Cubs’ Opening Day bullpen has shown improvement
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter September 23, 2013 9:43PM
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
PIRATES AT CUBS
The facts: 7:05 p.m., CSN,
The starters: Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23 ERA) vs. Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52).
Updated: October 25, 2013 6:31AM
The Pittsburgh Pirates will get to the playoffs for the first time since 1992, in part on the strength of one of the best bullpens in baseball.
When the season began, the Cubs bullpen was a negative and hurt by injuries. But it has evolved through the season, with James Russell, Carlos Villanueva, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and closer Kevin Gregg becoming steady contributors.
“Any general manager will tell you it’s the hardest thing to build on a year-to-year basis,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. “For everyone, it’s very hit or miss, and you’re very lucky to keep [relief pitchers] healthy, too.
“One little injury, especially in the back part of your bullpen, can spiral into a big mess.’’
Sveum is encouraged by Strop and Rondon, who has gotten stronger throughout the season despite his 5.05 ERA.
Acquired by Cleveland in the Rule 5 draft, Rondon has walked 24 and struck out 42 in 512/3 innings.
“Obviously he’s turned himself into a power arm,’’ Sveum said. “The last part of his development was developing a slider. His strikes are getting better, his velocity has gotten better — the whole package has gotten better. He’s got confidence and a little more of an attitude now.
“He’s a guy, coming into spring training with that kind of power arm, you have to take a serious look at.’’
Welington Castillo had successful arthroscopic surgery Monday to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. His recovery is expected to be normal with no concerns about being ready for next season.
The Cubs play the final home series this week with a markedly different roster than on Opening Day. Of the 25 players on April 1, only 12 remain. Outfielder Nate Schierholtz is the only outfielder from opening day. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena are the only infielders besides Darwin Barney, who started the season on the disabled list.
Catcher Dioner Navarro has been active all season, while Castillo was with the team all season until his injury last week.
Pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson have not missed a start. Russell, Villanueva and Rondon also have been on the roster all season.