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Pen is mightier issue for Maddon than Cubs’ quiet bats

Things seem to be looking up lately for Trevor Cahill and some of his bullpen mates.

SAN FRANCISCO – As much as the Cubs’ bats appear to be slumping, manager Joe Maddon is more focused on what the team needs out of its swingmen in the bullpen as a nine-game road trip shifted to AT&T Park for a series against the red-hot Giants.

“I talk about how the first month of the season is about trying to figure out your bullpen,” he said. “At this point, I feel pretty good about what I know about our group.”

“I talk about how the first month of the season is about trying to figure out your bullpen,” he said. “At this point, I feel pretty good about what I know about our group.”

In particular, he and everybody else knows that Trevor Cahill struggled for much of the first few weeks, that Travis Wood stutter-stepped into May and that Clayton Richard has been up and down in what has become primarily a lefty matchup role.

“At the end of last season, they were very productive for us,” Maddon said of the threesome, who became a strength of the Cubs’ late-season run. In one game, they combined for 6⅔ innings in a start by Wood to beat the Cardinals in September.

“During spring training and up until recently, they were good, but not as good as they had been last year,” Maddon said. “All of a sudden, I’m seeing signs of being as good as [last year].”

That could be critical for a bullpen that has performed in the middle of the pack in the majors behind a rotation that has the best five-man ERA in the game.

“Richard is getting better velocity back,” Maddon said. “Travis was at 92 [mph Wednesday] night.”

And Cahill, who had 11 walks in his first 15 innings this season, needed just 23 pitches to retire all eight batters he faced to finish the game Tuesday.

“That’s the part of things that really can help us get over the top, getting those three guys back in form,” Maddon said.