MILWAUKEE — Not even Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein could have expected his best-laid plans for his bullpen to look this good by mid-June.
After trying to construct depth at the end of his bullpen through waiver claims and minor-league signings in recent years, Epstein and his staff have hit on a crew of young pitchers that have proved critical to keeping the Cubs’ staff competitive through injuries and struggles of some veterans.
Five pitchers with minor-league options, who all have been acquired in the last 13 months, have combined to go 6-2 with a 1.87 ERA over 34 appearances and 48 innings pitched. That included two more scoreless innings by Luke Farrell and a scoreless inning by Anthony Bass in the 4-0 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been trying to get to that point for a couple of years where we could have optionable relievers that we could kind of shuttle in and out that we trust,” Epstein said.
The five-man taxi squad, which also includes Randy Rosario, Justin Hancock and Cory Mazzoni, has 50 strikeouts in those 48 innings as they have passed each other on shuttles back and forth between Chicago and Class AAA Iowa.
They’ve been clutch, too, as Rosario demonstrated in a scoreless two-inning stint in Monday’s 11-inning victory. Farrell sparkled over five scoreless innings in a 14-inning victory earlier this month against the Mets.
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“It’s been a really, really nice year for our scouting department and our organizational depth,” Epstein said. “Not only are there a number of guys throwing well in the Iowa pen, but they’ve come up here and given us 50 or so innings of really good baseball.”
Russell close to 100 percent
Shortstop Addison Russell, who missed four starts because of a sore finger he jammed June 3 in New York, said heading into the Milwaukee series that the soreness wasn’t completely gone but manageable.
“It’s a lot better. It’s getting better each day,” he said. “The range of motion’s better each day. It’s still not completely 100 percent, but I grind it out and I’m just happy to be out there on the field comfortably and playing.”
The finger doesn’t bother him when he bats, he said, only at times when the ball hits his glove in a certain spot and it “seems to shock it a little bit.
“But other than that, it’s really nothing that I can’t tolerate,” he said.
Early talks with first-round draft pick Nico Hoerner suggest the shortstop could be ready to sign with the Cubs soon after he is done with finals at Stanford, possibly within a week. The 5-11 junior, who was drafted 24th overall June 4, is expected to sign for the roughly $2.7 million allowed for his draft slot.
The artwork Maddon has commissioned this season for both creative messaging in the clubhouse and as a means for student outreach in the community is available on various forms of merchandise starting Friday.
The items, from posters to clothing, can be found at korkedbaseball.com, with Maddon’s share of the proceeds going to his charitable foundation.
Contributing: Steve Greenberg