PITTSBURGH – After two feel-good nights for the Cubs oft-disparaged rotation, it took barely two innings Saturday night for Tyler Chatwood to show again why this group has been the biggest concern all season for a team with October on its mind.
Pressed into starting duty two weeks after a demotion, because of Mike Montgomery’s sore shoulder, the walk-prone Chatwood lasted just one batter into the third inning – a second consecutive leadoff walk – and was yanked.
“I didn’t see it getting better,” manager Joe Maddon said after a 3-1 loss to the Pirates in which the difference was a three-run second against Chatwood that opened with two walks.
The seven other pitchers who worked in the game for both sides combined to walk just one batter – and not until the eighth.
Chatwood, who leads the majors by a wide margin with 93 walks allowed, might not make another start this season.
The Cubs already have counted the days until Montgomery is eligible to return from the 10-day disabled list on Friday.
They’ve already considered using Monday’s off day to give Sunday starter Jose Quintana an extra day next time around, which means a fifth starter would next be needed on Saturday.
“If [Montgomery’s] well, that’s a possibility,” Maddon said. “Otherwise, we have to consider what we want to do next. We have to figure out what that next spot’s going to look like.”
Maddon bemoaned the recent lack of production from a lineup that has produced exactly one solo home run of scoring each of the last three nights in Pittsburgh – and that struggled for more than a week before that.
But a rotation that has gotten a big boost from the trading deadline acquisition of Cole Hamels (0.72 ERA in four starts) continues to be a cause for concern if only because of injuries to Yu Darvish and Montgomery.
Darvish makes a rehab start at South Bend Sunday, but he’s at least two weeks from returning.
And the hot Cardinals are just four games behind a Cubs team that still owns the best record in the National League.
A bullpen that has been the backbone of the pitching staff this year could get taxed hard if Quintana doesn’t find his groove and the Cubs don’t get that fifth spot figured out by Saturday.
Chatwood (4-6), who signed a three-year, $38 million free agent deal in December, looked at times like he had regressed if anything since the last time he started, between the walks, pitches that missed in the strike zone and a bounced throw to first.
“It sucks,” he said. “I’m fighting myself, and I’m trying to beat another team so it feels like I’m fighting uphill. But all you can do is keep trying to come back and regain the form I had in the past.”
As for when he might get the ball again, “We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Notes: Kris Bryant (shoulder) took a day off from swinging the bat Saturday but is expected to hit off live pitching Sunday or Tuesday in Detroit for the first time since going on the DL last month. …The Cubs’ first back-to-back 1-0 games since 1973 on Thursday and Friday gave them a National League-leading 14 shutouts this season – without a complete game pitched by the staff all year.