Rozner: Cubs' Maddon scrambling to manage end of games
When Jaime Garcia came on for the eighth inning Friday night at Wrigley Field, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
The Cubs had just taken a 3-2 lead over the Reds in the bottom of the seventh and were trusting the next inning to a man who had started in Washington six days earlier and retired only 1 of 5 batters he faced.
But Garcia was outstanding Friday night, tossing a perfect inning on only 10 pitches, getting the meat of the Cincinnati order on a soft liner to left, a strikeout and a comebacker.
Who would have guessed?
But that's really where the Cubs are right now, searching for answers and willing to look just about anywhere, desperate enough that someone like the 32-year-old Garcia has time remaining to impress Joe Maddon before the clock strikes October.
“He did impress me last night,” Maddon said Saturday. “I thought he threw well in Washington that one inning. There were some really close pitches that were called balls that could have been strikes.
“Eventually they got runs on a groundball that took a tough hop. His appearance looks like it wasn't that good, but he threw the ball well.
“Last night, against a really good part of their batting order, he came off the field and had a good look about him.”
Given all their injuries, the ninth on Friday fell to 37-year-old Jorge De La Rosa, who survived some trouble to record his first career save as the Cubs held on for a 3-2 victory.
“The good part about him and De La Rosa in the latter part of that game is the experience,” Maddon said. “They were not hurried in the situation.
“Garcia did really well. He pitches well against righties. Freaky movement. Doesn't throw overtly hard, but lots of deception and a tough look for the hitter with a variety of pitches and naturally good movement.”
This is not the perfect spot to be with two weeks remaining before the postseason begins, but this is where the Cubs find themselves.
Closer Brandon Morrow is rehabbing, fill-in closer Pedro Strop blasted a hamstring, Steve Cishek and Jesse Chavez are overworked and Brandon Kintzler has been bad.
If there's good news, it's that Justin Wilson has been very good and Morrow's simulated game went well before Saturday's game against the Reds.
“He felt good, he looked good and he was upbeat afterward,” Maddon said of Morrow. “One day at a time right now.”
It's unclear when Morrow will be back, what he will be when he gets there and how often he'll be able to throw.
He won't return as the closer, at least not right away. He won't be 100 percent this season. And Maddon is unsure if Morrow will be able to pitch on consecutive days.
And then there's Carl Edwards, for years considered a closer candidate, but he's struggling right now to remember who he's supposed to be.
“What I've done in the past with him,” Maddon said, “is I just try to reassure him, 'You're one of the best relief pitchers in baseball and your stuff gets anyone out.'
“Those are the kinds of conversations I have with him. Don't back off. Permit your stuff to play. It really comes down to trust.
“It's easy to advise someone to else to trust yourself. But then again, we all know what that's like, to trust ourselves.”
Maddon, however, is hardly giving up.
“He is important to us,” the manager said. “He's going to have to pitch those moments for us. We'll keep throwing him out there.”
On Saturday, it was Wilson again for a scoreless inning after Jon Lester was brilliant for 7, and then Chavez, Randy Rosario and Cishek all recorded an out in the ninth to close out a 1-0 victory.
“There is no closer,” Maddon said. “Just trying to manipulate the last out as best we can.
“In spite of everything that's gone on (with the bullpen), not a bad place to be right now.”
What it boils down to is Maddon has no choice. He has to use these last two weeks not only to secure a division title, but also to figure out some sort of bullpen rotation and find a way to trust more than one or two guys.
On the other hand, A.J. Hinch decided last fall that if a Houston pitcher was getting outs, he would let him stay in and keep getting outs.
Lance McCullers pitched 4 scoreless innings to end Game 7 of the ALCS, even though he had started Game 4 and was pitching on three days' rest.
Brad Peacock got the save when he went 3⅔ scoreless to finish Game 3 of the World Series in relief of McCullers.
And Charlie Morton went the final 4 innings of the Game 7 title clincher after starting Game 4 a few days before.
In other words, perhaps the answer will reveal itself on the mound, game by game, based on who's effective, as Garcia was Friday night when maybe he could have stayed in for another inning.
Again, not quite what you'd hope for this late in the season, but it's where Maddon and the Cubs are today.
Two weeks from now? Good question.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.