With closer Brandon Morrow already down, and Pedro Strop going on the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring injury, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called his closer situation “the wild, wild west.”
It only got wilder when Kyle Ryan gave up the leadoff hit in the ninth and veteran Steve Cishek eventually blowing the save after another single, a wild pitch and run-scoring grounder.
It was the second blown save of the week and sixth in 12 chances this season for a bullpen that has mostly performed well — even seemed to overachieve at times — for a Cubs team in a three-way scrum jockeying this week for the top spot in the National League Central.
The Cubs eventually walked off on the Marlins for the second night in a row, this time Jason Heyward leading off the 11th inning with an opposite-field basket shot to left for a 3-2 victory.
It was the first time since 1998 the Cubs won back-to-back games on walk-off home runs (also Kris Bryant Tuesday night).
But about that ninth inning, which has been a source of questions for the Cubs since their inability to spend much in the offseason to upgrade a bullpen that has been without Morrow since last July. His setback with his surgically cleaned-out elbow last month only exacerbated the issue.
“We have been and will continue to be in an aggressive mindset with respect to the bullpen,” team president Theo Epstein said. “The results thus far have been outstanding, but that doesn’t mean we become passive or assume that that’s going to continue going forward. We’re going to be challenged in that area throughout the course of the year, and we have to be resourceful. …”
But that doesn’t mean going after Craig Kimbrel, or anybody else who might be had in a trade. At least not yet.
“With strop’s absence, it doesn’t really change anything for us,” Epstein said. “We recognize this is a year where we’re going to be constantly on the lookout to make adjustments to the bullpen, to try to put the right relieves in the right position to be successful. We’ll have to tweak and adjust over the course of the year as we go and that we’ll receive a lot of help both internally and probably at some point from outside the organization.”
Until then, more Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brad Brach and Carl Edwards Jr.
“It’ll be all the guys,” Maddon said. “It’ll be everybody.”
Strop said an MRI Wednesday showed a “Grade 2-plus” strain but it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did last September when he injured the same hamstring running out a grounder.
Strop said he first experienced pain this time around more than a week ago while pitching in Arizona, but thought he could pitch through it. He realized that it wouldn’t be possible when he struggled with pain in Monday’s blown save.
“Hopefully, it’s no worse than four weeks,” he said.
NOTES: Left-hander Mike Montgomery (lat) was activated from the injured list and added to the bullpen.
• Veteran Ben Zobrist, who missed the first week of spring training for an excused absence for personal family reasons, was put on the restricted list after requesting to tend to a family issue again. The club said it has no timeline for his return. “Zo’s a huge part of our team, man, on and off the field,” teammate Albert Almora Jr. said. “We definitely wish him well and hope he comes back soon.”