Cubs GM Jed Hoyer disappointed in rotation's struggles

CHICAGO -- Before Tuesday night's game, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was clear about what has been the most disappointing aspect in an uneven start for the National League Central division favorites.

"When it comes to the pitching part of it," he said. "I think that's where it's been difficult to get into a rhythm. Pitchers with good control and good command have struggled to throw strikes."

As if on cue, Tyler Chatwood backed up those comments with a rare performance against the St. Louis Cardinals in a 5-3 loss: 4.2 innings pitched, seven strikeouts and seven walks. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, only two pitchers compiled at least seven and seven in less than five innings pitched last year. Before that, it hadn't happened since 2008. It meant throwing a lot of pitches -- 97 -- in a short outing, not exactly what fielders want when the temperature is 35 degrees at first pitch.

"I just have to be better with my command," Chatwood said after the loss. "That's the thing that's hurt me so far. It was cold, but I could grip the ball.

"Our guys have to get back in there to hit and I'm leaving them standing there in the cold for a while. ... That's not a good recipe for success right there I don't think."

Chatwood isn't the only disappointment in the starting staff so far, as his record dropped to 0-3 with his new team, despite giving up just one hit. The Cubs' vaunted rotation -- at least on paper -- ranks near the bottom of the league after averaging just five innings per start through their first 15 games.

That's just one-third of an inning more than the worst team in that category, the Tampa Bay Rays.

"It's going to happen," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said about longer outings. "I'm fully confident it's going to happen. The starters are really good. There is a lot to look forward to with the starters."

The Cubs had a slow beginning to last season on the mound, eventually righting the ship in the second half -- and that includes their starting staff. But last year, they had the championship hangover to get over; this year, it's just cold weather and some postponements. But every team has dealt with the same conditions, some thriving better than others.

The Cubs have limped out of the gate at 7-8 and can partly blame the uneven play on a rotation that boasts three former all-stars in Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana. None has looked his best thus far.

"Early in the season, when you don't get length from starters, it really taxes the bullpen," Hoyer said. "To be effective and stay healthy, we have to have longer starts."

Fortunately, the Cubs' relief staff has mostly been lights out, though Pedro Strop helped the Cardinals extend a 2-1 lead to 5-1 in the eighth inning on Tuesday.

The two-time defending division champs can't rely on their bullpen over the long haul; the Cubs need their starting staff to take command.

"As things settle in, they're really going to start piling up the innings," Maddon said. "I mean that. I'm not just saying that. I believe that sincerely."