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Tsuyoshi Wada makes bid for rotation

SAN DIEGO -- What was stranger? Chicago Cubs pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada striking out a career-high nine batters in his season debut Wednesday night against the San Diego Padres or seeing him pick up a credit card off the ground as he walked toward the dugout at the end of an inning?

Wada gave the card to a security guard who found its proper owner -- a pregame guest who dropped it -- then went back to mowing down the Padres until slowing down in the fifth inning.

"I wasn't tired but coaches and managers are watching very closely and I think it was the right decision," Wada said through an interpreter after the Cubs' 3-2 victory. "We won the game so I was happy about it."

Wada used a deceptive fastball and pinpoint control in getting six Padres looking and three more swinging. But manager Joe Maddon saw enough after Wada got into some trouble. He didn't make it out of that fifth inning.

"I'm more about the Cubs winning as opposed to any particular pitcher winning," Maddon said. "Let him go for one more third of an inning there, maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. It's a great game for him to build off of."

Maddon's quasi-quick hook has been well-documented this season, but even though Wada had thrown only 69 pitches it's a storyline that should take a back seat to the very fact that he was good for most of his outing. Besides, Wada had just run from first to home to score one of the Cubs' three runs, claiming it was the first time in 9-10 years he had made that jog.

"I see a lot of guys after that big run get a little fatigued," catcher Miguel Montero said.

OK, so Wada came out early and forced the bullpen to pitch extended innings. The more important issue is maybe the Cubs have filled their fifth starter's role -- at least for now.

"Hopefully next time they'll let me pitch [longer] but I have to earn that respect," Wada said.

All he has to do is pitch deeper. That's easier said than done as opponents have had much more success against him the second and third time through the order. For example, Wada struck out Justin Upton in the second inning Wednesday but gave up a long home run to him the next time up, in the fourth.

"He started losing his secondary stuff a little bit more and these guys were ultra-aggressive the second time through," Montero said.

So some adjustments will have to be made. Maybe a different game plan is needed as the game moves to the middle innings and the league gets to know him. That's another aspect Montero thought Wada had going in his favor. He's still fairly unknown, having pitched in just 13 big league games before Wednesday. We don't know if Wada is the answer to that fifth starter's role but he's certainly off to a decent start.

"He made really good borderline pitches," Montero said. "On the edges. It looks like a ball but he bites the corner."

Maddon said Wada's fastball looked like it was going low but would "follow a plane" into the strike zone. That deception resulted in all those strikeouts.

"It wasn't one specific thing that was working or anything like that," Wada said.

So it's a good beginning; now he needs to pitch long enough to get a win. Some of that is on Maddon, but it's hard to argue with the reasoning behind the pitcher's removal. It was sound. And the Cubs won, thanks to a nice season debut.

"He was a little deceptive," Montero said. "He hid the ball well. And people don't know him."