The Rundown: Hamels Benefits from Change in Debut, Chatwood Closes, New Look Bullpen, Anniversary of Munson’s Death

If you’re looking at the box score from Wednesday night’s game, don’t let the fact that Cole Hamels needed 95 pitches to get through five innings fool you. Dude absolutely shoved in his Cubs debut and probably could have gone at least another frame had three errors not cost him outs and additional pitches.

Rejuvenated by the change of scenery, the lefty touched 96 mph and averaged 93.8 mph on his fastball (data via Baseball Savant). That’s about 1.6 ticks higher than his season average, which is a nice sign. Even nicer was that the Pirates only put two balls in play against the pitch that has largely been responsible for Hamels’ struggles this season.

When that four-seamer is working, and it was despite occasional location issues, it sets up one of the most devastating collections of secondaries you’ll find in the game.

While the slider/cutter wasn’t particularly nasty in this one, the changeup was just…whoa. Not even Patches O’Houlihan could’ve handled the way it dodged, ducked, dipped, dove, and dodged. The arm action on it is identical to his fastball and it’s a pretty firm pitch, averaging nearly 85 mph. But when he’s throwing as hard as he was Wednesday, the drop in velo makes hitters look silly.

Of the 27 offspeed pitches Hamels threw, eight generated swinging strikes (29.6 percent). That, my friends, is what we call filth-tastic. His total of 14 whiffs came out to an overall 14.7 percent rate, which is in line with the most elite marks in the game. Not that you can equate a single start with a season of data, but it’s good to provide a little context for what we’re talking about here.

And while time and experience will eventually tell the story of how Hamels impacts the Cubs’ pennant run, this first start was not bad.

Chatwood in relief

With the Cubs up seven runs in the 9th, Joe Maddon handed displaced starter Tyler Chatwood a mop and asked him to clean up. It wasn’t pretty, but the outing was effective. Well, sort of. Chatwood somehow got out of the inning with only 13 pitches despite issuing a walk, though that was mainly because the Pirates were up there looking to hack.

Even if it wasn’t what he’d have liked, that situation is exactly what Chatwood needs right now. It’s probably best that he didn’t get a strikeout since that could get him thinking about missing bats. What’s best for him is to find a way to pump strikes, which is not exactly something he’s ever been able to do.

Kintzler adds bullpen depth

The Cubs officially added Brandon Kintzler to the roster Wednesday, optioning Randy Rosario to make room. The best move based on performance and potential would have been to DFA Brian Duensing, but the Cubs like to keep their options open whenever possible.

With Kintzler’s addition the bullpen now looks like this:

  • Jesse Chavez
  • Tyler Chatwood
  • Steve Cishek
  • Brian Duensing
  • Carl Edwards Jr.
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Pedro Strop
  • Justin Wilson

Brandon Morrow’s return probably spells the end of Duensing’s days and gives the Cubs a very formidable unit that features four pitchers who served as their team’s primary closer at one point or another. Several more of them have closed and nearly all are comfortable in high-leverage outings.

Things figure to get even deeper if and when Drew Smyly returns from his Tommy John rehab, which could come by early September. That allows him plenty of time to get his sea legs and also gets the Cubs past the 25-man roster crunch. They plan to stretch the lefty out as a starter, though he figures to work more in long relief and could factor in the playoff ‘pen if he rounds into form.

And then you look at Yu Darvish coming back at around that same time, which would push Mike Montgomery back to his relief role. It’ll also push Chatwood off the playoff roster, though his own performance has pretty much taken care of that.

More notes

• An article in the New York Times looks back at the life and death of Thurman Munson 39 years after the tragic plane crash that ended his life on Aug 2, 1979. Because I was exactly two months old at the time and my family really only followed the Cubs, my only exposure to Munson has been anecdotal in nature. Even so, his untimely demise elevated his legacy to something almost mythical. Like the Cubs’ Ken Hubbs, who died similarly 15 years earlier, the aching desire to know what could have been will never be satisfied.

• It was widely reported that the Padres were after Chris Archer, but Dennis Lin of The Athletic writes that they once discussed a trade for Aroldis Chapman (subscription required) and also asked about Manny Machado this year. So they’re either really serious about trying to compete now or they’re simply fooling everyone into thinking they are.

• ICYMI – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo seems like a touchy fella. He DFA’d one pitcher for throwing his glove down on the mound in a blowout win and traded Kintzler because Rizzo believed the reliever was a media informant.

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