MILWAUKEE – It takes some imagination to picture the Cubs surviving three playoff rounds and winning a World Series Game 7 with this bullpen.
Starting pitcher Jason Hammel looks at rookie right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. and says: “He’s definitely not afraid. He weighs probably 140 pounds and he can attack a ton worth of weight.”
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein trades for lefty Mike Montgomery and looks back on how Andrew Miller reinvented himself with the Boston Red Sox, transforming into an All-Star reliever for the New York Yankees.
Now the Cubs are banking on a 41-year-old dude who hasn’t pitched in The Show in almost 16 months, trying to make a comeback from a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow.
The Cubs will activate Joe Nathan off the 60-day disabled list before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, adding a six-time All-Star closer who ranks eighth all-time with 377 career saves.
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“I do like the names,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Is it enough? I think it is. But you have to consider that with both Edwards and Joe, you would not really push, push, push, either.
“So you talk about consecutive appearances – or three-out-of-fours – that would be kind of tough to do with these guys. There are different little caveats attached that I have to be careful with (and) not push them too hard.
“I don’t know if there is enough yet – just based on the ability to use guys based on where they’re coming from physically.”
Epstein made it clear that the Cubs didn’t cut themselves off from bigger deals leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline by packaging two lower-profile minor-league prospects (first baseman Dan Vogelbach and pitcher Paul Blackburn) in the Montgomery deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Epstein has also pointed out that the Cubs won 97 games and two playoff rounds last year while rebuilding their bullpen on the fly, relying on guys like Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill (who’s rehabbing a knee injury at Triple-A Iowa).
And that you don’t really need an eight-man bullpen for October, because Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester should be pitching deep into games, leaving the high-leverage situations for Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and whoever else emerges across the next two-plus months.
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Maddon sees the potential for Edwards – who has a 1.93 ERA and 16 strikeouts against four walks through 14 innings – to grow into an even bigger role out of the bullpen. Maybe the Cubs find another grab-bag surprise or two (Brian Matusz, Jack Leathersich) from a minor-league system that lacks premium pitching talent.
“You just don’t know,” Maddon said. “It looks good on paper, but you got to get them out there and play it. From my perspective, for them to be good, I think you can’t push their button too often. You got to hold back.”
Whether or not the Cubs have the trade chips and the appetite to deal with the Yankees or trade for another high-octane reliever, they need to find out what they have in Nathan, who made 11 appearances combined with Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.
“It sounds like he’s ready to rock and roll,” Maddon said. “We have to see what he looks like, first of all. You hear different things. But I would bet that whatever he’s been throwing, it’s going to be even a little bit more once he gets here with the adrenaline pumping back in the big leagues.”