Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/28/23): Bellinger Returns, Velázquez DH, Stroman on Mound

The Cubs were just on the West Coast last week and now they head to the Atlantic for two series against the Marlins and Nationals. First up is a trip to Miami to face a team that is treading water and could be pretty good if their stars pull out of early-season funks.

Marcus Stroman had no issues coming out of the gate, though he stumbled in his most recent start against the Dodgers and gave up five runs over as many innings. It was the only start in which he’s walked just one batter, which was more a function of hanging too many hittable pitches. Stroman has good enough stuff to work around the occasional free pass, particularly when he’s getting grounders at a high rate.

It helps when his offense is putting up runs behind him, which the Cubs actually did in that last start. They hung two on the board in the bottom of the 1st and then got another after the Dodgers tied the game. Stroman was unable to record an out in the 6th, however, walking the leadoff batter before surrendering back-to-back jacks.

Three runs may be enough to win tonight, but it’d be nice if the lineup didn’t force Stroman to be great. The Cubs will open this series as they have every other game this season, with Nico Hoerner batting leadoff at second base. Then it’s Dansby Swanson fresh off his first Cubs homer batting second at short, Ian Happ in left, and Seiya Suzuki in right.

Trey Mancini is at first, Cody Bellinger is in center after being reinstated from the paternity list, Patrick Wisdom is at third, and Yan Gomes is behind the plate. Nelson Velázquez remains with the team because Luis Torrens was DFA’d in order to clear a spot on the active roster. That’s actually very interesting because the Cubs could have optioned Velázquez or Edwin Ríos in order to clear space without making a more permanent decision.

That open spot on the 40-man roster could mean we really will be seeing Matt Mervis this weekend after all. The Cubs are going to need a pitcher on Saturday, which means they’ll probably option Jeremiah Estrada to bring up Caleb Kilian or someone else for a spot start. Then they can option that starter back down and bring up Mervis. Lots of moving parts.

Going for Miami is lefty Jesús Luzardo, whose big fastball has him putting up really strong numbers so far. He sits 97 mph with the four-seam and sinker, but the former is doing all the heavy lifting. Though he throws slider a lot, it’s very inconsistent and has gotten poor results. The changeup hasn’t been good in the early going after serving as an incredible weapon for Luzardo last season and keying his relatively even splits.

Righties have traditionally done most of the damage against him just because he faces so many more, but lefties hit better and reached base more often last year. Losing the feel for his changeup has limited Luzardo a great deal, as righties are batting .271 with a .345 wOBA against him. Lefty batters are at .271 and .313, much higher than in the recent past.

He’s still able to generate a lot of whiffs and his 14.0% swinging-strike rate is 11th in MLB among qualified pitchers. Working out of the zone a bit lowers his number of called strikes, but his 27.4% K-rate is 19th in baseball right now. After four walks in his first start, Luzardo has walked just five batters over his last four starts and should end up leaving plenty of pitches out there over the plate.

With 29 hits allowed over 27.1 innings, the dude makes plenty of mistakes when he’s not pumping gas past hitters. Time him up and run into a fastball or three and the Cubs can feast on secondaries that have looked like No. 2 on several occasions this season.

First pitch is at 5:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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