Worn-Down Cubs Bullpen Can't Close Door In Loss

Chicago is 9-of-20 on save chances after a 6-5 loss to Cincinnati on Friday.

Bruce Levine
May 24, 2019 - 5:52 pm

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Needing some length from his starting pitchers to help rest a weary bullpen, Cubs manager Joe Maddon got the type of outing he needed from right-hander Kyle Hendricks on Friday afternoon. 

It just still wasn't enough, as the beaten-up bullpen blew not one but two leads in the Reds' come-from-behind 6-5 win at Wrigley Field. The deciding moment came when Eugenio Suarez hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth off Cubs reliever Steve Cishek, who had walked Reds first baseman Joey Votto to lead off the inning."

"I just left the ball in the middle," Cishek said of his ill-fated pitch to Suarez. "It was supposed to be a sinker down. I was going to try and pitch to his aggressiveness. It happens, so I will just look forward to tomorrow."

The Cubs had received just a combined eight innings from starters Cole Hamels and Jon Lester in their past two games, putting strain on their bullpen. Hendricks fared better, going six innings and allowing three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out nine. 

Prior to the Reds' ninth-inning rally, they tied the game at 4-4 in the seventh on outfielder Jesse Winker's run-scoring double off Cubs relievers Brad Brach. After the bullpen faltering, Hendricks gave his teammates his full backing.

"Those guys are always getting it done," Hendricks said of his teammates in the bullpen. "They have been used a lot. They can't come in every time and get the job done. They attack and try to make their pitches. They have been there all year for us."

Maddon hasn't been afraid of utilizing his relievers for more than an inning at a time when they're in a groove, such as when Cishek earned a seven-out save at Washington on Sunday night. But Maddon also understands that can take its toll and may be too much at times.

"It is the one-plus inning thing," Maddon said. "Those are the ones that build up for them. If these number of outings had been one inning, they would all feel better. Brach today one-plus. Cishek the other day, one-plus. That is the part that I think really wears them down. Everyone is looking for the next Rollie Fingers, but there aren't many of those."

While the Cubs bullpen entered the day with the eighth-best ERA in MLB, it has now gone an ugly 9-of-20 in save chances. The good news is that high-leverage reliever Pedro Strop is nearing a return in his rehab from a hamstring strain. He's been pain-free for more than a week and projects to return as soon as next week.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.