Anybody notice the Cubs have a closer again?
Of course, he often pitches in the sixth or seventh innings. And last week, he pitched in the fifth.
“I love the middle-inning closer, man,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of his brushfire specialist, Justin Grimm. “That’s such an underrated part of the bullpen.”
The Cubs’ bullpen has been one of several keys to the Cubs’ 15-1 run that Chris Sale and the White Sox slowed down on Sunday by beating the Cubs 3-1.
The relievers had a 2.05 ERA in 54 innings during the big run, with saves in 12 of 13 chances (and added 3 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday).
As much as Hector Rondon has done since returning to the ninth-inning role in that stretch (9-for-10 in saves, 0.84 ERA), Grimm has looked like an increasingly valuable big arm that Maddon is using as one of his first choices in close games when the starter gets in trouble – as early as the fifth and sixth innings.
Maddon raved about Grimm’s “heavy” velocity in recent days, including 96 on Saturday. “And the command’s there and the breaking ball’s there,” the manager said. “That could be bog moving it down the road.”
Grimm has been the primary middle-inning stopper for Maddon, used to pitch out of jams (inheriting more runners than anyone on the staff). He has a 1.13 ERA and 21 strikeouts over his last 20 appearances (16 innings).
Maddon considers former starter Travis Wood Grimm’s left-handed counterpart, with Wood used for almost twice as many outs per appearance. Wood took over for starter Dan Haren in the fifth Sunday, and took the game an out deep into the seventh, striking out three of the five he faced.
As for the actual, ninth-inning closer? Rondon has been back in that role since the week the Cubs’ big surge began.
Just don’t call him the closer.
“I’d prefer not to say anything because he’s doing so well,” Maddon said. “I use the analogy: If you’re playing golf with somebody and he’s kicking your butt, you might want to point out to him how nice and slow his backswing is. And the next ball for sure is going to be hooked. So just go play. “
So far so good. Rondon’s improved command since being pulled from the closer role in early June has helped produced a 0.50 ERA over his last 36 appearances. He earned save Nos. 20 and 21 against the Sox Friday and Saturday.
“You probably will see Ronny pitch a lot in the ninth inning,” Maddon said. “I like what he’s doing. I don’t want to put any other burden on his mind.”