If you’re a reserve outfielder on the Chicago Cubs’ roster, you should probably expect to be shuffled up and down to AAA a few more times this year.
So it is with Junior Lake, who went from fill-in Jorge Soler starter to rarely used bench guy to roster space for an extra bullpen arm. Lake will head to Iowa for a while, continue starting, and possibly return later this year for more bench depth.
In his place, the Cubs add Brian Schlitter, who will help out in a pinch if the Cubs’ overworked bullpen needs to put in a lot of innings tonight. That makes nine relief pitchers on the Cubs’ roster (only bench guys tonight: Miguel Montero, Jonathan Herrera, and Chris Denorfia), which is crazy, and is something they’ve done an almost uncomfortable number of times this year. Thankfully, the versatility of the position players and the creativity of Joe Maddon hasn’t really made it feel like the bench is too terribly short.
You don’t need me to pile on about Schlitter’s struggles at the big league level this year. His numbers at Iowa have been markedly better, but he is very likely what he is at this point: a guy who can get a lot of groundballs if he’s on. If he’s not on, and he’s even a tiny bit up in the zone, he gets hammered. There is a place for a guy like that in the big leagues if he’s more frequently on than not.
What will be interesting is how and when the bullpen will be brought back down to eight arms. Imagine if Schlitter is not needed tonight, and the Cubs want to return to four players on the bench. They won’t be able to call Lake back up for 10 days unless he’s replacing an injured player. Matt Szczur was sent down a week ago, so he’s not eligible to return for three more days. Are the Cubs going to go with nine relievers for that long? Would someone like Christian Villanueva (already on the 40-man roster and raking at AAA Iowa) get a shot to be a bench guy? Would Arismendy Alcantara get a chance to come back up?
My tentative guess is that the Cubs will have a bloated bullpen for a few days, and then we’ll just see Szczur come back.