand that there are two possible rotation guys in the bullpen,” he said with the help of video guy/Pacific liaison Nao Masamoto translating. “If I say I don’t feel the pressure, I would be lying.”
Manager Joe Maddon shrugged off Wada’s poor outing against the only team that had already seen the lefty who relies disproportionately on deception to get outs. And the manager said he’s not considering any changes the next time through the rotation.
“I have not even gone there,” he said.
At least not yet.
Wood, who has allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings (2.84) since moving to the bullpen, was an All-Star as recently as 2013 and has a career 2.69 ERA and 1.024 WHIP against the Cincinnati Reds – his former team and the Cubs’ opponent the next time Wada’s rotation spot comes up.
“It’s just the same as last year,” said Wada, who joined a trade-depleted rotation as a 33-year-old rookie last July. “I understand my spot, and that in the kind of situation I’m in I have to pitch [well] every time, and try to have my best stuff.”