Track shipments

Chicago Cubs must get rotation back on track after April struggles – including back-to-back losses – Chicago Tribune

MILWAUKEE — After years of not developing the starting pitch, the Chicago Cubs ended 2021 with three potential starters in Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and Adbert Alzolay.

The prospect of these three joining Kyle Hendricks in the next few years’ rotation was enticing for fans eager to see something new at Wrigley Field. And without having to spend a fortune on the rotation, the Cubs theoretically could have used the money saved to fill other holes on the roster — and maybe some left over to sign wide receiver Willson Contreras to a contract at long term.

But things change quickly in baseball.

Alzolay was taken out of spring training with a thigh injury and will be out for several months. Even when he returns, he’ll likely start as a reliever. Thompson has returned to his old role in the bullpen and has been too dominant to play with, at least for now.

That left 26-year-old Steele as the last man standing. And with the schedule tilting towards May, the jury is still out on whether he can stay in the rotation all season.

Steele started Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers looking to find his mechanics and prove his stamina. He got off to a rocky start in a 9-1 loss, thanks to a pair of Cubs errors and his own fielding error on the Brewers’ first three-run three-run.

Outscored 20-2 in the first two games of the series, the Cubs lost for the ninth time in 11 games, falling to 8-13. They struck 15 times against starter Eric Lauer (2-0) and two relievers. Leader Nick Madrigal, who had just six strikeouts in 55 at bats, was stoked three times, as was Michael Hermosillo, whose average dropped to .083.

Steele (1-3) allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits with one walk in three innings, throwing 74 pitches and striking out four. He pitched five scoreless innings against the Brewers on April 9 but hasn’t lasted more than three innings in his last three starts, including Saturday.

“The main thing we’ve seen is the inability to repeat his delivery,” manager David Ross said during batting practice. “He just sort of loses it, the strike zone or the feel for baseball, in one inning. He’s falling behind the hitters and has to work really hard to come back.

“Just finding a consistent rhythm as the game goes on seems to be (the problem). He usually starts out pretty good and then that third or fourth set he has a little trouble finding the zone. His thing is playing in the zone We know that. But you have to get ahead of the hitters, keep them off balance.

The short spring could be a factor. But Ross said Steele’s lack of experience was likely the main reason.

Chicago Tribune Sports

Days of the week

A daily sports newsletter delivered to your inbox for your morning commute.

After a stellar stint in the bullpen last season — he compiled a 2.03 ERA — Steele expanded to Triple-A Iowa to return to the Cubs as a starter after the sale. He went 2-4 with a 4.95 ERA in nine starts but finished with seven scoreless innings in his last outing on Sept. 30.

Growing pains were expected in 2022, and the Cubs are willing to live with them as long as Steele shows progress. But if the Cubs are hoping to be competitive, starters need to pick up the pace. Entering Saturday’s game, the Cubs’ starters were 3-10 combined and ranked 27th in the majors with a 5.54 ERA.

Marcus Stroman (0-3, 6.98 ERA), who starts Sunday in the series finale, fell short of expectations, while Hendricks has had its ups and downs since a strong start to the day against the Brewers. He was beaten in Friday’s 11-1 loss at Milwaukee, serving three homers, and his 5.47 ERA is fourth-worst among starters with 20 or more innings.

“Consistency is what you’re looking for,” Hendricks told reporters after Friday’s loss. “And that starts with pitch to pitch for me. I just don’t have that right now. It kind of went from game to game. »

Before Saturday’s game, the Cubs offered starter Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple-A Iowa while calling left-handed reliever Locke St. John, leaving a vacancy in the rotation. Rosters will be reduced from 28 to 26 on Monday, after teams were allowed to carry two more players early on due to the short spring training.

With two byes to come, the Cubs probably don’t need a fifth starter until May 10, leaving Hendricks, Stroman, Steele and Drew Smyly as the foursome. Wade Miley, in rehab for his left elbow, is due to hold a bullpen session on Sunday. Alec Mills remains in limbo after sustaining a sprained right quadriceps while recovering from a sprained lower back.

If the Cubs continue to drop in National League Central, you wonder how long it will be before Thompson gets another chance to start.