With Cubs’ postseason aspirations, bullpen has to find consistency

The Cubs’ bullpen has allowed an MLB-leading 20 walks in 18 2/3 innings and has a 9.64 ERA. It also is tied for second in the majors with seven home runs allowed.

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Craig Kimbrel had a first outing to forget Monday. He allowed two runs, walked four, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and recorded one out.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

CINCINNATI — Believe it or not, the Cubs already have played 10% of their games, and while the starting pitching and offense have had strong showings, the bullpen has left a lot to be desired.

Manager David Ross has been vocal about giving guys chances to show what they can do, but as the 60-game season moves rapidly, he knows the leash is going to have to be short.

“Yeah, I think the main thing with that is just to continue to watch and learn,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’re wrapping our brain around now going into a week’s worth of games, and we’ll be able to continue to find out who can pitch for us in the big moments. We’re going to have to find these roles for these guys, and they’re starting to play out in front of us.”

Ross has given his relievers opportunities to pitch in low-leverage situations to try to find a groove. Those early outings, however, have turned into high-leverage situations with walks and home runs.

The Cubs’ bullpen has allowed a major-league-leading 20 walks in 18⅔ innings. It has a 9.64 ERA and is tied for second in the majors with seven home runs allowed.

“I’m looking for someone to get outs, throw strikes,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Way too many walks from down there. We’ve got some guys that have to kind of step up, and that’s some of the stuff that we’re finding out here early. We can match up as much as we want, but guys still have to come in and throw strikes. I think, from a catcher’s standpoint, it’s just frustrating to keep giving free passes, and you get into trouble at some point.’’

The team made its first move to correct some of the bullpen inconsistency before the postponed game Thursday against the Reds, recalling right-hander Colin Rea from alternate site South Bend and optioning righty Dillon Maples.

The Cubs will have their first wave of roster cuts later next week, which likely will see additional names out of the bullpen mix. But even with fewer relievers, the question remains: Whom can Ross turn to with the game on the line?

Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick have picked up where they left off last season, getting big outs to hand the ball to Jeremy Jeffress and Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel had a first outing to forget Monday, allowing two runs, walking four, hitting a batter, throwing a wild pitch and getting only one out before Jeffress came in to close the game. Rust might have contributed to the lack of control, but Kimbrel will have to find confidence in his stuff quickly as his coaching staff continues to have faith in him.

“I know he was frustrated obviously with how the results were, but the things we’re working on were translating, at least in terms of seeing the [velocity] kind of tick up,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. ‘‘Mechanically, he was doing things that we wanted to do. He’ll admit this, even for a guy who’s a veteran guy: He was amped up, and he was getting down the mound way further than he normally would.

“In the end, we don’t want to overreact on one outing after six days off and trying to get him that consistent work. You need to strike that balance between saving him for save opportunities vs. him needing to get work in today. We’re trying to stay on that schedule with a lot of guys and make sure that we’re consistent in the work they get.”

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