DES MOINES, Iowa – If all goes according to plan, the Cubs will have three different pitchers make their big-league debut within a span of two weeks.
The timing is based on opportunity, thanks to a pair of day-night doubleheaders and the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade wiping out the rotation. But the Cubs also think those arms at Triple-A Iowa could be ready for "The Show."
“We’re going to take a step back, give some opportunities to our younger pitching,” said Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations. “We’ll see how things shake out, but it’s nice to have a group that we feel can step right up and pitch at the big-league level now, if necessary.”
Tsuyoshi Wada isn’t exactly young at the age of 33, or really a prospect after nine seasons in Japan, but he will make his major-league debut on Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds.
Dallas Beeler already debuted on June 28 at Wrigley Field and will get another audition on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. Kyle Hendricks – the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 – starts Thursday in Cincinnati.
The Cubs didn't add any top pitching prospects to their system in the Samardzija/Hammel deal with the Oakland A’s. But 25-year-old right-hander Dan Straily already had 41 big-league starts for Oakland under his belt when he reported to Iowa.
So while the organization's top pitching prospects – C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson – have struggled to stay healthy and make strides this season, the Cubs do have options to eat up innings and provide some hope for the future.
"It's very impressive," Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton said. “I can honestly sit here and say you can call anybody up and they're going to handle themselves very well at the major-league level and that's hard to do."
So far this year, it's been a good ride for young pitchers with the Cubs.
Beeler impressed in his debut, allowing just an unearned run in six innings against the Washington Nationals. More impressive was the composure Beeler exuded from his first pitch to his last.
"That's something we do on a daily basis in our programs," said Walton, who spent 16 seasons working for the Toronto Blue Jays, including three as the major-league pitching coach. "Part of my job here is to prepare them for that day.
“I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, and they really don't know what to expect yet.
"Hopefully, I can pass that knowledge on to them and it can help calm them down and pitch and execute their game. Then, when the manager takes them out, they can look up and see how well they did."
Wada underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in 2012 and didn’t live up to his $8.15 million contract during two years with the Baltimore Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate.
But Wada found his groove in 16 starts with Iowa, posting a 9-5 record with a 2.66 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 9.3 K/9 rate.
"From the beginning of the season here, we've kind of tinkered with his plan, understanding that he has to pitch down in the zone, more so than he did [in Japan]," Walton said. "There were some things we really had to work on. [But] he took that gameplan and he's fantastic right now. There's no reason he can't be successful [in the big leagues], too."
Following the gameplan is a point of emphasis for Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and Epstein's front office. Walton has to send the top-down message.
"Every night, I fill out a game report with my comments, telling [the front office] what we're working on, the progress of each guy, where they're at," Walton said. "For example, it could be a game where we went seven innings, gave up six runs, but three of the runs we gave up is because we were working on something and we didn't execute it as well as we're going to execute it in the future.
"But we have to start somewhere and we don't want to start when they get called up. We do make some sacrifices here, where the line score probably could have been better if we had ignored some developmental things. But that's not what we're about. We're about trying to make our guys major-league ready when they get there."
That’s the entire point.
"They understand everything we discuss is going to help them in the long run,” Walton said. “They make sacrifices in the short run to be better in the long run. They get it.
"Sometimes, there are baby steps here and some of the stuff we work on doesn't really help you for this league. It sounds funny, but with the plans that we have, we as a staff are trying to get better at the major-league level. We're not really worried about trying to get our outs here, although they do come.
"We're trying to put our gameplan together for the big leagues. Not our gameplan to be an All-Star in the [Pacific Coast League]."