Cubs patience starting to run thin with Volstad


Cubs patience starting to run thin with Volstad

MILWAUKEE Chris Volstad dropped his glove onto his head for a moment, and it must have felt like everything was caving in again.

Fireworks were going off at Miller Park on Saturday afternoon, and the 42,339 fans in here were getting loud. Edwin Maysonet was a 30-year-old utility guy who had one home run on his major-league resume until that moment.

Maysonet had just crushed a sinker, which Volstad graded out as not a terrible pitch, just one that didnt move in far enough. It smashed off the ledge above the T.G.I. Fridays restaurant in left field for a grand slam.

That snapshot in the sixth inning told you pretty much everything you needed to know. The Milwaukee Brewers (15-18) were rolling toward an 8-2 victory, while the Cubs had a big question mark at the back end of their rotation.

The Cubs are 0-7 when Volstad pitches, and 13-13 when he doesnt. Thats obviously an oversimplification, but Volstad now has a 6.92 ERA and hasnt notched a win since July 10 last summer, when he was with the Florida Marlins.

Will the Cubs look to make a change in that spot?

Yeah, youre going to consider it, manager Dale Sveum said afterward. Theres options and theres things you can try other people you can try. When that time comes, we dont know, but obviously were all frustrated with the starts (and) the five shutout innings and then one big inning.

Were all frustrated with that and were trying to get a grip on it. But (its seven) starts in (and) we can't.

Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made pitching depth the No. 1 priority last winter. Travis Wood and Randy Wells have already been called up from Triple-A Iowa for spot starts at different points this season.

The Cubs like Volstads size (6-foot-8), age (25) and first-round pedigree and thought he could put it all together with a change of scenery after the Carlos Zambrano trade.

It could still happen. Team officials see the potential. But Sveum was troubleshooting after watching Volstad hold the Brewers to one run through five innings, only to have it all unravel in the five-run sixth. It fit the pattern.

Thats the way its been for every game, Volstad said. Ive done so well except for one inning. Its hard to pinpoint the difference. You just got to keep working.

Sveum mentioned a different grip for Volstads slider, using the curveball more often andor throwing more changeups to right-handed hitters. At this point, the Cubs have to be open to new ideas.

It just got away from him again, Sveum said. The slider got him in trouble again. That thing is something that we got to work on, because its a pitch he needs, but its getting hit too often and too hard. It just got out of hand again.

The Cubs hadnt lost any of their previous five series, and almost all of that momentum was generated by their rotation.

Volstad isnt blind to that, and listening to his voice and reading his body language, you could tell he had to gather himself while speaking with the media.

Its been really hard, frustrating, Volstad said. Im working my (butt) off and not really having a lot to show for it.

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”

Morning Update: Cubs win NL pennant for first time since 1945

Morning Update: Cubs win NL pennant for first time since 1945

Fire try to 'escape from the bottom' in season finale at Toronto Sunday on CSN

Holy cow: Cubs advance to World Series for first time since 1945


How Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw to move on to World Series

Blackhawks rally to beat Maple Leafs in shootout

Javier Baez’s surge of playoff highlights, and co-NLCS MVP honors, no surprise to Cubs teammates

Complete Cubs-Indians World Series schedule

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

WATCH: Kyle Schwarber sprayed with champagne by Fall League teammates after Cubs win NL Pennant