By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — What looked like a tough decision on sending a position player to the minor leagues took an unexpected twist for the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
A blustery spring day with a wind chill of 37 degrees turned into a windblown, rain-delayed and bullpen-draining contest between the Cubs and Brewers that Milwaukee eventually won 6-3 at Wrigley Field.
A complicating matter was a disturbingly short outing by Cubs right-hander Eddie Butler, who made a great debut with the team last week. He hurled six shutout innings in St. Louis on May 12. That outing gave the Cubs front office some time to catch its breath as it pursues more starting pitching in the marketplace.
But Butler bombed big time in his second Cub start, as he was removed Friday after three-plus innings and an unbelievable 92 pitches, over which he allowed two runs and walked five. Manager Joe Maddon had no choice but to go with long man Mike Montgomery for two innings.
Maddon had used his other left-handed reliever in Brian Duensing on Thursday for one inning. He had to turn to him again on Friday for two more innings. The end result was no lefty will be available for Saturday. Staying with eight relievers in the bullpen is a must for Maddon at the moment.
“Today it just wasn’t happening,” Maddon said of Butler. “We walked 10 guys today. The game was swung on the fact we were not able to throw strikes more consistently.”
Bullpen needs will outweigh the position player crunch the team now has. With the return of outfielder Jason Heyward from the disabled list Saturday, the biggest problem seemed to be an excess of position players due to the success of rookie infielder/outfielder Ian Happ.
With an OPS of over 1.300, Happ isn’t going to be sent back to the sticks. After using the bullpen in the 9-5 win over Cincinnati more than he wanted to, Maddon and front office needed to take another look at the roster.
“We were just talking about that,”Maddon said postgame Friday about possible roster moves. “Our inability to get longer starts has put us in a bind. Today really typifies that.”
With former fifth starter Brett Anderson on DL, the front office is out there looking for reinforcements. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein reminded Monday that trades aren’t usually consummated this early in the season. He pointed to the first week of July and the end of July as usual activity periods for deals. With a bullpen crew that had five men on a 70-plus appearance pace, pitching of all kinds will be the Cubs’ trading priority now.
Butler made no excuses for his bad outing.
“Never could get a feel for it,” he said of his command. “I sprayed the fastball around and was never able to establish it. Both teams had to play in (bad conditions). I had to find a way to get it done. I couldn’t do it today.”
It’s unclear if Butler will start again or whether the team turns to Mongomery, who has thrown a lot of innings out of the bullpen so far. He was runner-up to Anderson for the fifth starter role coming out of spring training. The problem is Montgomery has been so valuable picking up middle innings that if he starts, who picks up his workload?
Questions need to be answered and answered quickly.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.