The Rundown: Lester’s Left Lat Looms Large, Rotten to the Relief Corps, Schwarber Needs to be Aggressive

My first thought when Jon Lester begged off Thursday afternoon was that he was just done with a game in which he clearly didn’t have it. It was strained pride or a bruised ego, I reasoned, nothing to worry about.

There was even the possibility — and I saw this echoed elsewhere — that Lester feigned injury in order to buy more time for Mike Montgomery to get warm. The idea of his exit as an act of defiance gained a little steam when he confronted pitching coach Chris Bosio, presumably for not protecting Lester from himself.

Wait, don’t those things sort of contradict one another? Perhaps they do, though I wonder if there wasn’t a point at which Lester started thinking to himself: Man, when are they gonna come get me? My velo’s down and I can’t find the zone. Can Boz at least get out here and give me a break between batters? 

Coming off of a six-pitch 1st inning, Lester was immediately set upon by a pox from the BABIP gods when he took the mound in the 2nd. Every dribbler and floater had eyes and it seemed like every pitch that wasn’t hit sailed wide of the zone. By the time he walked off the mound, he’d thrown 40 pitches and had allowed nearly a bajillion runs in the frame. Even sans injury, that kind of workload could have taken a toll.

He finally, mercifully motioned for Joe Maddon to come get him, after which the dependable lefty starter made a beeline for his pitching coach and shared what was likely a short snatch of choice words. Bosio, incredulous, just stood there without responding. Lester then shook his head and took off for the clubhouse, which he quickly left to be examined by Dr. Stephen Gryzlo at Northwestern.

The hope is that this is an issue of Lester’s pride being more severely injured than his lat, but the fear is that it’s significant enough send him to the DL. Actually, given their weak upcoming slate of games and the need to be overly cautious with one of their best pitchers at this point, I think at least a 10-day rest is inevitable. Anything too far beyond that puts the Cubs in a tough spot as they keep treading water in the division.

Should Lester indeed hit the DL, you figure either Eddie Butler or Rob Zastryzny will come back up in a corresponding move. My money’s on the former, though that could just be a matter of me having an affinity for him after having the chance to interview him at Cubs Convention this past winter.

We should know more about the situation today.

Justin Time needs to change

The bullpen coughed up a bunch of runs to put Wednesday’s outcome in jeopardy and was again a fetid pile of hot garbage Thursday afternoon, spoiling the Cubs’ improbable climb back from a nine-run deficit. We’ve already talked about Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. enough here, so we’re going to focus on the homonymous pair of pitchers from yesterday’s meltdown.

Though he was short on arms and painted into a corner by Lester’s early exit, I’m not sure why Maddon would bring Justin Grimm into a tie game against a dangerous lineup. I’ve tried and tried to tiptoe around Grimm’s performance this year, hoping that he’ll revert to the lights-out reliever we’ve seen in the past, but it ain’t happening.

Dude has a 25 percent home run-per-fly ball rate and has now allowed 11 homers in just over 43 innings (2.28 HR/FB). To make matters worse, he walks 4.78 men per nine innings pitched. Issuing a lot of walks and giving up a lot of home runs is the absolute worst combination for a reliever, and Grimm held true to form at the outset of his appearance.

A DFA is perhaps too much for now, what with him having an option left, but I don’t see any reason for Grimm to be on the 25-man roster any longer. I’ll be shocked if he’s not optioned or cut loose, with the latter being a distinct possibility given the way Dillon Maples has pitched this year. Since he’s not on the 40-man, someone will have to go to make room. If that’s not Grimm right now, it could be come September.

The other Justin in the pen, the one for whom the Cubs gave up a pair of coveted prospects has been just as bad. Worse, if you consider what was expected of him. In seven appearances with the Cubs, Wilson has walked seven — including two on the only eight pitches he threw Thursday — and has struck out only five. He has a 3.00 WHIP and has allowed batters to reach base at a .485 clip.

But hey, he hasn’t given up a home run! Wilson was good enough for Detroit to merit a big move by the Cubs, and he’s still got the talent. I believe this is a function of him pressing to prove that he’s worth it, which clearly isn’t working. The Cubs really need him to settle down and just throw some strikes, simple as that. Seeing Justin Time spring forward would sure be nice.

Swing early, War Bear

Would you like to see a hitter with a .392 average and 1.482 OPS near the top of the Cubs’ order? Of course you would.

For as much praise as he’s gotten for a patient plate approach that has him seeing a lot of pitches, those numbers above reflect Kyle Schwarber’s results when he goes after one of the first two pitches in an at-bat. And with season totals of .204 and .763, that means the numbers drop off in a bad way when Schwarber starts working counts.

It’s hard to fault a guy for taking pitches, but when Schwarber gets into 0-2 counts or any of those in which he sees at least four pitches, he’s batting .130 with a .641 OPS. And lest you think I’m cherry-picking by including those 0-2 stats, consider that War Bear is hitting .222 with a .611 OPS in those situations. Dude has been brutally bad in 1-2 (.094/.356), 2-2 (.074/.222), and full counts (.143/.761), though he has hit five dingers in that aggregate sample.

Oh, and this is all without the results from Thursday’s wackadoo game in which Schwarber was 3-for-5 with a homer and a pair of singles. Wanna guess the counts in those results? His outs both came on the fifth pitch of their respective at-bats, both 2-2 counts. The hits came on the second, first, and first pitches he saw.

Clearly, this single game proves a point that I’d made back before he was even sent down. Tongue in cheek or no, it’s pretty clear that the burly basher of baseballs bats better when he’s (sorry, I couldn’t maintain the alliterative cadence) swinging early. Despite the strikeouts, his contact percentage is higher than it’s been in the past and he’s a much better hitter than what the numbers indicate.

Were he an actual predatory animal — a literal war bear — Schwarber looks like the kind that could overpower its prey but that would tire easily. As cliched as it is, Schwarber needs to be a see-ball-hit-ball guy at this point. That can and will change over time as pitchers adjust and he regains confidence or stops thinking so damn much deeper in counts, but for now he’s best served by pouncing.

More news and notes

  • Francisco Cervelli has been placed on the DL with wrist inflammation.
  • Trevor Rosenthal hit the DL with posterior elbow irritation.
  • Scott Feldman is expected to be placed on the DL and may miss the remainder of the season with knee trouble; basically, that game may have broken both starters.
  • The Astros and Tigers seem to be done when it comes to Justin Verlander, for whom Jon Heyman reports Detroit would still require a big haul. Don’t expect the Cubs to get froggy and leap if Lester’s injury is serious, as they’ve already spent a ton of prospect capital and would be dealing from a position of extreme weakness.
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