Cubs bullpen settling into roles, carry heavy load in extra-innings vs. Braves

ATLANTA — The Cubs bullpen carried a heavy load Wednesday as the Cubs beat the Braves 6-3in extra innings.

Wednesday was essentially a bullpen day for the Cubs, with manager David Ross pulling starter Mark Leiter Jr. after throwing two scoreless innings.

The right-hander had consistently tossed shutout frames the first time through a lineup in his previous two starts, but he’d gotten into trouble after that. So, Ross left him in for 10 batters, facing Braves leadoff hitter Ozzie Albies twice.

Then, the bullpen took the ball for the rest of the game. And though the Braves tied it up in the eighth, the Cubs’ staff held off the Atlanta offense long enough for a comeback.

At the end of a whirlwind spring training, during which the Cubs went on a veteran pitcher signing spree, the Cubs bullpen was made up of a mix of experienced pitchers and youth. That dynamic was on display Wednesday.

“You just appreciate the day to day consistency of the way [the veterans] attack their job,” Cubs bullpen coach Chris Young said. “And I think the young guys have been really receptive to just kind of watching.”

On Wednesday, the veterans watched as the young relievers held the Braves to one run through the sixth inning. Then, they handled the back end.

When multi-inning reliever Keegan Thompson took the ball in the third inning, the Cubs had expanded their lead to 3-0.

Thompson has filled a crucial role for the Cubs early in the season, coming off a condensed spring training when starters didn’t have the time to build up to their normal work loads.

“He’s just filling up the strike zone and challenging guys,” Young said last week. “I think every time he goes out there he gets more confidence and belief in just how good his stuff is when it plays in the strike zone. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Entering Wednesday, Thompson had yet to allow a run in four outings. That streak ended on Wednesday at 16 1/3 innings, as Braves five-hole hitter Travis d’Arnaud drove an RBI single to center field. It was bound to eventually. But that was the only run Thompson gave up in a three-inning outing.

Side-armer Scott Effross replaced Thompson, tossing a 1-2-3 sixth inning which featured a diving play on a ground ball up the line from first baseman Frank Schwindel.

Those two relievers represented the youth in the Cubs bullpen. They’re both right-handed homegrown pitchers, but they give completely different looks to hitters with wildly different arm slots.

Some combination of Rowan Wick, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens, and David Robertson have consistently made up the back end of the bullpen for the Cubs — all veterans except for Wick.

On Wednesday, Martin, an imposing presence on the mound at 6-foot-8, took the mound in the seventh and retired the side in order against his former team.

Right-hander Mychal Givens took over in the eighth. But he couldn’t quite work out of a bases-loaded jam, giving up a two-run single to Dansby Swanson as a groundball single snuck through a hole on the right side of the infield with two outs.

Robertson replaced him to get the final out of the frame, but the Braves had tied up the game. Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to force extra innings. Ross has not named an official closer, but Robertson leads the team in saves.

The offense delivered in the 10th, aided by the extra-innings ghost runner on Cubs cleanup hitter Willson Contreras’s RBI double. But they would have scored without the free runner to start the frame. Patrick Wisdom followed up Contreras’ heroics with a two-run double.

Wick secured the Cubs’ win with a scoreless final frame.

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