Tsuyoshi Wada didn't pitch much for the Cubs this year, and didn't pitch all that well when he did. This outing doesn't look great in the boxscore, but he did have nine strikeouts and the Cubs came from behind to take the lead, then hung on with excellent bullpen work.
The win, which followed a pair of losses, put the Cubs at 22-17, still in second place behind the Cardinals, 4½ games behind.
In Japan, Tsuyoshi Wada was nicknamed "Dr. K" for all the strikeouts he had. Over 1,444⅔ innings he struck out 1,329, or 8.3 per nine innings. That figure isn't all that great by MLB standards -- it would rank tied for fourth among current Cubs starters if Wada had enough innings to qualify -- but Wada did better than that in his first 2015 start for the Cubs.
He struck out the first four batters he faced and nine overall in 4⅔ innings.
And then Joe Maddon came to get him after just 69 pitches. Well, you know what that does with this year's Cubs bullpen. Nervous time, right? Here are two reasons Maddon did what he did Wednesday night:
Last season, batters hit .204 vs #Cubs Wada 1st time thru lineup; .255 2nd time, and .360 3rd time— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 21, 2015
The Padres were on their third time around Wednesday night, so this makes sense. Also:
#Cubs Maddon felt Wada may have been a little tired after running bases in the 5th. Didn't like matchup vs Norris— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 21, 2015
So while I'd usually not be in favor of lifting a starting pitcher that early, this time it made sense. And fortunately, the pen was up to the task, as Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup, Jason Motte, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (ninth save) combined for 4⅓ scoreless innings with only two singles and three walks allowed, and six total strikeouts.
That's what is going to have to happen if the Cubs are going to go on any extended winning streak, good work out of the pen. Of course, going forward you'd think that Wada will have to go deeper into games if he's going to stick in the rotation. But that was an impressive debut; the only glitch was a colossal two-run homer he allowed to Justin Upton that gave the Padres a 2-1 lead.
The Cubs had scratched a run early. In the first inning, Kris Bryant singled and Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch (No. 12), and then they executed a double steal. For Rizzo it was his ninth stolen base, which would put him on pace to steal 36 bases. That likely isn't going to happen, but he's picking his spots well, and nine steals in 11 attempts is a good percentage.
Starlin Castro grounded to short and the Cubs had a run. They scored again in the fifth when Wada reached on a walk and Dexter Fowler laced a triple into the right-field corner, the "tired" that Maddon referred to above. Bryant hit a sacrifice fly to medium-deep left-center and the Cubs had taken back the lead that Wada had given up on the Upton homer.
Then it was up to the pen, and despite those walks above, they did the job, with Rondon striking out Abraham Almonte to end it, and the series was tied at one game each.
Wada doesn't have great velocity. The TV pitch speed indicator didn't show him as throwing faster than 90 more than a time or two, but he was able to locate his pitches well and that's what resulted in all the strikeouts. Pitchers can be very, very effective if they can locate, even without throwing 95-plus. That's what Kyle Hendricks did so well last year and it's also why Hendricks has struggled this year -- he hasn't been able to locate effectively. If Wada can keep doing this, he'll be just fine, and he should also be able to last more than 69 pitches in his starts going forward.
One amusing thing happened to Wada during the game, which you might have seen on the telecast:
Yes, #Cubs Wada did find a credit card in foul territory after the 3rd inning. Gave it to a security guard. Didn't recognize the name.— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 21, 2015
If a credit card was lost in that area, it likely belongs to a Padres employee or member of the media. Perhaps we'll find out later today.
The Cubs will go for the series win Thursday night with Hendricks facing Odrisamer Despaigne (and I've been copy/pasting that name because typing it always seems to wind up with letters misplaced). I don't know about you, but I'm very happy this game starts an hour earlier, at 8:10 CT.