With Hector Rondon resting what we’re told is triceps soreness and Pedro Strop out for at least the immediate future with a knee injury suffered in Wednesday night’s win, the Cubs are in need of some bullpen help. Justin Grimm is the easy choice to fill the roster spot, assuming a DL stint is required, and Carl Edwards Jr. has been absolutely nails this season. Both figure to get more high-leverage opportunities, with Joe Smith taking on a larger role as well.
Joe Nathan, who pitched three scoreless outings for the Cubs before being designated for assignment and clearing waivers, could be a possibility. But could they already have someone in the fold worth looking at?[beautifulquote align=”right”]Rivero’s repertoire has led to a minor league career average of 10.48 K/9.[/beautifulquote]
Armando Rivero defected from Cuba and signed with the Cubs in 2013, debuting in the minors that season. The 6-4, 190 lb reliever, now 28 years old, has steadily risen through the ranks and has spent the past two-plus seasons at AAA Iowa. Possessed of a fastball that generally sits around the mid-90’s and has touched the upper 90’s when he’s dialed in, Rivero also has a nice slider and a split/change. It’s a repertoire that has led to a minor league career average of 10.48 K/9, which is not bad at all.
That mark was actually brought down by a somewhat disappointing 2015 campaign that saw Rivero strike out only 8.37 batters while walking 5.05 per 9 innings. A 1.65 K/BB ratio isn’t really desirable in a late-innings guy, but that’s old news at this point. What he’s done this season has really been eye-opening.
In 53.1 innings pitched for the I-Cubs in 2016, Rivero has struck out 78 batters (!), good for a 13.16 K/9 mark. The walks are down a bit too, bringing that K/BB number up to 2.78 (not quite Strop’s 4.31 but better than Grimm’s 2.50). And he’s been even better of late:
Interesting potential Strop replacement, Armando Rivero since June 1st
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) August 11, 2016
In case you’re wondering, that comes out to 13.65 K/9 and 3.34 BB/9 with a K/BB of 4.10 that rival’s Strop’s this season. Sounds like someone who could really help the big club out for a couple weeks. So what’s the catch? There’s got to be something about Rivero that has the Cubs reluctant to turn to him.
It could be the walks, which are a little higher than you’d like to see. Then again, those have been down over the last couple months and they’re largely mitigated by both the strikeouts and what would surely be limited usage in Chicago. It could also be the age. Pitchers often take a while to develop, but Rivero isn’t necessarily a spring chicken. Spencer Patton is younger (by a whole 19 days) and has better numbers (14.73 K/9; 4.09 BB/9) at Iowa this season* and the Cubs aren’t really comfortable with him as more than a placeholder.
While it’s possible for a pitcher to improve his numbers upon jumping from AAA to the Bigs, it’s not something you can count on. Carl Edwards Jr. has maintained almost the same strikeout rate, but has cut his walks by more than half, from 6.04 to 2.37 per 9 innings. And that latter number is the lowest he’s posted at any stop in his professional career, so it’s not as if there’s a precedent for it.
Patton, on the other hand, has seen a precipitous drop in strikeouts (from 14.73 to 8.76) and a rise in walks (4.09 to 5.11) between his minor and major league appearances. Granted, we’re talking about only 12.1 innings of work for the Cubs, but I think you get what I’m driving at. Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be about Patton or Edwards.
Maddon still has experienced arms at his disposal, so it’s not as though Rivero would be thrown into the tail ends of close games if he were to be called up. Still, it doesn’t seem like the kind of move the Cubs would make as they enter the foot-on-throat stage of the season. They’ve got a real chance to run away and hide from the division here in August, which could afford them more flexibility to give innings out in September.
If nothing else, it’s fun to talk about what’s available. Until you remember why the conversation is happening in the first place and you get sad again.
*Hat tip to @ballskwok for pointing that out