Cubs’ young bullpen settling into new roles: ‘We want to hold the bar high for these guys’
The bullpen has seen a lot of turnover this season and lost back-end relievers David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Chris Martin and Scott Effross to trades a few weeks ago.
Cubs bullpen coach Chris Young walked past Tagliata, an Italian restaurant in Baltimore, last week on the way to get dinner with a couple other coaches and spotted his relievers sitting down for a group meal.
“I was not invited,” Young said, “which was the best part.”
The relievers saw him, and rookie Brandon Hughes sent a text to Young asking, “Are you OK to eat carbs this late at night?”
“That’s where our relationship’s at,” Young said. “Not invited to dinner by the group — it was a players’ thing, which is perfect — but then enough to come back on the way by and get a carb-loading joke at 9:30 when we get in from the road trip.
“I think it’s incredible that those guys are spending that amount of time together and doing those things. It’s awesome. And I think it shows, and it shows in how they’re supporting each other.”
The bullpen has seen a lot of turnover this season and lost back-end relievers David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Chris Martin and Scott Effross in trades a few weeks ago. With Steven Brault on the 15-day injured list (strained left shoulder), Sean Newcomb and Rowan Wick — both under 30 with fewer than 160 major-league appearances — are the most seasoned veterans.
The Cubs leaned on their young bullpen in the five-game series against the Cardinals.
On Thursday, starter Marcus Stroman battled through a rough first inning to go five innings but allowed five runs in the Cubs’ 8-3 loss. But for the fourth time in three days — thanks to a doubleheader Tuesday — the bullpen was responsible for four or more innings.
“As a [pitching] group, we want to hold the bar high for these guys,” Young said. “We understand what they’re going through, but also that we want to be doing this in a pennant race, where the level of expectation is to win every night.”
The inexperience of this group of relievers has shown at times, especially when short starts have stretched them. But they’ve also shown growth as they’ve settled into higher-leverage roles.
“I feel like we’re all sort of one,” Wick said, “and picking each other up throughout the game.”
Young pointed to the Cubs’ 6-5, 11-inning win against the Brewers last Saturday.
“These guys were banging on the glass,” Young said, “and they were just cheering so hard for their teammates to get out of jams and pulling for us to get hits.”
Wick seized the closer role after Robertson was traded to the Phillies. Dating to mid-July, Wick went on a stretch of 11 games without giving up a run.
Then he gave up two home runs in a blown save in Washington. The next day, he retired the side in order for his eighth save of the season.
“I hope that empowers the confidence in him that it gives the rest of us,” Young said of Wick’s bounce-back outing.
This past week, as Wick has worked through a couple rough outings, Hughes has seized a few ninth-inning opportunities. He recorded his first major-league save in Baltimore and has logged two more since.
“Everybody can handle the back end of that bullpen. I think we’re all capable of it,” Hughes said. “And if they look to me for a calming presence in that ninth inning, I’m there to attack hitters and throw strikes.”
Off the field, he’s there to help, too — at least when it comes to monitoring carbohydrate intake. Young ordered seafood that night in Baltimore. He insists he was already sitting down to eat when Hughes’ text came through.