Cubs bullpen becoming a strength

CHICAGO – As if on cue, the Chicago Cubs bullpen backed up the faith their bosses had placed in them when they designated for assignment veteran Jose Veras and his $4 million contract on Tuesday. The Cubs are committed to finding the next crop of relievers, and they might have hit on some after another productive performance in a 2-1 win over the New York Mets.

Four relievers combined for 4 1/3 shutout innings while giving up just two hits and no walks.

“It’s been a common theme for the bullpen to come in in big situations and do a big job for us,” Tuesday’s starter, Jake Arrieta, said after the game. “Neil [Ramirez] was great. [Brian] Schlitter was good there. And [Hector] Rondon is a tough guy to deal with there toward the latter part of the ballgame.”

All of those pitchers are young enough to be part of the Cubs' core moving forward. And none were necessarily in the jobs they thought they would be in out of spring training. This crew has kind of come together out of nowhere.

“They did a nice job,” manager Rick Renteria said. “They kept us in the ballgame.”

They’ve been doing that more often than not lately. The Cubs' bullpen ranks sixth in the National League with a 3.17 ERA, but it’s been even better lately. Over the past 19 games, their ERA is 1.82, enough to prompt the team to give up on Veras even though he was starting to come around. He’s not part of the future. These guys are.

“I think that’s how you build teams,” Justin Grimm said. “Coming together takes time and experience. You just can’t throw a bunch of guys together and expect them to be a great team. It takes more than that. It takes knowing guys and knowing each other.”

Which means sticking around for more than one season, potentially. Relievers are “volatile” by nature, as general manager Jed Hoyer said before the game, but the Cubs are young enough and possibly good enough to stabilize a seemingly annual weakness for this organization. They have some very live arms.

“We’ve been doing well lately,” Schlitter said. “It’s nice to be noticed. We’re coming into every situation there is and getting out of it.”

The young group gives credit to the one veteran left, Carlos Villanueva. He might be gone someday soon as well, but for now, he’s leading the group.

“He’s been the guy to show us the way,” Grimm said. “When he gets on us, it’s strictly love.”

So a group of good arms led by a veteran might turn into a strength for the Cubs. Already it has made their offseason addition of Veras expendable and given them some hope in an area of the game that doesn’t get talked about enough but is essential to winning. A young Cubs bullpen is getting experience and getting the job done.

“We think they’re going after the younger crowd,” Grimm joked. “We try to keep each other in check the best we can.”