Spot starter. Twenty-sixth man. Afterthought. Most casual fans had probably forgotten that Trevor Cahill was still a Cub, if they even remembered him at all.
Activated Tuesday in accordance with a rule that allows for a temporary roster expansion in the event of a scheduled double-header, Cahill took the bump in the first game of a twin bill against Milwaukee. Some nudged their neighbors and asked, “Who is this guy again?” Others wondered what the corresponding roster move would be. More on that in a bit.
In the interest of proper context, Cahill was facing a Broors team without Jonathan Lucroy (traded to Texas) or Ryan Braun (rest). Even so, pitching 5 innings of two-hit ball in his first start of the season and first MLB appearance since July 8 was no mean feat. He even helped his own cause with a sac bunt and made a nice play at first to become the first Cubs pitcher ever to retire Kirk Niewenhuis.
[beautifulquote align=”right”]The bunt came against perpetually red-assed dude-bro Matt Garza.[/beautifulquote]
— MLB (@MLB) August 16, 2016
The bunt was a delicious slice of poetic justice in that it came against perpetually red-assed dude-bro Matt Garza, who has a notoriously unfavorable opinion of small ball. He’s also a noted detractor of the Cubs’ rebuild, even going so far as to advise fellow disgruntled pitcher Jeff Samardzija, “You play in Chicago. You pitch your way out of there.” That strategy has worked well for Garza, whose Brewers trail the Cubs by roughly 50 games since he uttered those words. Talk about making you dreams come true. Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!
There really wasn’t much of note from the game itself, as the Cubs pushed across single tallies via sac fly, wild pitch, sac bunt, and sac fly in separate innings. Cahill allowed only two hits over 83 pitches before giving way to the resurgent Mike Montgomery. After an inauspicious start to his Cubs career, the lefty hasn’t allowed an earned run and has struck out 10 over his last 6 innings pitched. Joe Smith, on the other hand…
Brought in to mix things up with his funky sidearm delivery, Smith has displayed a troubling inability to get hitters out. In only 3.2 innings, Smith has faced 20 batters and has allowed 6 hits (3 home runs) while issuing 4 walks and striking out only one. He came on in the 9th on Tuesday afternoon and sandwiched a groundout between two free passes before getting the hook from Joe Maddon. And that may have answered the roster question raised by Cahill’s activation.
Like the Brian Matusz start a little while back, this wasn’t a game in which the Cubs were pushing their chips into the middle. Even so, you’re not going to leave a struggling pitcher out there to give away a 4-0 lead. You know Maddon was not happy about having to call for Aroldis Chapman to close out the game, a move that may have signaled Smith’s fate. Sure, he’s being pressed into heavier duty due to Pedro Strop’s injury, but being asked to record three outs against a depleted Brewers lineup isn’t exactly a tall task.
With John Lackey’s health still somewhat in question and a healthy division lead affording plenty of leeway, it only makes sense to keep Cahill around as a swingman. He’s got options left, though his service time means that he can refuse an assignment or become a free agent. So that’s probably not in the cards. Justin Grimm’s already used to shuttling back and forth to Iowa and could fall victim to the cruel reality of a full roster once more. Like the end of the game Tuesday, however, I’ve got a feeling Smith may have to be removed.
I guess we’ll know for sure by Wednesday, when the roster exception for the double-header expires. Whatever happens, a win is a win and Trevor Cahill looked pretty good in helping the Cubs to earn it. And they beat Garza, which makes it that much sweeter.
It’s dangerous to speculate on something like this, but I had a sneaking suspicion that someone would require a trip to the DL after Tuesday’s double header. Sure enough, the Cubs placed Joe Smith on the DL with a left hamstring strain on Wednesday. He’s been coming up lame in a figurative sense since coming over from Anaheim, so maybe the hammy can be blamed for some of that.
What a coincidence this transaction was, though, coming as it did right after Cahill was activated as the 26th man on the roster. In another turn of serendipity, a 15-day break would carry us just into September and expanded rosters. Weird, right? Man, everything just seems to be breaking right for the Cubs at this point. Unless…nah, I’m sure this injury is real. Yep, totally legit.
Whatever the case, Cahill and Grimm get to stay and Smith won’t be appearing in any games for at least two weeks.