Cubs rookie Caleb Kilian again battles command in loss to Pirates

PITTSBURGH – Cubs right-hander Caleb Kilian stood on the top step of the visitors’ dugout at PNC Park on Monday afternoon, staring out over the freshly damp field. He’d found a quiet moment between pregame rain showers and his first road start in the major leagues.

Kilian’s time in the majors came sooner than the Cubs planned, sparked by a rash of injuries to the rotation. So, his continued development has moved to a bigger stage, and it’s already come with its rough patches.

In the Cubs’ 12-1 loss to the Pirates on Monday, Ross pulled Kilian one out into the third inning.The rookie had given up seven runs, five earned. And for the second straight outing, he’d issued five walks.

“We’ve got to give this kid a little bit of runway before we start changing too many things,” Cubs manager David Ross said before the game.

He referenced Kilian’s debut, against the Cardinals early this month, when he retired the first nine batters he faced. Ross compared that to Kilian’s second start, when he struggled to find a feel for his secondary pitches and threw mostly fastballs.

“Last one, not so clean and lack of command, which is not who he’s been,” Ross said Monday afternoon. “So, you’ve got to try to throw that outlier out and get back to work. We’ll see today, and the more information we gather at this level and what he looks like, then we’ll be able to assess and continue to work start to start. But right now I don’t want him to change too much.”

In between starts, Ross said, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy focused with Kilian on the consistency of his delivery.

That work, however, didn’t immediately translate into results Monday.

Kilian’s first inning held promise. He got ahead of Pirates leadoff hitter Ke’Bryan Hayes with a pair of called strikes, a fastball followed by a curve ball. Kilian went on to strike out Hayes on a 2-2 count.

He induced a flyout, although well struck, on a first pitch to Bryan Reynolds. And though Kilian got behind in the count to Jack Suwinski – a sign of things to come – the right-hander battled for a strikeout to end a quick first inning.

In each of his next two frames, Kilian walked the first two batters he faced. And those walks exacerbated the Cubs’ defensive mistakes. In turn, those defensive mistakes created longer innings for a young pitcher trying to bounce back from a rough last outing.

In the second inning, second baseman Jonathan Villar bobbled a ground ball that could have become a double play. Instead, it loaded the bases with no outs. A single and sacrifice fly brought the Pirates’ first two runs across the plate.

In the third inning, a hard chopper hit off first baseman Alfonso Rivas’ glove for a single, again loading the bases with no outs. This time, a wild pitch and a double brought in four more runs. And right-hander Alec Mills replaced Kilian.

Kilian at least mixed in his secondary pitches more than his last start, one he said “didn’t feel normal at all.” On Monday, Kilian threw 22 cutters and nine curveballs, accounting for half his pitches.

The Cubs are counting on consistent work with the big-league pitching coaches to pay dividends for Kilian’s development while the team is short on starting options.

The Cubs’ next off day isn’t for another week. Right-hander Marcus Stroman (right shoulder inflammation) is on track to be the first of three starters to return from the 15-day IL. He’s expected to throw a bullpen in the next few days.

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