Saturday, June 25, 2005

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

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The Cubs may finally have a their starting rotation back...and then some.
Mark Prior emphatically silenced critics and skeptics with a dominant performance in his return from the DL. Prior is back with a vengeance. He gave up one hit over 6-shutout innings to earn the win over the White Sox.
Perhaps a little rest was just the thing Prior needed. He looked the best he has all year, (which is saying a lot). His fastball was hitting the mid nineties, and he had great command of his curve and wasn't afraid use it in any situation. This win could mark a positive turning point for the Cubs who have struggled with more than their share of setbacks this season.

It still remains to be seen weather Kerry Wood will return to top form, but we should find out very soon as he is slated to start this Wednesday against the Brewers. His track record would certainly suggest that he we haven't seen the last of his arm troubles. But at least this time it seems that the Cubs have been more cautious about rushing him back too soon so maybe it will be three months before he goes back on the DL as opposed to the usual 3 weeks.

So with Wood and Prior coming off the DL, the Cubs suddenly have 3 starters to fill one spot: Glendon Rusch, Sergio Mitre and Jerome Williams. One will get the job as the 5th starter and the other two would move into the bullpen. They are all quality big league pitchers who could be great assets in the bullpen. Rusch has the most experience as a reliever, which is to say he has more than zero experience as a reliever. It seems like wherever you put Rusch, it's not a bad decision, so he’ll most likely be designated to do just that, be a swing man and pitch everywhere. Mitre seems to be able to draw ground balls at will, which could make him very useful for getting out of jams, especially since he seems to thrive under pressure. But the Meat Tray has had some awesome starts recently and it seems a shame not to use him as a starter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him used as a trading chip.
Williams is still a bit of an unknown quantity to the Cubs, but as far as I know, he has always been a starting pitcher. While the bullpen may be a good place for him to ease into things, he seemed to do OK in his last start and his stuff is probably the nastiest of the three. I would expect that the spot in the rotation is his to loose.

The cubs now have perhaps the best rotation in baseball, and a good amount of both talent and depth in the bullpen; they just need to figure out how best to use it. I'd still feel a lot more comfotable with one more stud back there, like Urbina or Baez. That stud may be stashed away on the cubs DL in the form of Scott Williamson, who was a dynamite reliever before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Reports are that he is ahead of schedule, and could be healthy enough to pitch for the Cubs as soon as late July.