Chicago Cubs

While Carpenter goes down in history, McNutt stays with Cubs

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While Carpenter goes down in history, McNutt stays with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. The black Jaguar pulled into the parking lot right around 8 a.m.

Chris Carpenter and Trey McNutt got out of the sports car on Tuesday and walked toward the Cubs complex. Carpenter punched in the key code at Fitch Park, and McNutt followed his roommate through the glass doors.

That morning, Carpenter would be called into an office and told that he was traded to the Boston Red Sox as the compensation for Theo Epstein. McNutt would have to call his wife for a ride back home to North Scottsdale.

I feel like Im in high school, McNutt said.

McNutt had his wife take their pickup truck to work. Out of nowhere, a 32nd-round pick from small-town Alabama had emerged as arguably the organizations best pitching prospect, a player the Red Sox targeted once Epstein decided to leave for a presidents job with the Cubs last October.

The long-winding negotiations went in a different direction. So Carpenter, who described the day as kind of surreal, becomes the answer to a baseball trivia question.

My name will go down in history, I guess, Carpenter said.

The Cubs selected Carpenter, 26, out of Kent State University in the third round of the 2008 draft. He made his big-league debut last season, but struggled during his transition to being a reliever at Triple-A Iowa, posting a 6.53 ERA in 22 games.

Still, the Red Sox are getting a power bullpen arm who can throw close to 100 mph.

I appreciate everything the Cubs have done for me, Carpenter said. Its been a great organization over the past four years and Im looking forward to going to Boston and helping them win now.

If youre going to pick two teams to play for, why not the Cubs and the Red Sox? You cant complain about that.

While the Epstein compensation drama played out, Carpenter and McNutt lived and trained together throughout the offseason. They talked about it during the Arizona Fall League with Andrew Cashner, another name floated, and since traded to the San Diego Padres.

The Red Sox had zeroed in on the 22-year-old McNutt, a potential mid-rotation starter Baseball America judges to be the organizations fourth-best prospect heading into 2012.

Instead, McNutt was planning to spend the rest of Tuesday helping Carpenter load up his car, which will be shipped to Red Sox camp in Florida.

I just hate it for him that he has to leave right at the last second, McNutt said. Its just a big hassle. Spring trainings already stressful enough, especially when youre trying to win a job and now hes got to worry about packing up all his stuff and moving all the way across the (country).

But hell be fine.Ive never met a guy (tougher) than him mentally, so I dont think this is going to bother him. It wont faze him.

So McNutts life wont be turned upside down. Maybe one day hell make it to the show and become part of those Cubs teams Epstein promises will be playing annually in October.

But for now, all this meant was that McNutt could move to a different part of the place they shared with two other Cubs minor-league players. Carpenter had the master bedroom, and McNutt was calling it. Baseball history could wait. The guy just needed a ride home.

One guy was living in the living room, McNutt said. Well all have a bedroom now.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel. Jon Lester, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all work out with the Cubs before their game. Which player’s return with have the biggest impact down the stretch?

Plus, the guys discuss how many snaps Mitch Trubisky should take with the first team, debate who won the big Cavs/Celtics deal and Scott Paddock drops by with the latest NASCAR news.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

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USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.