Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/19/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Wisdom in RF, Taillon Makes Season Debut

After closing out their series in Arizona with a win, the Cubs returned home and promptly had to postpone Thursday evening’s scheduled game. That has now been pushed to today, with a split doubleheader on Saturday. Imagine Cody Bellinger’s emotional swing from hearing they had a double hitter on 4/20 to realizing they actually just had to play two games.

Jameson Taillon is back on the bump for the first time this season after getting a late start to spring training and then being shut down with back stiffness. The righty had previously experienced calf cramping, so that and a mechanical adjustment caused his initial delay. I’m interested to see how he looks tonight after presumably correcting the issue of landing open, something I maintain may have been caused by his addition of a sweeper last year.

If he can correct it, this Marlins lineup should provide a relatively soft landing for his season debut. The Cubs appear to be hoping Kyle Hendricks can likewise get a little confidence boost, as he’s scheduled to start on Sunday.

I was so busy I failed to even get this out prior to the game, so the lineup is below.

Opposing them tonight is A.J. Puk, a big southpaw who had worked strictly in relief before injuries to the Marlins’ rotation forced him into a starting role. This is a guy who made 120 appearances between Oakland and Miami over the two previous seasons, so the transition to starter is difficult both mental and physical. That’s evident in his disparate strikeout and walk numbers through three starts.

After being a double-digit K/9 guy throughout his entire professional career at every level, Puk has just eight punchies in 10.2 innings. Even worse, he’s walked 14 batters to go with 12 hits. The most obvious issue is stamina, as he can’t just go out there and empty the tank. After sitting 96-97 mph as a reliever, he’s just over 94 this season. His pitch mix has also shifted a bit, with some of his four-seams and sweepers giving way to sinkers and splitters.

Though he started incorporating the latter offering last year, it has gone from 1.5% to 7.5% as Puk attempts to broaden his repertoire. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea for him because it may just add one more thing to think about and could keep him from leaning into his strengths. That big fastball played up even more because he got great extension with that 6-foot-7 frame.

Puk is still among the best in the league when it comes to extension, it’s just that having to keep a little gas for multiple innings means there’s not as much life on his stuff in general. I wonder if he’s aiming his stuff a little bit as well, hence the big walk numbers. The four-seam tends to work up in the zone but its location is erratic at best, same for his sinker.

His sweeper and splitter end up in nearly the same place, at the bottom glove-side corner of the zone, but the former ends up missing too often. It’s also seen a pretty drastic decrease in velocity despite still being the same pitch he threw last season, at least on paper. After being around 87 mph with a more traditional slider, Puk’s sweeper last year clocked in at 84 mph. Now it’s just over 81. The splitter has likewise lost a couple ticks.

The one positive thing that stands out so far is that Puk has limited barrels and hard contact to a significant degree. Even if the Cubs don’t turn that around, they should be able to get plenty of runners on base by stringing together hits and walks. Puk has given up no fewer than eight of those combined, and this lineup has been very good at capitalizing on mistakes.

First pitch is mercifully early at 6:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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