CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have had just moderate success in developing bullpen pieces for the future, but one bright spot has been the progress shown by setup man Pedro Strop.
The 27-year-old reliever has a 2.29 ERA with seven holds in 20 games and has been a solid part of the team's restructured bullpen. Only James Russell and Hector Rondon have been in the bullpen since Opening Day. Three closers later, Kevin Gregg hammered down the back-end job with 25 saves in 29 opportunities.
But Gregg will be a free agent after the season, posing the question whether Strop is ready to take over the closer role.
"He has closer stuff," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "The other part is with young guys, can they handle those last three outs?"
Strop had moderate success with the Orioles only to bottom out with some bad outings before getting traded with Jake Arrieta for Scott Feldman on July 2.
"Early in the year with Baltimore things were not going the way I wanted them to," said Strop, who had a 7.25 ERA in 29 games with the Orioles. "It was my fault. I was not making good pitches or hitting my spots. Luckwise I was giving up a lot of crazy base hits. You know, broken-bat hits and flares. Because things were not going my way I kind of lost some confidence and began rushing my game. I started to change my mechanics and got really wild."
Since coming to the Cubs, Strop has worked with pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode on regaining his tool set and belief in his ability.
"It has been about regaining my confidence," Strop said. "The coaches have helped me wipe the slate clean and go to work with a fresh mind. Bosio and Lester emphasize knowing yourself and what you do best. The fun factor is back for me."
The results have been outstanding for the pitcher who has given up a run only once in his 20 appearances with the Cubs, allowing five earned in 1/3 of an inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 29. Of the 25 runners he has inherited, he has allowed only 10 to score.
"I think Pedro can pitch in multiple roles," Bosio said. "He has pitched in tie games up one, down one, two-inning stints and back-to-back two-inning stints. These are some of the things we try to do with the relief pitchers we don't know. He has been invaluable and he could fill a number of roles in the future."
Bosio and the other coaches appreciate what Gregg has done and won't get caught up in conversations that look past the 36-year-old veteran. This type of story is all about the reality that the Cubs must look ahead past Gregg even though he not only has done the job but also has been a mentor to Strop here in Chicago. They played together in Baltimore last season as well.
"KG helped me a lot in Baltimore," Strop said. "When I first got there I relied on him to help me know hitters and which ones to pitch around. He was a big part of my development as a big league pitcher. Sometimes you ask one of the pitchers more things than you do the coaches. I also learned how important a set routine was from him and [Orioles closer] Jim Johnson. Every single day they stick to their routine and that helps them stay so consistent."
Gregg believes Strop is still evolving as a pitcher.
"In the world of pitching he is still pretty new at it," Gregg said. "It is all about the mental part of the game helping the obvious physical tools get the job done on an everyday basis. The mechanical things are secondary many times to the thought process and confidence factor. The mechanics can be helped by having a strong belief in what you are doing."