Even when Marcus Stroman is fighting his mechanics, the Chicago Cubs right-hander delivers a quality start.
Stroman held the San Diego Padres to one run in six innings in the Cubs’ 7-1 win Sunday. His 11 quality starts lead the majors. The offense gave him plenty to work with behind a four-run second inning that saw Yan Gomes and Trey Mancini hit back-to-back home runs.
“Everybody contributing one through nine shows you the capability of our squad when we’re on,” Stroman said. “When everyone gets hot at the same time, things can shift, so I feel like we just haven’t had that yet. And today was kind of a bit of that, so hopefully we get it rolling.”
Here are three takeaways entering Monday night’s series finale.
1. Cody Bellinger finally is making strides in his recovery from a bruised left knee.
The lineup has felt Bellinger’s absence in the middle of the order, but he has made encouraging strides the last few days as he goes through his running progression.
It’s still undecided whether he will go on a rehab assignment. Part of the determination could be the opportunity to test his knee with the unpredictable movements in a game and seeing how he handles the up-downs of nine innings.
Bellinger conceded it’s “probably too aggressive” to return during this West Coast trip, though he isn’t ready to count it out. The last hurdle is eliminating the discomfort when extending the knee. His injury has progressed slower than he expected when he sustained it making a leaping catch at the wall in Houston.
“My internal clock, I obviously wanted to be out there by now,” Bellinger said Sunday. “I thought I would be, but the reality of it is these bones heal at their own pace.”
2. Miguel Amaya didn’t miss a beat in his big-league return.
The Cubs’ decision to carry a third catcher as the corresponding move for Justin Steele heading to the injured list speaks to the impression Amaya made during his week with the team last month.
Amaya made the most of his return Sunday, reaching base four times in the win. His three-hit day featured his first major-league home run — a no-doubt, 415-foot, two-run homer that put the Cubs ahead 7-0 in the third.
Amaya got the start as the designated hitter against Padres lefty Ryan Weathers, who lasted only 1⅔ innings. Amaya took reliever Ryan Carlton deep on an elevated fastball.
“While I was running the bases, seeing everybody cheering the home run, my mind went to my parents probably jumping at home,” Amaya said. “It’s something that I’m going to remember the rest of my life.”
Amaya’s home run ball was found in the bullpen and returned to him. He plans to send it to his parents in Panama.
Expect to see Amaya get work behind the plate, too, while he’s on the roster. It’s an incredible journey over the last month for the 24-year-old catcher, who initially made the jump from Double-A Tennessee after losing most of his last two seasons to Tommy John surgery and a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
“Since I got sent down, in my mind was I’m a big-leaguer, why not play as a big-leaguer?” Amaya said. “That’s all I did. Play hard, help my pitchers, help my team, go out there and have fun.”
3. The Cubs are seeking balance for Jeremiah Estrada’s heavy fastball usage.
The rookie right-hander’s elite four-seam fastball has played an important role in his earning a big-league opportunity this season as manager David Ross sorts through his bullpen options.
Finding the right balance with his pitch usage is a work in progress. Since the Cubs recalled him from Triple-A Iowa on May 15, Estrada’s four-seam fastball has accounted for 92.7% of his pitches thrown.
Over those seven appearances, Estrada has thrown 115 fastballs, eight sliders and one changeup. Of the eight sliders, four were balls, one generated a swinging strike, one a called strike, one a foul ball and one was a long three-run homer by Fernando Tatís Jr in Saturday’s loss at Petco Park.
Ross thought Estrada did a good job of incorporating his secondary stuff during his first three-game stint in the majors earlier this year. Estrada will need to trust his other stuff, particularly his slider.
“The key is being able to land your secondary stuff consistently so guys can’t be on that elite fastball and time that up,” Ross said. “You’ve got to be almost an outlier to be able to have one pitch at this level, especially if it’s a fastball, and have success. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but you’re going to give yourself a little bit of leeway if you’re able to land some secondary.”
The vertical break Estrada creates with his fastball combined with the velocity, averaging 96 mph, makes it tough on hitters. But at some point Estrada needs to incorporate his slider more consistently and land the pitch where he needs it. He also has a changeup and curveball in his arsenal, though the fastball-slider mix is capable of carrying him in the majors.
“I know with that fastball, it for sure got me to the big-leagues,” Estrada told the Tribune on Sunday. “Talking with the staff and also the catchers, it’s trust your stuff and do what gets outs. … I mean, they all know it’s coming and surprisingly they’re still missing. At some point someone’s got to hit the damn thing, but whether it’s some home runs I’ve been giving up or hits, I still trust it.”
Source: Berkshire mont