By Mark Grote–
(CBS) The big barrels of baseball cash are generally reserved for the starting pitchers, but it’s the relievers that populate the fine line between winning and losing.
“Anybody who knows baseball knows that bullpens will go through ups and downs throughout the course of a season,” Cubs reliever Pedro Strop said.
The Cubs haven’t been immune to such volatility this season, as manager Joe Maddon continues concoct eye-opening opportunities for his bullpen men in high-leverage situations. A couple recent hits for Maddon were lefty Zach Rosscup summoned to pitch to elite right-handed hitter Andrew McCutchen and starter Travis Wood entering as the closer. Both moves proved to be successful.
“A lot of my prep revolves around bullpen,” Maddon said. “A lot of it does. Most of it does.”
One area of the bullpen that Maddon won’t touch is the way Strop wears his hat. The Cubs’ eclectic manager is from the “if it feels good, rock it” school of fashion.
Strop wears his hat slightly off to the side as opposed to the standard straightforward look. Fans have blasted Strop for this, and the evidence is front and center on Strop’s Instagram page.
He has conviction in his style, though.
“I just want to tell anybody that doesn’t like it that I’m not a bad guy,” Strop said. “It’s a bad habit.”
Strop always has a big smile on in the clubhouse and is as affable as any player on the roster, but that didn’t always smooth over his unique style.
“When I was with the Rangers, (2009-2011) they didn’t like it,” Strop said. “It frustrated the pitching coach (Mike Maddux). I got a couple of fines.”
Strop insisted that it isn’t a superstition or some form of defiance.
“It goes back to when I was a little kid,” he said. “If you see pictures of me in baseball or out of baseball, my hat is like that or backwards.”
Pitchers are always running their own little business when they are on the mound, for it’s an isolated and selfish position by nature. We begin the broadcast or preview piece by telling you who the starting pitchers are and end it by telling you the winning and losing pitcher are. That lends itself to quirkiness — and perhaps a higher sense self-importance.
The only worry for Strop and Maddon is that the pitcher gets hitters out. Since coming to Chicago from Baltimore in a trade in 2013, Strop has been one of the Cubs’ most reliable relievers. He had a 2.21 ERA in 2014 and a 4.24 ERA that he wants to improve on in 19 appearances this season.
“Every pitcher has something,” Strop said of his crooked hat. “I think that’s mine.”
Then keep rocking it.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter @markgrotesports.