Yes, the Cubs feel better about their pitching and think that depth will help avoid another 101-loss season. But this is still a last-place team.
In one sense the Cubs will be holding auditions for 2014 across the final 42 games, bumping Carlos Villanueva from the rotation so they can get a longer look at Jake Arrieta. But they also know they need to target more arms this winter if they want to close the gap in the National League Central. Pitching will again be a priority.
Dusty Baker’s crew left Wrigley Field on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory and a three-game sweep. The Cincinnati Reds have won 12 of their last 14 games against the Cubs – and 22 of their last 26 – while baseball’s model franchise rolls into town this weekend.
Arrieta was scratched from his start at Triple-A Iowa and will now face the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday at Clark and Addison. The Cubs (52-68) want to see Arrieta up close and have him work with pitching coach Chris Bosio through the end of the season.
Arrieta – a key piece in last month’s Scott Feldman deal – was the 2012 Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles and had appeared all over that organization’s top-prospect lists. But at the age of 27, he has a 5.39 ERA through 70 career games in the big leagues. He believes he will benefit from a change of scenery.
Chris Rusin showed why he’s sticking in the rotation, going six innings against a tough Reds lineup and giving up only two runs on three hits while the wind blew into Wrigley Field. The 26-year-old lefty is now 2-2 with a 3.06 ERA through six starts.
“I don’t even think about what players could be coming up or what my role is next year,” Rusin said. “I just go game to game and go from there. That’s what helps me. Because if I put too much pressure on myself, that’s when you start making mistakes and trying to be too perfect. So I just block all that out.”
Villanueva – who declined to speak with reporters – came on in relief and gave up three runs (two earned) in two innings. He’s 2-8 with a 4.35 ERA, but has been as advertised after spending his career as a versatile swingman with the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays.
When Villanueva signed a two-year, $10 million deal last winter, he was promised chances to start over the life of his contract. Now manager Dale Sveum hopes Villanueva will fill the void left by Matt Guerrier, who will likely need surgery – though not a Tommy John procedure – to fix the “flexor mass” issue with his right elbow.
“It was not that Villanueva was doing horrible,” Sveum said. “Rusin was doing really, really well. It was hard to bump a guy that’s giving up one run and no runs every outing since he’s been here. It kind of makes it simple and Villa’s done it before. (After) losing Guerrier, he can kind of be that guy in the sixth, seventh inning when we’re winning and get people out.”
That’s not what Villanueva wanted to hear. Did it effect his performance?
“I don’t think so,” Sveum said. “He started out pretty sharp and then it’s a bouncing ball down the first-base line, another one down the third-base line. They weren’t hit hard. It was just a perfect spot right down the line. A bounce here and there and it’s a different story.”