By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Looking at a schedule of 20 games in the 20 days through June 29, the Cubs are hoping their bullpen can hold down the fort until replacements are identified and added. In this day and age of seven- and eight-man bullpens, the wear-and-tear issues are extreme on all bullpen guys.READ MORE: Parents Of Michigan School Shooter Arrested After Manhunt
Right now, manager Joe Maddon has a bullpen-by-committee going into the late innings. This circumstance was created when closer Hector Rondon began to have some problems in mid-May.
On June 6, Rondon walked the first batter he faced in a save situation in Washington. Maddon took him out and replaced him with Pedro Strop, who got through a few scary moments to pick up the save. Maddon used veteran Jason Motte to close out the Nationals the next day.
Maddon will play it by ear from this point on until someone wins that role.
“We really have to be careful with the guys and try and parcel out the work as well as we can,” Maddon said. “I believe all our guys in the bullpen are capable of being even or ahead guys. Some of them have not pitched at that level yet. That is a better way of sustaining a winning streak because you’re not beating up the same guys.”
The front office understands the Cubs have a chance to be in the playoffs this season. They will go to the mat in adding bullpen pieces for their manager. It’s apparent the process of looking toward the bullpen needs in July and August has begun already.
Chicago signed veteran bullpen man Rafael Soriano to a one-year, pro-rated $4-million deal this week. The Cubs picked up a power arm in Yoervis Medina for catcher Welington Castillo by way of a late May deal with Seattle. Medina is at Triple-A but has plenty of big-league experience.
The rumor mill is flush with stories of the Cubs’ interest in Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. It has been real interest for more than a month, but trying to figure out Papelbon’s contract, which includes a vesting option, isn’t easy. A pro-rated $13 million in 2015 and a $13-million option in 2016, with either 55 appearances in 2015 or a combined 100 from 2014 and 2015, is difficult. Getting talent back is also an important issue.
I asked Maddon if he and the other 29 managers are always asking the front office for more bullpen guys.
“They probably get asked that every day,” Maddon replied. “You just can’t have enough of that. If you’re going to win, you are going to have to have a good bullpen. It is really hard without that. The most difficult loss is when the other team comes from behind late to win. If it happens often enough, that can cut into your fabric as much as anything.”READ MORE: Evanston Police Host Gun Buyback Event
Maddon wont’ anoint a closer for now.
“Nope,” he said. “You will still see them go out there on what is happening in the game.”
Starter Tsuyohi Wada was pulled in the fourth inning Thursday against the Reds, and he becomes the third failed starter on the pitching staff. Maddon already has Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood as secondary bullpen men who have flunked the starting role test. Wada is unlikely to get many, if any, more starts from the manager.
The beauty of Maddon is he won’t give up a lead without using all conventional and unorthodox methods. Bullpen guys are ready at every juncture to come into a ballgame.
“I am ready to come into a game in any situation Joe asks me to,” Rondon said. “My job is to get it done when they call me in. Every reliever wants to be a closer, but right now they will mix it up. We don ‘t know what role we have, but we are always ready.”
Veteran lefty James Russell, in his second go-around as a Cub, likes the idea that the bullpen men are always on call.
“Hey, we all are ready from the fifth inning on to go in and do our job,” Russell said. “Any phone call down to the pen could be your name or number. Always be prepared on this team and pay attention to the game. Be ready by the fifth inning, loose and ready to go.”
Russell and his bullpen mates were already getting warm in the third inning Thursday.
Applications for pitching jobs can be filled out at 1060 W. Addison.
Ask for Joe.MORE NEWS: Annual Wheaton Reindeer 5K Returns In Person And Virtually
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.