November 26, 2014
When the best of the Cubs’ future takes over next season, it will welcome the kind of performance the present Cubs got Sunday from Tsuyoshi Wada.
And Wada wants very much to be part of the future.
“My focus is to achieve that,” the Japanese left-hander said after a sterling one-run, one-hit outing against his first American team, the Baltimore Orioles. “But my focus now is on one game at a time, and I’ll hope to have more like today.’’
Wada earned the win in the 2-1 victory, which gave the Cubs a three-game sweep of the American League East leaders. But his 61/3 innings with eight strikeouts, one walk and a home run by Steve Pearce in the seventh had bigger implications for a team in need of pitching next season.
“I would say right now he’s pitching very well,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Those are decisions [about next year] that have to be made, but he’s putting himself in good position.”
Wada (4-1, 2.56 ERA) has improved steadily in eight starts since being recalled from Class AAA Iowa in July as one of the potential replacement arms for traded starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
Catcher Welington Castillo has seen steady improvement in the lefty who, at 33, is a major-league rookie with nine seasons in Japan — and Tommy John surgery in 2012 — under his belt.
“He’s been getting better and better and working hard with us in his bullpen sessions,” Castillo said. “It’s been paying off.
“He threw a lot of strikes [Sunday]. That was the important thing, and he was commanding his fastball. When Wada hits his spots, he’s hard to hit. Two runs was enough the way Wada was pitching.”
Wada threw like the pitcher the Orioles thought they were getting when they brought him in after he had pitched masterfully for almost a decade in Japan. He was 107-61 with a 3.13 ERA, he helped Team Japan win the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and he was his league’s MVP in 2010.
But after two seasons in the Orioles’ farm system, he suffered the elbow injury pitchers dread in spring of 2012.
The Cubs signed him to a minor-league contract this spring, and he was named a Pacific Coast League All-Star before being brought to the majors.
“I know a lot of the players on [the Orioles],” he said. “I feel I let people down not being a factor on the team. So I tried to be the player they thought they acquired, to prove I was the player they thought.”
Wada was helped by a bullpen that has been stellar in the last 28 games. Its collective ERA is 1.71 (19 earned runs in 100 innings), and it has held opponents to a .189 batting average. Hector Rondon has earned nine of his 21 saves in that span.
“I still think carrying the extra arms in the pen [nine relievers] has served us well to do some of the protecting [of starters] we had to do during the season,” Renteria said.
The Cubs have gone 16-12 in those 28 games, a feel-good mark that has included victories against the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Orioles.
“It’s really good,” Castillo said of the team’s series sweep, their third of the season. “They’re a first-place team, and that was a good thing for us. This is a young team, and our pitching did a good job this whole series.’’