3 thoughts on Chicago Cubs’ 14th loss in 18 games, including reliever Ethan Robert’s season-ending injury – The Mercury News

Any momentum the Chicago Cubs had built after a series win against the defending World Series champions quickly evaporated.

The Cubs lost for the 14th time in 18 games on Thursday, falling 8-7 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the final of a four-game series.

A five-run rally in the eighth inning put the Cubs in position to earn a series split when pinch hitter Alfonso Rivas delivered a two-out, two-run single to give them a one-run lead. But the comeback attempt didn’t even last a pitch. Michael Chavis took righthander David Robertson deep for an tying homerun, and the Cubs eventually lost on a walk-off bloop-single in the 10th.

In a scary moment, a pitch in the bottom of the first, Cubs trainers rushed to the bullpen due to an apparent medical problem. Cubs bullpen coach Chris Young became dizzy during the inning, which led to a visit from coaches, including medical staff from the Pirates, and a six-minute delay in the game.

Young went to a hospital, was checked and is doing well, manager David Ross said after the game. Ross appreciated the patience of the umpires and Pirates.

“Down in the bullpen you don’t know if it’s a player or a coach, kind of stopped everything — you see the worry on people’s faces,” Ross said. “There’s just a lot happening. The medical staff was on top of it.”

The Cubs (26-44) go to St. Louis with the fifth worst record in baseball. Here are three thoughts on the team’s condition.

1. Reliever Ethan Roberts needs Tommy John surgery at the end of the season.

The right-hander was one of the best stories to come out of spring training.

The 24-year-old rookie’s camp performance earned him a spot in a major league roster behind an annoying slider for the first time in his career. Roberts landed on the injured list with a right shoulder inflammation in late April, but was working on his return to the Cubs when his season took an unfortunate turn. He left Sunday for his first rehab appearance at Triple-A Iowa after throwing one pitch and signaling pain for a trainer.

An evaluation revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Roberts needs Tommy John surgery at the end of the season. The procedure has not yet been scheduled.

“Even if we go back to the last calendar year, what he did to put himself on the map and the reason we put him on the 40-man off-season, because we believe in him and what he can do, and I think that he showed really good glimpses of that early in the year,” said pitching coach Tommy Hottovy. “It’s just a shame he didn’t get a chance to really show us what he can do over the course of the year. It doesn’t change anything. We believe in him.

“And whatever happens for the rest of this year, that moment in the dugout during spring practice when we told him he made the team, it’s one of those things you’ll never forget.”

Hottovy said he was not clear on whether Roberts’ injury occurred on the singles field or if something changed as he possibly adapted to the shoulder problem. Hottovy watched Roberts’ latest live batting practice from a distance and thought he looked great.

“All we got from the reports was that it was just one of those things,” Hottovy said.

Roberts is the second young reliever the Cubs have lost to Tommy John’s surgery this year, after Codi Heuer, the takeover trade deadline, had surgery in March. While it’s an unexpected hurdle for Roberts, the Cubs clearly have a lot of appreciation for him, both as a pitcher and as a person, after seeing him in camp and nine appearances in April. He should be given a chance to recover himself once he is healthy.

“We have a lot of confidence in Ethan, and he has real big league material,” said Ross. “I know he will work hard to get back.”

2. Defensive issues hurt the team.

The Cubs defense didn’t help their pitchers this week.

After a four-error game on Thursday, the Cubs made 10 over the four-game series. The miscues forced the Cubs to throw more and gave the Pirates extra opportunities offensively. Coming in on Thursday, five players on the Cubs active roster were able to avoid negative runs, led by infielder Jonathan Villar’s minus-6. Villar, who made a fielding error in the loss, is also in last place on the team with minus-8 Outs Above Average. That also ties him for second worst in the majors.

The Cubs’ 43 errors through 70 games are ninth in the majors. Ross said the Cubs need to “close things down” defensively.

“We need to get back to work,” Ross said.

For a Cubs team with no stars, the basics need to be executed. Too often this season, especially during their four games in Pittsburgh, the Cubs made careless on-field actions ranging from failing to hit the ref and not feeling the ball right. And given the number of one-run games they’ve played and been on the wrong side, defense can be a game-changer. In the case of the Cubs, it adds to the loss column.

3. Justin Steele’s slider use is remarkable.

Steele wasn’t afraid to attack the zone against the Pirates on Thursday.

He finished with a 78% success rate, relying largely on his slider to neutralize them. His slider accounted for 42% of his 100 pitches thrown in the loss, significantly ahead of his 25.9% season average with the field. Steele got 10 gadgets on his slider, a throw he could use in any situation against the Pirates.

Using Steele’s slider is an encouraging development, a sign that he feels comfortable going to it often, while also yielding positive results.

“I felt like I’d do it before a strike whenever I wanted, put it in the ground when I wanted to and put it in the back when I wanted to, so if you’ve got a throw like that under control and you need a strike If you have or need something to chase, that’s where you go,” Steele said.

Steele’s pitching line – six runs (five earned) and seven hits in 5⅔ innings with no walks and eight strikeouts – was not fully indicative of how well the left-hander threw.

“It was as clean and efficient as I’ve seen it so far,” Ross said. “His stuff played well, hung a breaking ball 0-2 costing him a home run. But for the most part he played very well. We didn’t give him a break.”

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