Cubs patience starting to run thin with Volstad

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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.

Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

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Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

The Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery vs. Jeff Samardzija

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ will headline the group of seven Cubs prospects ticketed for the Arizona Fall League.

As the Cubs project their next wave of talent, Jimenez is thought to be close to untouchable after a breakout performance at the All-Star Futures Game and a Midwest League MVP season at Class-A South Bend.

Jimenez – who originally signed out of the Dominican Republic and got a $2.8 million bonus in the summer of 2013 – is hitting .331 with 14 homers and 81 RBI through 111 games with the South Bend Cubs. At the age of 19, the dynamic outfielder reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman year at the University of San Diego with that 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and powerful right-handed swing.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – is a switch-hitter (.717 OPS at Double-A Tennessee) who has tried to increase his versatility by moving between second base and the outfield and become a Joe Maddon-type player.

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The Mesa Solar Sox roster unveiled Wednesday also includes Victor Caratini, an advanced defensive catcher who drew interest around the trade deadline and could be packaged in a bigger deal for pitching if Willson Contreras continues to develop behind the plate and Kyle Schwarber comes back healthy next season.

Cubs officials trying to build a pitching pipeline for Wrigley Field will also get a look at right-handers James Farris, Ryan McNeil, Stephen Perakslis and Duane Underwood Jr. in the showcase league.

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Another quick hook left Jason Hammel seething over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, bringing back uncomfortable questions about how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him, and whether or not the Cubs would find a spot for him on a playoff roster.

Four days later, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system as Hammel warmed up before facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, with no guarantees about October or next season.

Hammel responded with another strong start during Wednesday’s 6-5 victory, completing a three-game sweep that left the Pirates staggering in the wild-card race and helped the Cubs cut their magic number to win the division down to 16.

Outside of a few extreme lows that distorted the perception of his superb overall season – 10-run outings against the New York Mets and at Coors Field and the 39 pitches he dismissively called a side day in Los Angeles – Hammel has been an integral part of the elite rotation that pushed the Cubs to such a huge lead in the National League Central.

Now up 15 games on the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs surged into September with an 85-47 record, an expectation their pitching staff will get healthy and become whole again and a sense of harmony within their clubhouse.

“That’s rearview mirror now,” Hammel said, wearing a Pearl Jam shirt during his postgame press conference. “Joe and I talked it out. There’s no room for off-the-field BS or disagreements or to hold a grudge. 

“I told him how I felt. He told me how he felt and the reasoning for everything. We’re grown men. We solved it and have to respect each other’s views and opinions. To carry something like that would really mess up something special we got going on right now.”

Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) shut down the Pirates for six innings, allowing only one run, scattering three hits and showing the confidence that made him an All-Star-level performer in the first half. 

Hammel regained control of his fastball, spun some curveballs and incorporated a changeup to create doubt in hitters’ minds and add a different wrinkle to opposing scouting reports. He limited the damage to one run in the fifth inning, working around three walks and screaming and flexing his muscles after striking out Andrew McCutchen swinging at a 93-mph fastball to end the threat.

“Yeah, I wanted to get back out there,” Hammel said. “The last one just didn’t sit well with me. So far, so good.”

On a night when the crowd chanted “MVP,” Kris Bryant backed Hammel by launching his 36th homer and playing Gold Glove-level defense at third base. Bryant saved a run by diving to his left to catch a Sean Rodriguez line drive and end the second inning. Bryant began the fourth inning with his answer to Anthony Rizzo’s tarp catch, leaning over the wall and into the stands to catch a Josh Bell pop-up.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

But the defensive play of the night belonged to Addison Russell, who with the bases loaded and the Cubs trying to protect a 5-2 lead, raced over from shortstop and made a sliding catch near the left-field line to end the seventh inning.

“This team’s going to be really good for a long time,” said Hammel, who had been packaged with Jeff Samardzija – Thursday’s starter for the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field – in the Russell trade with the Oakland A’s in 2014. “These kids – I say kids now, because I can, because I’m old – they’re impressive and they continue to dazzle.

“You can’t really say surprised, because we’ve come to expect all these great plays and the big knocks that they’re driving in. We’re witnessing greatness.”

After getting 22 wins in a month for the first time since September 1945, this could become the next awkward conversation: If John Lackey (shoulder) returns to full strength – and the rest of the rotation doesn’t experience any setbacks down the stretch – what are the chances of Hammel making a playoff start?

“Stay healthy and we’ll see what happens,” Maddon said. “I don’t bet on the come. Let’s get to the playoffs first, make sure everybody’s well, and at that point then you look at the group you have. And then maybe at that point you look at the group you may be playing. And then you try to formulate the best plan of attack from your personnel versus their personnel. 

“I’ve not even thought about a playoff moment once.”

The Cubs will now have all of September to think about October.