Cubs' closer problems trickle down

ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer called the pitching problems associated with the Cubs closing situation right now, “collateral damage.” That’s because with blown saves come extra-inning games which can tax a bullpen.

Twice in the first two weeks, pitcher Jose Veras has given up a lead, sending a game (Friday night) into overtime and extending another one (in Pitt) even longer into the night. It’s added six more innings of work for the relief group and some of them have been struggling. The Cubs bullpen has a collective 4.14 ERA, that ranks 18th in baseball right now. Their three blown saves are already the most in the game as of Saturday afternoon.

That was the reason for the emergency call-up of Chris Rusin on Saturday morning. He threw five, good innings of one-run ball in relief of Carlos Villanueva -- and then was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa -- in the Cubs' 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon.

“That was a great pick up for us today,” manager Rick Renteria said afterwards regarding Rusin saving his bullpen. “Right now we’re just happy he was able to give us the (five) innings that he did.”

He helped save a bullpen that Veras has thrown into flux, though Renteria hasn’t been using everyone equally. Lefty Wesley Wright hasn’t pitched since April 4 while Rusin threw five innings the day he was called up.

“Wes was available for us,” Renteria said.

But he didn’t get into a blowout game, which is curious. Meanwhile Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm had thrown in seven of the first 10 games. Both have struggled with their command as has Veras but Grimm in particular has avoided major damage. And with Villanueva getting knocked around Saturday the Cubs could use some help.

“All our right-handers have been throwing quite a bit,” Renteria said.

There should be some growing optimism that ailing righty Jake Arrieta should be able to join the team soon. He’s thrown several rehab starts at Double-A Tennessee and is due for at least one more. The addition of Arrieta means Villanueva can move back to being a long reliever and the musical chairs might slow down.

It’s important because the Cubs need to figure out roles for their top arms and when the closer fails, it has an effect on everything. That’s the collateral damage Hoyer talked about.

“The domino effect of blown saves cost our guys innings in Pittsburgh and cost our guys innings on (Friday),” Hoyer said.

And it’s cost the Cubs some games.