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Short of starting pitching depth, Cubs turn to Donn Roach

ST.LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs minor league righty Donn Roach will make his franchise debut -- and second career start -- when he takes the mound on Saturday night to face the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, the team announced on Friday. Roach will replace lefty Tsuyoshi Wada in the rotation for at least one turn as Wada recovers from a muscle cramp in his shoulder.

“I’ve been throwing a good amount of strikes,” Roach said after arriving in St. Louis on Friday afternoon. “My sinker has been working, been getting a lot of ground balls.”

Roach, 25, is 7-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Iowa after being claimed off waivers from the San Diego Padres over the winter. He was a 40th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.

“The guys [front office] like what he’s been doing,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We thought he fits in well against this group.”

The Cubs seemingly didn’t have many choices outside of Roach and former starter Travis Wood. The front office isn’t hiding the fact they're thin on the back end of their starting rotation. Spot starters from a year ago like Eric Jokisch and Dallas Beeler have struggled while former big leaguer Jacob Turner hasn’t stayed healthy.

“It has not been a really good year for our fifth through 10th starters [in the organization], so to speak,” team president Theo Epstein said on the Carmen and Jurko show on ESPN 1000 on Friday. “Those are the guys you need to survive that 162-game grind.”

Edwin Jackson was another possible candidate the team discussed, but he hasn’t been stretched out and was needed on Friday after Jon Lester lasted only four innings. So the decision came down to Roach or Wood. There are pros and cons for each pitcher.

Obviously, Wood hasn’t cut it as a starter over the past two years, but the Cardinals are only 7-9 against lefties this season. Meanwhile, Roach has appeared in just 16 career games and St. Louis is 41-15 against righties heading into Friday night. Maddon likes Wood in the bullpen, anyway, and he probably couldn’t pitch more than 3-4 innings as he hasn’t started in a while and Roach is rested having last pitched on Saturday.

“I like him where he is,” Maddon said of Wood. “He’s been really valuable. Unless you’re committed to putting him back in the rotation [full-time] you wouldn’t do it. I really like him in the bullpen.”

It’s a valid argument, so the assignment falls to Roach, who’s trying not to make too much of a start against the best team in baseball.

“That’s why we play the game,” he said.

Maddon added: “He doesn’t have time to overthink it.”

Roach grew up in Las Vegas and knows teammate Kris Bryant as well as other Vegas players Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper. He doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment -- not yet, at least. As for Wada’s muscle cramp in his throwing arm/shoulder, he may only miss one start, but the Cubs won’t know much until he throws a bullpen session this weekend.

“We have to take it slow,” Maddon said. “I hear he’s going to be fine soon. But I don’t know that.”

The whole matter once again underscores the Cubs' need for starting pitching. Finding one or two more hurlers will be their task between now and the trade deadline on July 31. But first things first, can they get a quality start from Roach against the best team in the game? We’ll find out Saturday night.