When Tyler Chatwood was pulled after walking the first batter of the third inning last night during a spot start to fill in for injured lefty Mike Montgomery (who, in a roundabout way, had taken his job), it kind of had the feel of “welp, that’s that.”
Were there not a background there, you’d think it was a ridiculously quick hook – after all, Chatwood had allowed three runs the previous inning, but two of them scored in the process of recording outs. So he walked a couple and gave up a double? Big deal, right?
Except we all know there *is* a background there, and Joe Maddon conceded as much when discussing the “early” pull for Chatwood (Cubs.com): “I didn’t see it getting better. The two walks [in the second inning] led to two of the three runs. … I know we’re not scoring runs, and I know [Pirates starter Joe Musgrove] is pitching really well. So it’s a bad assumption to think that if you continue to let them maybe get four or five [runs] at that point, that you would have any chance.”
In other words, Maddon could see things going off the rails like they have all season. He had a well-rested middle of the bullpen, so he tried to win the game. Good decision (and brilliant execution by the bullpen in vain). Now it’s time for the organization to make a good decision.
Had Chatwood looked remotely usable as a starting pitcher last night, it’s possible the Cubs would have had a very easy time deciding what to do the next time through the rotation if Mike Montgomery has to miss another start. But since Chatwood instead was more or less the same 2018 Chatwood to whom we’ve become painfully accustomed, consider me unsurprised:
Joe said if Montgomery isn't ready next time his turn comes up, they'll have to discuss what they want to do with that spot in the rotation.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 19, 2018
The tricky part for the Cubs is trying to decide in advance that it’ll be a bullpen day, because then you’ve got to hold some guys out before that start … which is hard to do when the rest of the rotation has been so inconsistent in the depth of its starts. Moreover, you’ve got Chatwood out there, and he cannot be used/trusted like an actual reliever. If Chatwood is not injured, I’d be inclined to say just bring up someone from AAA – anyone, at this point – to make that next start, or if Jesse Chavez or Jorge De La Rosa could give you four innings, go with them. How many more times do the Cubs have to learn the same lesson?
To that end, September just can’t arrive soon enough when it comes to these roster issues. Then, Chatwood can very comfortably be buried and retained, without really having a deleterious impact on the rest of the roster or the Cubs’ competitiveness.
He’s still young and talented, and the Cubs have two more years of him under contract. I totally understand – and agree with! – wanting to retain him in the organization through the offseason to see how he looks in the spring. It’s just making these final two weeks of August so challenging.
On the season, Chatwood has a 5.22 ERA over 101.2 innings (20 starts, 3 relief appearances). He has a low 17.8% strikeout rate, and a 19.5% walk rate that has been topped ONCE by a regular starting pitcher in the last 70 YEARS (Rangers Bobby Witt, 1987). Pitchers simply don’t get a chance to throw this many innings when they have such a historic inability to throw strikes. That speaks in equal parts to Chatwood’s talent and the Cubs’ lack of other options.
But let’s let last night’s quick hook be the last time he’s out there making a start for the Cubs this season.