Chicago Cubs: It’s time to trust Tyler Chatwood in critical spots

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

In less than a year, Chicago Cubs hurler Tyler Chatwood has gone from a waste of a roster spot to one of the more intriguing arms in Joe Maddon’s arsenal.

Heading into last offseason, it looked like the Chicago Cubs were poised to take a $25.5 million bath over the final two years of Tyler Chatwood‘s three-year, $39 million deal. Thankfully, that no longer appears to be the case.

Last season, the right-hander led all of Major League Baseball with 95 walks. He managed this despite throwing a grand total of 9 2/3 innings from the end of July on – a testament to just how unreliable he was on the mound.

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When the dust settled, he walked more batters than he struck out. This quickly silenced the individuals who, at the onset, were intrigued by Chatwood’s stuff at the beginning of the season. Given the Cubs’ disappointing Wild Card game loss to close the season, optimism was in short supply by the time the offseason came to the Friendly Confines.

This year, however, has been a completely different story. Chatwood has pitched to a 3.79 ERA while cutting his walk rate from 8.2 BB/9 to a much more palatable 4.6 K/9. Sure, you’d like that number to tick down a bit more, but it’s definitely manageable.

All told, he’s walked just 30 batters in 59 1/3 innings of work – and Chatwood has come up with some big outs for Maddon of late. In a radio appearance Monday morning, the Chicago skipper weighed in on his right-hander, admitting he’s definitely earned the right to get the ball in more high-leverage spots.

Given the team’s bullpen struggles, I’m pretty surprised it’s taken this long for Maddon to come to this conclusion. Craig Kimbrel is still looking to get into a rhythm after sitting out the first half of the year, Pedro Strop is no longer the guy who locked down the late innings for the last half-decade and injuries are running rampant with key guys like Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler missing time recently.

Given Chatwood’s swing-and-miss stuff (he’s averaging a personal-best 8.3 K/9 this year) and his ability to strand runners (80.7 percent on the season) – this makes a ton of sense. Hopefully, he can settle into a late-inning role and help shore up a staff that’s been the epitome of a roller coaster to this point in 2019.

Make no mistake – the right-hander is still learning the ropes when it comes to being a reliever, something he openly admits. But the results have been promising – he boasts a 1.88 ERA over his last eight appearances since early July.

"“I try to stay mentally sharp, as locked in as I can,” Chatwood told the Chicago Tribune over the weekend. “If you let it get you super frustrated, it can eat at you. So I want to be in there more and help us win games, but just be ready when they call my name.”"

Next. Darvish, Quintana anchoring the starting rotation. dark

As he continues to adjust to the bullpen life, hopefully we see his name get called with more regularity. Because if the Cubs can help Chatwood channel his overpowering fastball and wipeout slider, they might just have a chance at making another deep October run.