The Cubs bullpen is definitely their number one issue this season. Aside from Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall, there isn’t much to like about this staff. I do have to give James Russell credit for his great start however. He’s looked good in his first four appearances of the year, allowing no runs on three hits in his 3 1/3 innings pitched. Unfortunately, that is the extent of his major league career. Do you really want a rookie with three career innings pitched to be your go-to guy in the pen? There aren’t many other options.
Two of the major disappointments in the bullpen have been John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija. Grabow is coming off of two solid seasons in a row. He finished 2008 with a 2.84 ERA in 74 games, a great season by anyone’s standards. He came back in 2009 and kept his ERA under 3.50 amassing 75 appearances splitting time between the Cubs and Pirates. So what happened this year?
I think Grabow has trouble dealing with the pressure of being a set-up man. He has had 23 career save opportunities and has only successfully converted six of them. Looking at the bullpen, I don’t really see any solid options to fill the set-up role, but it’s obvious that Grabow can’t. He’s already 0-2 on the year with a WHIP of 2.45. He’s allowed four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. Teams are slugging .611 against him for crying out loud. What is there to lose with trying someone else out in that role? Hell, why not give Russell a shot?
Then there’s the guy that I find it impossible to watch. Jeff Samardzija has so much talent and potential, but he has no idea how to use it. His total lack of control is disheartening. In his last outing, he fell behind in the count against every batter he faced. He’s pitched only 3 1/3 innings this year and has already allowed six earned runs (eight total) on only four hits. How does that happen? You guessed it, walks. He’s walked five batters, almost two an inning, in route to a 2.70 WHIP.
I want to put some of the blame on Larry Rothschild here though. He should’ve been able to work with this kid and help fix whatever’s wrong with his mechanics or delivery. Most of the time it looks like he’s just overthrowing the ball. For all the praise Rothschild has gotten over the years, you would think he would be able to do something. In my opinion, he is a very overrated pitching coach.
The Cubs bullpen certainly needs a lot of help and I’m not sure where it’s going to come from. You certainly can’t count on Marmol to become Mariano Rivera overnight and start pitching multiple innings to complete the save. Marshall is needed for long relief, especially when Zambrano’s on the mound, so he won’t be regularly available late in games. At this point it’s a toss up. It’ll be interesting to see whom the Cubs decide to go to in order to pick up the slack.