Pitching Changes Afoot For Cubs as Carl Edwards Jr., Bullpen Fails to Measure Up

Friday’s loss wasn’t all on the bullpen, which surrendered fewer runs than José Quintana in a disastrous first start, but the issues with the relief corps are both evident and easy to address. Notice I didn’t say “fix,” since that’s a whole ‘nother matter that may involve a little good fortune along the way. The bullpen has lengthened games far too often, which is why pitching moves are afoot for the Cubs.

The most obvious is Carl Edwards Jr., who has struggled with command and velocity through four hideous outings. Three of those came after Rangers manager Chris Woodward objected to the way Edwards’ foot landed before he made his stride to the plate and the delivery was ruled illegal. Joe Maddon had actually been informed of the delivery’s illegality late in spring training, but chose to let Edwards continue with it because it was his creation and he’d used it all spring.

We could debate at length the merits of Maddon’s strategy on that front, though it’s not nearly as egregious as inserting the struggling reliever into dirty innings in an effort to boost his confidence. After pitching a relatively clean low-leverage inning in Atlanta Monday, Edwards was brought into Thursday’s contest with two on none out and the Cubs trailing 1-0.

Two walks and a wild pitch later, the Braves had a 2-0 lead and the bases loaded with no outs. It only got worse from there.

Friday saw Edwards enter with one on and one out to face the bottom of the Brewers’ order in what Maddon probably thought would be a soft landing. The game had been out of hand early as the Brewers ambushed Quintana for an 8-0 lead, but the Cubs had scored five unanswered and things were looking up. Until, that is, Orlando Arcia launched an Edwards fastball over the wall in right to give the Brewers a 10-5 lead.

Beyond just the results, Edwards failed to display the elite velocity he needs to be effective. Though he touched 96 mph once, he sat 92-95 with most of his fastballs. That might not seem like a big difference, but it’s huge for a guy who relies on his heater to miss bats. Take away a tick or two, he’s pedestrian.

Brandon Kintzler would later give up a pair of singles and a three-run homer to close out the scoring for the home team, but he’d actually looked to that point like the only reliable member of the ‘pen. With seemingly everything going wrong, the Cubs are now in a position where they have to make a move or two. If not for the sake of the fans clamoring for them to do something, anything, the players need to see that the front office is serious about the whole urgency thing.

Well, inasmuch as they can be given the whole budget restriction business that’s hung over the team like a rogue cloud that sends down bolts of lighting each time Theo Epstein says “free agent.” In all seriousness, though, a move or two would at least shake things up. I mean, it’s not like it can get worse at this point.

The Cubs have plenty of options at Triple-A Iowa, whether it’s Allen Webster, Dillon Maples, Dakota Mekkes, James Norwood, or Kyle Ryan. They’ve even got Ian Happ down there, but the I-Cubs have yet to use him in relief and don’t appreciate all the questions about it, thank you very much.

The hope is that bringing up a fresh arm or two will give the Cubs better options than what they’ve had so far, but that’s not all. Sending Edwards down will given him the chance to adjust his mechanics, something he simply can’t do on he fly with the Cubs. It may also rebuild the confidence that’s been shattered by a few bad outings.

Then again, that part of the equation might be far more difficult to solve. Far be it for me to comment on what his actual mental state is, because for all I know he’s as confident and focused as anyone in the game. But from reading body language and facial expressions alone, it appears from a distance that Edwards is a defeated man.

Is the damage irreparable? I have no idea, but I certainly hope not. What’s evident at this point is that it can’t be fixed by bringing him along slowly with what should be favorable matchups. And Edwards might not be the only change. Perhaps Mike Montgomery goes on the injured list with lingering issues from earlier shoulder soreness. Maybe someone else, Kintzler could be a candidate despite his early success, is feeling under the weather.

Whatever the case, don’t be surprised to see a few new faces warming in the Miller Park bullpen this weekend.

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