In Saturday’s win over the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs skipper Joe Maddon put closer Hector Rondon on a short leash, pulling him in the ninth after one batter, raising further questions about the ninth-inning moving forward.
Set-up man Pedro Strop got the ball and wildly finished things off, leading us all back to the seemingly inescapable question haunting the Cubs: how is this team supposed to win with a lackluster bullpen.
Moving forward, Chicago has multiple in-house options, including Strop and Jason Motte. As for Rondon, who talked to the Chicago Tribune following the win, the move was surprising, but didn’t prompt any outrage.
"“I (was) a little surprised, but it’s OK,” Rondon said of Maddon’s quick hook. “If he wants to put me in whatever situation, I’ll take it. It’s not a big deal for me.”"
Last season, Rondon was dominant in the season’s second-half, racking up 18 of his 29 saves in the process, pitching to a 0.62 ERA. His control was spot-on, evidenced by his 12.00 SO/BB ratio – which was vastly-improved from his first-half marks.
This year, his control has been an issue, to say the least. He blew four saves all of last season and already has three to his credit this year, which is tied for the worst mark in all of Major League Baseball.
Essentially, he’s missing fewer bats, allowing more home runs and walking more batters. Which, for a big league closer, presents more than a handful of problems.
So, where do we go from here?
Strop is an attractive option to most fans, given he has devastating stuff that was on full display last season, when he averaged over 10 punch-outs per nine innings pitched. On Saturday, the right-handed set-up man picked up his second save of the season – in a game the Cubs needed to even the series with the Nats.
That choice isn’t a bad one, per se, but Strop’s pitching can be erratic, at times. From May 3 to May 6, his worst stretch to-date this season, the righty allowed six earned runs on six hits in just two innings of work spanning three appearances.
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In the aforementioned two innings, he walked a pair and struck out just one of the 15 batters he faced. The movement on his pitches is both a curse and a blessing for Strop, who will have competition this season for the closer’s job in the form of former St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jason Motte.
Motte, who just a few years ago racked up 42 saves for St. Louis, hasn’t allowed a run in an appearance since May 15. I broke down what Motte could offer the team before the season got underway.
Personally, I believe the offseason acquisition of the right-hander could be a make-or-break move for the team and its shot at a postseason berth. Here’s what I had to say a few months ago, giving due to the Cubs’ underrated pitching coach.
"The Cubs have several options waiting in the wings, as well as setup man Pedro Stropand right-hander Neil Ramirez, but Motte is the only one with real big league closing experience. Given the work pitching coach Chris Bosio has turned in with countless pitchers over the past few seasons, a change of scenery may pay huge dividends for Motte, who is heading into his age 33 season."
So with Rondon struggling, it’s time for us all to act like we can do Maddon’s job better than he himself can and make our selection for closer, a role that, so far, hasn’t changed hands.