The Cubs put Assad back in the bullpen Saturday with Marcus Stroman’s return to the rotation against the Colorado Rockies for his first start since July 31. But Assad’s performance in relief — four shutout innings with two hits, no walks and six strikeouts — gave the Cubs a chance to pull out a 6-3 comeback win at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs maintained their one-game lead over the Miami Marlins for the No. 3 wild-card spot with seven games remaining.
“The versatility it gives you being able to get Stro started, it didn’t go the way he wanted it to, some balls falling in there,” manager David Ross said. “And then be able to bring in Javy behind him, he’s done a really good job of that pretty consistently this year and having him in the bullpen is just such a weapon.”
Stroman looked good in the first inning, striking out two of the three Rockies he faced, but he battled through a three-run second. He left runners on the corners in the third to keep the deficit at 3-0. Ross opted to turn to Assad in the fourth rather than send Stroman back out at 64 pitches.
Stroman and Ross said afterward he could have gone a little longer. Stroman understood the situation, though, calling it a “great move” to go to Assad.
“I mean, he’s been incredible the whole year,” Stroman said. “This is something for me to build off of going into my next start. … I felt pretty good. I felt like I didn’t make some quality pitches in the second inning, but overall for not being out there for a while I felt really good. I felt like I was able to make some pitches when I needed to, but my mechanics just came and went at times.”
Stroman is expected to stay in the rotation while Assad can be a multi-inning option for Ross and not necessarily just in a piggyback-type role with Stroman. Ross liked how Assad seemed more aggressive out of the bullpen and knows he can empty the tank pitching in shorter spurts. Since his eight shutout innings Sept. 2 in Cincinnati, Assad had been susceptible to more hard contact in his last three outings with mixed results, including a tough start at Coors Field in which he lasted only 3 1/3 innings. He was much sharper Saturday and left fewer opportunities for hitters to do damage on balls in the zone.
After he’s down the next two days to recover from Saturday’s outing, Assad will be available again beginning Tuesday in Atlanta.
“That’s a weapon, we’re going to go for wins when we’ve got ‘em and figure it out each and every day,” Ross said.
When weighing Stroman’s and Assad’s roles, the inconsistency of Stroman’s usage and lack of routine made it important for the veteran to get back on his typical five-day starter cycle. After appearing in back-to-back games for the first time in his big-league career Sept. 15-16 in Arizona, Stroman was not used after he started to warm up during Wednesday’s loss. Once the Pirates built on their lead before Stroman could enter to keep the game close, it turned into a bullpen session, which set up Stroman for Saturday’s start.
Before the game, Ross said the Cubs wanted to maximize Stroman’s innings down the stretch and indicated the rotation was the best way to use him.
“Anyone who’s pitched as a starter for as long as I have you develop such a routine, anything else becomes just hard to prepare for,” Stroman said. “I still wasn’t necessarily on a routine going into this start, but going into my next start, I will be. I was just looking to contribute wherever I could, and it just became difficult to get hot and cold, hot and cold up in the bullpen so I feel like the best decision from top down is to just have me go out there and start.”
The Cubs will need more out of their starters over the final seven regular-season games. Their bullpen has gone from a strength to a question mark and again nearly turned disastrous in the eighth inning with a one-run lead. Julian Merryweather loaded the bases with one out as the Rockies reached on a walk, double and walk.
A mound visit from Tommy Hottovy helped Merryweather lock it back in to strike out Brenton Doyle and Charlie Blackmon to end the inning. Christopher Morel’s home run and Nico Hoerner’s RBI single in the bottom of the inning tacked on insurance runs for José Cuas, who closed out the game for his first save of the season.
“Basically we pretended like we started fresh,” Merryweather told the Tribune. “I wasn’t thinking about anything that happened before that. I was thinking, ‘OK, let’s go get a couple guys out.’ And that was the mentality going from there and the timing of (the mound visit) is huge. You’ve got the chance to reset, with the clock now things can speed up, so having a little reset is huge.”
Source: Yahoo Sports