If the Cubs think they need more starting pitching for the second half, Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery did their best Monday night to show they already have it.
Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have been clear about their continued efforts to trade for rotation help — for their playoff run this year and to backfill free agent losses beyond that.
On this night, Butler made it clear what he thinks the back end of the Cubs’ rotation should look like when the trade deadline passes in seven weeks. He turned in his best performance since his Cubs debut May 12 to beat the Miami Marlins 3-1 in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
Montgomery? The left-hander took over for Butler and finished the game with 3 ⅓ scoreless innings for the save.
“It’s no secret that they’re looking for a solid No. 5, and that’s what I’m trying to do every time I go out there,” said Butler (3-1), who took a one-hit shutout into the sixth before allowing his only run of the game and leaving with two out and Giancarlo Stanton at second base. He walked just one — his fewest in five starts for the Cubs.
“It’s just a matter of being consistent right now,” he said. “It’s kind of been back and forth — have a good game, have a bad game. I really need to eliminate that. That’s what’s going to be able to make me stay here and prove to them that the deal they made for me was a great deal.”
Butler, who was acquired in February in a trade with the Colorado Rockies, retired 11 straight from the second through the fifth innings.
Montgomery, the next man up for the rotation if Butler falters before outside help can be added, didn’t walk a man and retired the final five he faced in his first appearance in eight days.
“A week’s a long time to go without pitching, but I was able to kind of get it together, and I felt fresh. I felt good,” said Montgomery, who was acquired from Seattle in a trade last July. “I just wanted to go out there and attack.”
His 51-pitch outing puts him back in range for a potential spot start as a sixth man or as Butler’s backup if the Cubs decide to swap out starters.
“One of the things I let them know from last year and spring training this year is that I want to do any role that they want me to do,” Montgomery said, “and I’m going to be ready to physically prepare and mentally prepare for that.”
On the same day Butler and Montgomery made Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the first stand up for a fourth consecutive Cubs win, left-hander Brett Anderson was to pitch a three-inning simulated game in his continuing rehab efforts in Arizona. He has been on the disabled list with a back strain for the last month.
One year after the Cubs’ rotation steamrolled everything in its path (with a major-league-leading 2.96 ERA), it has been an up-and-down proposition this season, even after they returned the top four starters. The one the Cubs didn’t bring back — Jason Hammel — was 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts at this point a year ago.
Since essentially replacing him, Anderson and Butler are a combined 5-3, 5.87 in their 11 starts.
“They’re still going to look for guys,” said Butler, whose 66-pitch start was his best since a six-inning scoreless start in St. Louis in his Cub debut. “You never know what pieces are going to become available and what teams are going to be selling and buying at the deadline. Whatever it takes for us to get to our final goal of holding that trophy again at the end of the year . . . .”
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