A collective groan was heard across Cubdom when it was announced that Drew Smyly was the scheduled starter for Sunday in Pittsburgh, with some folks offering less diplomatic responses. It wouldn’t have made sense even prior to Smyly’s previous start, so it really came across as confounding after the lefty gave up seven earned runs to the Tigers over 3.2 innings of work in the Cubs’ only loss in Detroit.
It didn’t help that David Ross rationalized the decision by saying Smyly was tabbed because the Cubs were thin in the rotation, which is true, and that they lacked a “dominant force” elsewhere in the organization. Bro, that’s like saying you’re going to walk 20 miles to work because your insurance will only pay for a Hyundai to replace your [insert car you feel is adequately pejorative]. Many fans expressed frustration and hoped the front office would step in, which may have been the case.
“Yeah, I think at this point he’s likely to be pitching out of the bullpen for a little bit,” Jed Hoyer said prior to Thursday’s win in Pittsburgh. “He’s been great for us early in the season. Last year in August he was amazing. You know, he’s struggled the last couple months and, obviously, I think we have to get him on track while also winning games.
“So I think that’s the plan right now, is to put him in the bullpen and we’ll figure out who’s gonna make starts going forward.”
Maybe this wasn’t a matter of the front office overriding the manager’s decision, though it certainly felt that way when Hoyer announced Smyly to the bullpen a day after Ross defended his decision to start the southpaw again. Even more telling is the fact that shortly after the Cubs’ rotation for the Pirates series was announced, lefty Jordan Wicks was scratched from his Wednesday start in Indianapolis. He remained with the team and threw a bullpen during the game, presumably to stay ready for the weekend.
Wicks isn’t on the 40-man roster yet, which is not a huge deal since the Cubs have two open spots, but room would have to be made on the active roster. As such, the team isn’t ready to announce any firm plans until the day of, though everything is certainly pointing toward the 2021 first-round pick making his MLB debut this weekend.
“He was scratched yesterday,” Hoyer told Marquee Sports Network with a smile he didn’t even try to conceal.
Look, I’d love to be able to give Ross the benefit of the doubt on this one and say that he just provided a list of starters for the sake of posterity. But he easily could have left Sunday as TBD, and explaining the choice to keep Smyly in the rotation makes it seem like something he was legitimately committed to. At the risk of being that guy, I do worry at times that some of these decisions are being made with less pragmatism than you’d like from a contending team.
And hey, maybe I’m just a big dummy who’s reading too much into it and this was the plan all along. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing Wicks get his first shot at the rotation.
Ed. note: One other way to look at this situation is that Ross naming Smyly as the probable starter was a way for him to dare the front office to make a move. If that’s the case, kudos to Ross.