Cubs’ 18-4 loss to Yankees taxes bullpen as rotation questions loom

Cubs manager David Ross pulled starter Keegan Thompson after two-thirds of an inning.

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Cubs pitcher Alec Mills reacts as New York Yankees’ Matt Carpenter runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the sixth inning Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

Cubs pitcher Alec Mills reacts as New York Yankees’ Matt Carpenter runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the sixth inning Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

Mary Altaffer/AP

NEW YORK — Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” blared over the Yankee Stadium loudspeakers as Cubs reliever Daniel Norris walked off the field and Alec Mills jogged in from the bullpen. 

Another one, indeed. Mills was the Cubs’ third pitcher in as many innings.

The Cubs’ 18-4 loss Sunday was their second consecutive blowout loss against the Yankees.

“When you play one of the best teams in baseball, you realize we’ve got some areas we need to improve,” manager David Ross said. “Can’t get behind the 8 ball that much early on.”

How much does a June loss to the team with the best record (44-16) in baseball mean? Plenty if it taxes the bullpen during a stretch of 17 games without a day off. 

Cubs relievers combined to throw 713 innings. It was the second time this series that they were responsible for more than seven. 

The silver lining for the pen: Because of the lopsided scores the last couple of days, the Cubs’ high-leverage relievers will be fresh for the coming homestand. 

On the flip side, the Cubs have leaned on their multi-inning relievers, which compounds their rotation issues.

The rotation is severely short-handed with right-hander Marcus Stroman (shoulder inflammation) and left-handers Wade Miley (strained shoulder) and Drew Smyly (strained right oblique) on the 15-day injured list.

It’s unclear who will serve as the Cubs’ fifth starter this week, even with rookie Matt Swarmer and right-hander Keegan Thompson filling a couple of holes. 

In recent weeks, the Cubs moved Thompson out of a swingman role by necessity. On Sunday, he didn’t make it out of the first inning after walking three batters and giving up two two-run doubles before Norris came in to face the top of the order with two outs. 

Thompson was charged with three earned runs. Two unearned runs scored after third baseman Patrick Wisdom’s error on a pop-up. 

“I think mechanically we’re not there again,” Thompson said. “So just going back to work in the bullpen between outings and making sure we get things corrected.”

Thompson had been dominant to start the season with a 1.58 ERA in his first eight relief appearances and three starts. In his last three starts, Thompson has allowed 13 earned runs in nine innings, each start shorter than the last. 

He said he wasn’t sure if his mechanical issues this time were the same as in his three-inning start in Baltimore last week. 

“We’ll have to look at video and see,” Thompson said, ‘‘and just flush this outing and work on the next one.”

On Friday, the Cubs’ bullpen did the heavy lifting in a 13-inning loss. Miley came off the 15-day IL to start, but three innings in, his shoulder started bothering him again. That left more than nine innings for the bullpen to fill, and the Cubs put Miley back on the IL the next day.

Norris threw an inning in that game, and the Cubs called on him to throw two more Sunday. He walked three batters and allowed two homers in two innings. 

Mills’ 3⅓ innings of two-run ball saved the Cubs from reaching deeper into the pen. But the outing brought his innings total for the series up to four.

Once an option to start Wednesday, when the Cubs have an opening in the rotation, Mills might have taken himself out of the equation with that weekend workload.

Sean Newcomb (five runs in one inning) and first baseman Frank Schwindel (one run in one inning) took the mound for the last two innings.

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