Cubs need longer workdays from their pitchers

Cubs ace Kyle Hendricks threw a perfect 0-for-2 pitch Wednesday night to Gavin Sheets.

The pitch sailed just shy of the outside corner of the strike zone where Hendricks couldn’t get hurt. But Sheets wisely did not pursue.

Hendricks’ next pitch nearly splashed the low outside corner, but it was close enough that Sheets calmly shoved the pitch across an unoccupied left side of the infield for a game-tying single that ultimately helped the White Sox to 4. -3. gain.

While Hendricks chipped in with 5 2/3 innings following Tuesday’s emergency start from Scott Effross, the Cubs veteran didn’t bring enough quality to a rotation that has been wildly inconsistent.

Left-hander Wade Miley, who threw four innings and 41 pitches Thursday in his first rehab start for Triple-A Iowa, will provide experience and potential efficiency once he joins the rotation before the end of the month, provided he recovers for full of an elbow pain.

After a rocky start, Marcus Stroman allowed two earned runs in 13 innings against the world champion Braves and the defending NL Central Champion Brewers. Stroman will start the final game of Sunday’s series against the Dodgers with two additional days off.

But the rotation has been largely unpredictable, as reflected by his 5.16 ERA that ranks 12th in the NL while averaging fewer than 4 2/3 innings per start.

Instances like Effross’s Tuesday night after Drew Smyly was placed on the dueling list have contributed to short starts.

This remains a curious moment for the Cubs, who need to stabilize the back of the rotation while trying not to tax valuable reliever Keegan Thompson, who is often used by manager David Ross as a mid-inning stopper and has the same effectiveness (0.89). ) and WHIP (0.89) in 20 1/3 innings.

Smyly (2.79 ERA) has thrown poorly in only one of his four starts, but he needs to pitch beyond the five-inning barrier on Saturday when he starts the first game of a split doubleheader against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Bad weather forced the postponement of Friday’s game and created the need for the doubleheader.

The Cubs’ bullpen, which has a respectable 3.27 ERA, will be well-rested, but it can’t keep relying frequently on Effross (1.59) and Thompson for mid-inning saves.

Left-hander Daniel Norris will make his first start since Aug. 2, 2020 (with Detroit) in Game 2 on Saturday. Norris hasn’t pitched more than 1 2/3 innings in any of his five appearances, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be in the starting role.

But more telling is that left-hander Justin Steele is not scheduled to pitch in this series. Steele showed tremendous promise last September with five one-hit innings against the Twins and seven scoreless innings against the Pirates to complete his rookie season.

After blanking the Brewers over five innings in his 2022 debut, Steele hasn’t pitched past the third inning in three straight starts and will wait at least eight days before making his next start, likely next week in St. Diego.

Miley may need two more starts before he’s ready to be activated, and prized prospect Caleb Kilian hasn’t pitched past the fifth in any of his five starts at Iowa.

After the San Diego series, the Cubs are scheduled to play 14 games without a day off against the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Reds, all second-tier foes in the National League.

Miley should be ready at the end of that stretch. And if there isn’t an overall improvement in their rotation, and the Cubs need to further stimulate their prospect-crazed fan base, they could promote Kilian and his 1.83 ERA as trade talks involving his veterans begin to pick up steam. in June.

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