Javier Assad’s command has been a staple of his big-league success.
Since his transition to the rotation one month ago, it has served as the basis for his ability to give the Chicago Cubs quality starts. Coming off the deepest start of his career with eight shutout innings in Cincinnati, Assad searched for his command throughout a 6-2 loss Thursday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I tried to take it inning by inning and I tried to maintain the score as low as possible,” Assad said through an interpreter. “But I definitely struggled with the command.
“I left the pitches in the strike zone a little too much today so I think that may have contributed to it.”
The loss in the opener of a four-game series at Wrigley Field dropped the Cubs two games behind the idle Milwaukee Brewers. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, pulled within three games of the Cubs for the second National League wild-card spot.
Assad surrendered three runs and scattered seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Cubs (76-65) were fortunate more well-struck balls didn’t find holes. Conversely, they were unlucky offensively with two barreled balls landing for flyouts and four other outs that featured an expected batting average over .420.
The game fittingly ended another hard-hit ball with nothing to show for it: a 101.1-mph exit velocity and .580 xBA on Seiya Suzuki’s sharp grounder to third base with runners on the corners.
“If that’s 5 feet to the left, Seiya’s on second and two runs come in and just keep going like that,” said Nico Hoerner, who had two hits. “All that matters. We have a lot of games against them moving forward so it all adds up.”
The consistency the Cubs have seen from Assad since he slotted into the rotation Aug. 5 is why he has become so valuable as he uses the great defense behind him to produce quality outings. He entered Thursday with a 1.95 ERA and .212 average against in his five starts over the last month.
Assad hadn’t gained much attention outside the Cubs organization while in the minors because he doesn’t own the eye-catching stuff that becomes notable when a player works his way up the system.
Assad, 26, is a great organizational example of having an opportunity to help the team that signed him from Mexico as teenager get back to the postseason.
“We focus so much on prospects that there’s a ton of guys down there trying to prove everyday who they are and that they’re worthy of being big leaguers and staying,” manager David Ross said Thursday. “Javy’s one of those great stories for sure.”
Stroman takes next step in build up
Right-hander Marcus Stroman threw a 29-pitch live batting practice Thursday in Arizona, the next step in his progression.
It’s the first live BP he threw since reporting to the Cubs complex in Mesa, Ariz., as he rehabs from the right rib cartilage tear he suffered Aug. 13. Stroman hasn’t pitched for the Cubs since July 31 because of right hip inflammation that required time on the injured list. He was scheduled to return Aug. 6, but the new rib injury kept him on the IL and put an unknown timeline on his return.
Throwing live BP is an encouraging step, and the team wants to see how his body responds Friday.
“I think he’s ahead of schedule from what I thought it would be, so that’s good news, but it only takes one pitch to set it back,” Ross said. “Being injured is just, you work your way back. You don’t know how intense the bullpen is or live BPs, when he has to cover first in a game or live BP or back up a base. Little things can pop up and make you sore again or reaggravate the injury.
“It’s a lot a lot of wait and see. There’s a long process to get him back. He’s working his way back to be able to help us, but still got a little time left until he’s going to be able to come up here and help us compete.”
Ross isn’t worrying about how he would work Stroman back into the mix even if his return occurs around the start of the postseason.
“I want as many good players we can get,” Ross said. “Stroman is really good player. … You don’t take some of the best athletes in the league and leave them by the wayside just because they hadn’t been there. You try to find, where does it fit in? What’s the best fit? Do we have holes? Where’s the hole?
“What that role is for him will still be defined as he continues to get healthy, hopefully, and we’ll figure it out then.”
Seiya Suzuki is on a scorcher
It turns out that a mental break as part of brief benching one month ago was exactly what Suzuki needed to find confidence.
The Cubs right fielder has been particularly locked in since Aug. 18, hitting .382 with a .429 on-base percentage and slugging .737 in his last 20 games entering Thursday. His 10 doubles and 16 extra-base hits led the majors in that span while his 56 total bases were tied for third.
Ross said the key has been Suzuki’s mentality and how he was able to take in the game when he was on the bench last month.
“When you’re not having success you’re used to, you can beat yourself up a little bit and we tell ourselves negative thoughts when things aren’t going good,” Ross said. “He’s in a confident place. He came back with a joy to play baseball, like, hey, I’m going to go out here and have fun. You see how much fun he’s having. You see the production and then the confidence builds.
“This is the player I thought we were getting.”