Chicago Cubs’ relievers struggling this spring

It was another bad game for the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen on Saturday night as the team lost to the Cleveland Indians, 10-5, in Goodyear, Arizona. After prospect Pierce Johnson impressed with four shutout innings, it got ugly fast.

Justin Grimm, who quietly was terrific out of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2015, pitched in the fifth and gave up four runs in 2/3 of an inning, including a home run from Michael Brantley. Grimm has given up seven runs in 3.2 innings so far this spring. Fernando Cruz was able to come on and finish the inning.

It got even worse in the sixth, as Neil Ramirez faced five batters and could not record an out. He was charged with five earned runs and has given up a total of seven in four innings this spring. Only one batter hit the ball out of the infield, while three of the runs charged to Ramirez scored after he left the game, but it still was not pretty.

The bullpen continues to be a concern this spring for the Cubs, as closer Hector Rondon has also been struggling. Rondon has been outstanding as the Cubs’ closer over the past two seasons, and it appears that as of right now he is not in danger of losing that job. He has given up nine runs in 3.2 innings so far this spring, but given his track record, this is too small of a sample size to hit the panic button at this point.

Grimm and Ramirez, however, are another matter. Grimm had trouble throwing strikes towards the end of the season last year, walking 11 batters in 11 September innings. He did walk two in last night’s game, so there is cause for concern. Ramirez, meanwhile, battled injuries throughout 2015 and hasn’t quite looked like the dominant reliever he was in 2014.

So, are Grimm and Ramirez in danger of not making the team? Assuming the Cubs carry 12 pitchers, at least one of them likely will not make it. Rondon, Pedro Strop, Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Travis Wood, and Clayton Richard are all currently holding down a bullpen spot, so assuming that none of them get injured or suddenly start to struggle, there is only room for one more man.

Throw into the mix Aaron Brooks, who came over from the Oakland Athletics in the Chris Coghlan trade, and Spencer Patton. Both have pitched themselves into consideration for that last spot this spring. Brooks has given up just two runs in seven innings, while Patton has allowed no runs in six innings. The Cubs could carry 13 pitchers and include one more guy, but given that several Cubs relievers are able to pitch multiple innings in relief, that likely won’t happen.

One advantage that Ramirez has over Grimm is that Ramirez is out of options. This means that the Cubs could not send him to the minor leagues without him clearing waivers first, which likely wouldn’t happen. All things being equal, if both continue to struggle, the Cubs could send Grimm to the minors to start the year. If Ramirez really is not at 100% physically, they also put him on the disabled list and delay a decision.

There are still two weeks to go in the Cactus League, so there’s still time for any of these players to pitch themselves onto (or off of) the roster. But Grimm and Ramirez are far from locks to make this team and will have to pitch better to earn an Opening Day roster spot.

Brian R. Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, available now on Amazon. Click here to visit him on Facebook.


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