It’s not just the success that made last night feel important for Cubs reliever Michael Rucker, it’s the pitch mix he used to do it: 22 off speed pitches, 12 cutters and 7 four-seam fastballs. He’s such a good candidate for pitching backwards given his ability to command those secondaries and the relative lack of life on his mid-90s fastball. He had good feel for spin last night, and kudos to the men calling the game to recognize and embrace that quickly. Finding the right pitch formula for modest Major League success would be huge, because Rucker’s versatility is so darn useful.
Let’s quickly break down the day in the minors for the Cubs ….
Honorable Mention: One of these days I need to give 27-year-old southpaw Luis Lugo the deep dive that he’s earned, because here are the totals from his last 10 games in Double-A: 41 IP, 25 H, 1.10 ERA, 16 BB, 53 K. In fact, one of these days Lugo should find himself in Triple-A … Eduarniel Nunez with a solid two-inning save for South Bend last night, sitting 97-99 mph the whole outing. Control is always going to be the question mark there, but if you squint you can see progress: just five walks in his last 8.1 innings … I thought last night was Ethan Roberts’ most comfortable outing in Triple-A … Not mentioned below for Tennessee: Brennen Davis and Chase Strumpf both reaching base three times … Number six on here would be Alfonso Rivas, who led the I-Cubs with three hits (and added a walk). The line in Triple-A against RHP: .292/.440/.443 with 24 walks versus 22 strikeouts. It’s a significantly worse line against southpaws. I think it’s worth giving Rivas a Major League platoon test for the final six weeks.
Five: Liam Spence
South Bend led 2-0 for a good portion of this game, and it’s worth noting that those two runs were both brought in off Spence’s righty bat in his High-A debut. This was my first good look at the Cubs recent fifth round pick, who is listed at 6-1, 190, a slight frame with long limbs. Strong mustache. Extreme choke-up with two strikes. One really nice play at shortstop coming in and showing an extremely quick transfer from glove to hand with a strong, accurate throw to first. And quickly, let’s go through those 4 AB’s, all against southpaws:
- AB1: Struck out with a sword check-swing on a 86 mph changeup away.
- AB2: Runner on third, one out, infield in, Spence chops a 91 mph modestly-high fastball over shortstop’s head.
- AB3: Runner on second, fell down 0-2, worked 7-pitch AB, inside-out liner on 90 mph fastball to right.
- AB4: Went up 2-0, watched 94 mph down the middle, then uncertain swings on changeup off plate and good, low 86 mph sweeping slider.
Four: Nick Martini
I think the Cubs need to ask themselves who is more likely to contribute to winning Cubs Major League Baseball in 2022, Ian Happ or Nick Martini, and play that person in left field against right-handed pitchers for the rest of the season. Maybe Happ’s continued presence in the lineup tells us their answer to that. But I’ll admit that every good Martini game in Triple-A (which is a daily occurrence the last four weeks), and every bad Happ game in the bigs (also a near-daily occurrence) is making me question it a little more. Martini, 31, is currently hitting .286/.407/.505 at Iowa with a 145 wRC+.
Three: Alex Canario
Seemed like we were headed towards his first forgettable night, outside of an outfield assist (and, conversation for a different time: he’s looked like a good outfielder in South Bend), before the ninth inning. And then Canario was thrown a middle-out pitch by a southpaw, and he did what he does, clubbing a home run to left for the fourth consecutive game:
Alexander Canario. Yet again. Three-run bomb. pic.twitter.com/PvV69iB4gH
— RushingBaseball (@RushingBaseball) August 12, 2021
Beyond the consistency of the power, I also want to point out Canario’s ability here to work into a hitter’s count and then find his pitch. In this particular at-bat, the outfielder took two good breaking balls that the majority of hitters in High-A offer at and used them to get ahead. He forced the pitcher to throw him something straight and into the zone, and that’s just not going to go well for pitchers. What fun it’s been to track him these last 10 days, sheesh.
Two: Cam Balego
His three-run homer capped a 10-run second inning for Tennessee, an opposite field shot off a high-away fastball. Balego finished the night reaching base four times. It’s been an oft-injured season for the 26-year-old utility man, but he’s healthy now and I think there’s enough time left in the season for Balego to prove he deserves a bench spot in Iowa next year. One of my favorite dudes to watch grind through an at-bat in the system, and a teammate that is raved about up and down the organization.
One: Max Bain
I don’t think I’m betraying Max’s trust here, but early in the season we were messaging about one of his starts, and I pointed out a particular changeup that had been nasty. He told me the pitch was coming along and the way it was going, there would probably be some outing in the summer where he threw changeups 20% of the time.
Last night’s changeup usage: 21.9%.
He got four swings and misses on the pitch, four ground balls (three for outs, one single), five foul balls and three balls. He showed the ability to throw the pitch to the inside corner against lefties, which is rare for this level, and threw a good handful when down 1-0 or 2-0 in the count. I expect more against right-handed hitters in the future, too. It’s been the best in-game development for him this season.
Since returning from a brief stretch on the Developmental List, however, it’s struck me how the Cubs have Bain thinking simpler. He pitches out of the stretch now. The velocity is down to 92-95, but the fastball is hitting corners. He’s really only throwing three pitches (47 fastballs, 16 changeups, 10 curveballs tonight). And he’s in attack mode, wasting fewer pitches and pitching into the strike zone more often. It’s no surprise that last night was the first time all year he walked just one batter.
There has been a disconnect for a large part of the season between Bain’s stuff and Bain’s results. The changes made in the last few weeks have helped close that gap, and we’re seeing how simplicity can breed confidence.
The book on Bain tonight. Keeping It Simple is the takeaway. 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K. pic.twitter.com/aohlQP0Jjg
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) August 12, 2021