Photos from the Cubs' 2-1 loss to the Dodgers on April 25, 2019 at Wrigley Field.
(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
When discussing his pitchers’ recent resurgence, Cubs President Theo Epstein maintained the measured approach he took when the staff struggled during a 3-8 start.
“As tough as that start was for us, it will be good for us in the long run,” Epstein said Thursday before the Cubs’ three-game win streak was snapped in a 2-1 loss to the defending National League champion Dodgers.
“Even though it’s early and we’ve been through it before, when you get off to a really rough first week of the season in a big market and a lot of doubters, it can push guys and test guys. And they’ve responded the right way, recommitted to their routines, the foundation and each other, and pulling out of it. It’s a real positive sign.
“Let’s be honest. It was really our pitching the first week to 10 days that was putting us in that destabilized mode, and the pitching has been outstanding since then.”
Immediately after the Cubs (12-11) disclosed Sunday that injured closer Brandon Morrow had suffered a setback in his rehab, there were cries for the club to acquire immediate help from outside the organization.
But Epstein repeated the faith he expressed before the season in his pool of relievers at the major-league and Triple-A levels.
“We’ll continue to help guys be their best selves, make important calls when we feel change is needed, and of course, look outside as well as inside the organization to find the best combination,” Epstein said.
The rotation and bullpen given plenty of reasons for optimism lately. The starters own a 1.68 ERA in the last 12 games, including Jon Lester allowing one earned run in five innings in his first start since suffering a left hamstring strain on April 8.
The relievers have turned things around after a brutal start. Pitchers earning more trust in key situations include Brandon Kintzler and left-hander Kyle Ryan, who started the season at Triple-A Iowa but has a 2.25 ERA in eight games and pitched the final 1 2/3 innings of a Tuesday’s 7-2 win.
“It was nice for those guys (in the rotation) to pick up the slack and pitch well,” said Lester, who was lifted for a pinch-hitter after throwing 79 pitches. “I was glad not to mess up that momentum and keep going.”
Photos of Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester.
Meanwhile, demoted reliever Carl Edwards Jr. has allowed one run in four appearances with Iowa and struck out two in a scoreless inning Tuesday. Cubs manager Joe Maddon expressed his appreciation for the way Edwards understood and accepted his demotion.
The long-range forecast for Morrow might not be as gloomy as originally feared. Epstein said that Morrow could resume throwing in a few weeks, pending the results of tests on his surgically repaired elbow.
Morrow, who hasn’t pitched since July 15, was expected to return next month before experiencing discomfort last week. But the fact that his recent ailment isn’t believed to be serious lends hope that he can make some contribution this season.
“It’s going to take everybody this year,” Epstein said. “This league is really a gauntlet. I think the team that’s going to come out of the National League or the team that’s going to come out of the NL Central is the team that gets the absolute most out of its depth.”
After recovering from their slow start with series wins over the Pirates and Marlins, the Cubs’ surge continued with four wins in six home games against the Diamondbacks — who finished a four-game sweep in Pittsburgh on Thursday — and two-time defending NL champion Dodgers.
“It’s going to take a sustained effort because there are no soft spots in the schedule this year,” Epstein said. “I love the way our guys are approaching things, and we’re hard at work trying to get the most of everybody. It’s going to take a real organizational effort to win.”
Epstein staunchly defended his coaches involved in the pitching department, especially in the wake of criticism about the handling of Edwards and his since-banned new delivery.
“There were guys were talking about (pitching coach Tommy Hottovy) when things were bad,” Epstein said. “They should talk about him when things are good.”