Cubs need longer workdays from their pitchers

Cubs ace Kyle Hendricks threw a perfect 0-2 pitch Wednesday night to Gavin Sheets.

The pitch sailed barely below the outside corner of the strike zone where Hendricks couldn’t be hurt. But Sheets wisely didn’t chase.

Hendricks’ next pitch nearly dotted the low, outside corner, but it was located close enough for Sheets to calmly poke the pitch through a vacated left side of the infield for a game-tying single that eventually helped the White Sox to a 4-3 win.

While Hendricks provided in quantity with 5 2/3 innings following Tuesday’semergency start by Scott Effross, the Cubs veteran didn’t supply enough quality for a rotation that has been extremely inconsistent.

Left-hander Wade Miley, who threw four innings and 41 pitches Thursday in his first rehab start for Triple-A Iowa, will provide experience and potential efficiency once he joins the rotation before the end of the month — provided he fully recovers from a sore elbow.

After a rocky start, Marcus Stroman allowed two earned runs in 13 innings against the world champion Braves and defending National League Central champion Brewers. Stroman will start Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers with two extra days of rest.

But the rotation has been largely unpredictable, as reflected by its 5.16 ERA that ranks 12th in the NL and is averaging less than 4 2/3 innings per start.

Instances like Effross filling in Tuesday night after Drew Smyly was placed on the bereavement list have contributed to the short starts.

This remains a curious time for the Cubs, who need to stabilize the back end of the rotation while trying not to tax valuable reliever Keegan Thompson, who is often used by manager David Ross as a middle-inning stopper and has the same ERA (0.89) and WHIP (0.89) in 20 1/3 innings.

Smyly (2.79 ERA) has pitched poorly in only one of his four starts, but he needs to pitch past the five-inning barrier Saturday when he starts the first game of a split doubleheader against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.Bad weather forced the postponement of Friday’s game and created the need for the doubleheader.

The Cubs’ bullpen, which has a respectable 3.27 ERA, will be well-rested, but it cannot continue to lean frequently on the likes of Effross (1.59) and Thompson for middle-inning bailouts.

Left-hander Daniel Norris will make his first start since Aug. 2, 2020 (with Detroit) in Saturday’s second game. Norris hasn’t pitched longer than 1 2/3 innings in any of his five appearances, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be in an opener role.

But more revealing is that left-hander Justin Steele isn’t scheduled to pitch in this series. Steele displayed tremendous promise last September with five innings of one-hit ball against the Twins and seven shutout innings against the Pirates to complete his rookie season.

After blanking the Brewers over five innings in his 2022 debut, Steele hasn’t pitched past the third inning in three consecutive starts and will wait at least eight days before making his next start, likely next week at San Diego.

Miley may need two more starts before he’s ready to be activated, and prized prospect Caleb Kilian hasn’t pitched past the fifth in any of his five starts at Iowa.

After the San Diego series, the Cubs are scheduled to play 14 games without a day off against the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Reds — all second-tier NL foes.

Miley should be ready at the end of that stretch. And if there is no overall improvement in their rotation, and the Cubs need to further stimulate their prospect-crazed fan base, they could promote Kilian and his 1.83 ERA as trade talks involving their veterans start toaccelerate in June.

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