By the end of the evening, it started to seem like the two mystery players coming up from the Iowa Cubs would be pitchers Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena, and today Sahadev Sharma confirms as much:
As others have said, Rob Zastryzny & Felix Pena will have their contracts purchased & be called up by Cubs. Unsure on corresponding moves.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) August 19, 2016
With the bullpen already taxed by a doubleheader this week, plus a “bullpen day” start coming on Saturday, adding an extra arm or two makes plenty of sense. That goes double with September’s roster expansion coming soon, and plenty of minor league pitchers who are otherwise going to be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after the season.
As we discussed last night, Zastryzny, 24, has been pitching exceptionally well of late at Iowa (29.6% K rate since July 1), and could bolster the Cubs a good bit if they need multiple innings in relief, or if John Lackey goes on the disabled list and the Cubs suddenly need a fill-in starter. A second rounder from the 2013 draft, I believe Zastryzny will be the first pitcher drafted by the current Cubs front office to reach the big leagues. Overall, Zastryzny has a 4.33 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 81.0 innings at AAA Iowa this year.
Pena, 26, has been pitching exclusively out of the bullpen for the I-Cubs this season, posting a 3.41 ERA (3.20 FIP), a 31.6% strikeout rate, and a 9.0% walk rate. He’s got a big league caliber bullpen arm, but, as is the case with so many excellent AAA relievers, the command has to be just right for him to succeed in the big leagues. As we’ve seen with Carl Edwards Jr., sometimes guys can just take that next step when they get up to MLB. And as we’ve seen with Spencer Patton, sometimes guys can’t seem to get over that hurdle.
Speaking of Patton, it’s a good bet that, after a couple innings of work yesterday, he’ll be one of the two players shuttled out to make room for the two new additions. He could return thereafter in September.
As for the other move, it remains to be seen. A DL stint for John Lackey is possible, as is a short-term option down for a pitcher like Edwards or Justin Grimm (though that would be fairly surprising). Hopefully there’s not some other injury lurking on the roster. Hector Rondon would be the one you worry about, given the recent triceps issue. Though he did finally come back to pitch twice this week.
Depending on when Zastryzny and Pena actually arrive, we’ll find out soon enough.