Cubs

Tyler Chatwood (7 walks) keeps playing with fire as Cubs stay hot with 4-3 win

The game Thursday at Wrigley Field was about a play at the plate that was challenged, reversed and ultimately became the difference in the Cubs’ 4-3 victory against the Phillies.

But for the bigger picture and the Cubs’ much bigger plans this year, the game was about the free-agent starting pitcher who still hasn’t come close to fixing the problems that have plagued him since the season began.

And this time it had nothing to do with Yu Darvish, who had a day off from his light throwing before resuming his program Friday as he works to return from a triceps injury.

This was about Tyler Chatwood’s persistent lack of command, which resulted in seven walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a failure to pitch out of the fifth inning, despite a season-high 107 pitches.

Chatwood, right, awaiting a fifth-inning hook Thursday, with teammates Tommy La Stella (left) and Anthony Rizzo. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Along the way, the major leagues’ leader in walks threw the ball over the heads of batters three times, including one for ball four to pitcher Nick Pivetta in the fourth.

And yet, manager Joe Maddon said, “It was better. I know that’s weird, but it was better.”

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Chatwood, who said he felt especially good physically, modified his delivery to cut down on movement, pitching out of a version of the stretch. He also has tried to eliminate extra movement when he separates his hands going into the delivery.

He proclaimed progress, too.

“Obviously, I walked way too many guys, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said, “even though it didn’t look like it.”

Look like it? This was his second seven-walk start of the season, his fourth start with at least six and his eighth with at least five.

Chatwood, who never has been known as a command pitcher, had more than five walks in a start twice all of last season.

He has 56 walks in 58⅔ innings, and nobody else in the majors has 40.

“We have two options: Let him keep working on it or not,” Maddon said. “We’re going to let him keep working on it.

“I thought he looked better. I liked the abbreviated windup out of the stretch. The way he was clearing the ball out I thought was better.

“I’m not here to make excuses for him at all. I’m just telling you I thought it was a cleaner delivery.”

There are no best-effort awards or consolation prizes in the results-oriented business of major-league sports.

Chatwood largely has been able to pitch around damage, and the Cubs have won half of his 12 starts. But he’s playing with fire, and a team with playoff plans can’t afford unlimited patience.

He admitted to pressing at times, such as in the fifth inning, when, after giving up a tying single, he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs to load the bases.

“Maybe I put more pressure on myself to get out of that inning rather than just keep doing what I was doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, he’s putting a burden on the bullpen, failing to pitch at least five innings five times. He has pitched six innings only three times.

But Maddon insists he isn’t concerned as the problem continues into June.

“I’m looking forward to when he nails it down,” Maddon said. “He’s got cartoonish stuff.

“Agreed, it’s not been there yet, but I do believe it shall show up.”

The Cubs scored three runs in the fifth, with the final run coming on Anthony Rizzo’s sacrifice fly to left that originally was called a double play when Albert Almora Jr. was thrown out at the plate.

The call was overturned after catcher -Andrew Knapp was ruled to have violated the collision rule by blocking the plate with his leg.

“Fortunately, the rule permitted the run, and we’ll take it,” said Maddon, who otherwise called it a technically sound, “great” play by the Phillies.