LOS ANGELES – The good news is, according to ESPN Stats & Information, two of the three times a team has faced star lefties Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw on back-to-back days, the opposition came away with a split. The Chicago Cubs are hoping for the same after losing a 9-1 game to the Giants' reigning World Series MVP on Thursday as they’ll take on last year's regular-season NL MVP on Friday when they open a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They’ll battle the Dodgers with a new arm, righty Fernando Rodney. The Cubs are throwing a few things at their bullpen wall and seeing what sticks. Rodney is the latest reclamation project as he was acquired on Thursday from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for cash or a player to be named later.
Rodney's 5.68 ERA this season jumps off the page, but his role will presumably be different than in Seattle. Maybe a more specialized "righties only" job will be more to his liking, considering lefties are getting on base against him more than 40 percent of the time. The Cubs had four lefties in the bullpen until the trade, so evening things out with Jason Motte on the disabled list makes sense – if Rodney can get people out.
“I just think he becomes available and at that point you have to decipher, how do you think he fits into what you’re doing?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the trade. “Do you think he makes you better? The answer was yes. So you’re going to do it.”
Maddon managed Rodney when he was at his best in Tampa Bay, just as he did Rafael Soriano, who was picked up earlier this year and is on the disabled list. Will any of these guys work out?
“The more, the merrier,” Maddon said. “You’re talking about today’s game when you start winning a lot of games, having to abuse certain people -- if you have more people, the abuse becomes less, when you have more people you can count on later in the game. He could just be helpful.”
Maddon is undoubtedly talking about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. The latter is on pace to set a career-high in appearances as he’s thrown in 59 games already after pitching in 64 last season. But Rondon has less wear and tear on his arm than Strop. He’s the bigger concern as he’s three years older and has appeared in 61 games this season. His career-high is 70, set in 2012. Maybe Maddon foreshadowed the trade with his comments after the Cubs beat the Giants 8-5 on Tuesday after leading 8-1 in the eighth inning in a game started by Jake Arrieta.
“Under the circumstances, to have certain people participate that you prefer not having participate, that’s the part that detracts a little bit,” Maddon said afterward. “With all the wonderful things that happened in that game, the fact that Strop and Rondon had to pitch is the negative. With an 8-1 lead, you would like to stay away from those two guys, but we were unable to do that.”
The goal for Maddon is simple: Either find some arms that can hold a middle-inning lead or find one or two that he can trust enough to spell Strop or even Rondon in a late-inning situation. Think about some of the newer bullpen arms this year. None have taken a job and run with it. Tommy Hunter, Yoervis Medina, Phil Coke, Gonzalez Germen and Soriano are just a few names who haven’t worked out. Even Clayton Richard has performed better as a starter than a reliever. Motte has had an up-and-down year and is hurt now.
The injuries don’t help, either. Maddon hasn’t been able to use the Cubs' best reliever from a year ago, Neil Ramirez, for much of this season. So the Cubs keep searching while they fight for a playoff spot in the National League. Keep throwing them at the wall, one is bound to stick, right?