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.

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”