Chatwood goes 6 scoreless in 1st '19 start

April 22nd, 2019

CHICAGO -- The first four pitches that threw for the Cubs on Sunday missed the strike zone. dropped his bat, jogged to first base with a leadoff walk and Chicago fans wondered if this was going to be more of the same on a long afternoon.

"I wanted to keep you guys on edge a little bit," Chatwood said with a smile after Sunday's 2-1, walk-off win over the D-backs.

Chatwood's command woes last year have been well-documented -- he walked 95 batters in 103 2/3 innings -- but the right-hander quickly showed that the first-inning free pass was not of the here-we-go-again variety. The starter swiftly induced a double play and it was that moment that was more indicative of what was to follow in the Cubs' victory.

Working on a limited pitch count due to coming out of Chicago's bullpen, Chatwood pieced together six efficient shutout innings. He issued two walks -- both erased by double plays. The right-hander struck out three, scattered two hits and left the mound in line for a win. Chatwood ended with a no-decision, but he set the tone for Chicago's eighth win in 11 games.

"I'm really happy for him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's gone through a lot. He's worked very hard to get back to this point. There's probably been many nights that he's been visualizing this and it just hasn't come to fruition. And it did today -- on Easter Sunday."

Why Chatwood?

With lefty Jon Lester on the injured list, the Cubs were originally going to have Chatwood make a spot start against the Angels on April 14. A snowstorm consumed Chicago that day, forcing the Cubs to postpone the game and eliminating the need to use Chatwood out of the rotation.

Plans changed with the D-backs in town this weekend and the Dodgers looming next week.

"It was based on sound thoughts," Maddon said. "Meaning, that you want righties against the Diamondbacks. The ancillary benefit there was the fact that Chatwood got an opportunity and took advantage of it."

Entering Sunday, the D-backs had a 100 wRC+ with a .769 OPS against right-handed pitchers, compared to a 126 wRC+ and .872 OPS against lefties. Initially, lefty Jose Quintana was scheduled to start on Sunday, but he will now take the ball on Tuesday against the Dodgers.

It's possible that the Cubs will throw three lefties at Los Angeles, with Cole Hamels penciled in to start Wednesday and Lester possibly coming off the injured list as early as Thursday. Entering Sunday, the Dodgers had a 112 wRC+ and .800 OPS vs. southpaws, compared to a 126 wRC+ and .855 OPS against right-handers.

"We know that 'this team' does better against lefties," Maddon said. "We know that 'the other team' does better against righties. So, the fact that we have a bunch of each, let's just try to figure it out."

Entering Sunday, the D-backs also had a 46.7 percent ground-ball rate against righties, compared to 38 percent against lefties. Chatwood took full advantage of that weakness.

Grounding the D-backs

There is no real secret to how Chatwood operates. He is going to lean heavily on his array of fastballs and mix in breaking and offspeed stuff when necessary. The only question is how well he can harness his heaters to set up the other offerings.

Chatwood was in and round the zone all day, making life difficult for the D-backs.

"He cruised right through our lineup and kind of overrode our game plan," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "When he can flip the switch like that and get his really good stuff moving in the right direction, he's tough."

Chatwood focused his two-seamer on the arm-side edge of the zone, meaning outside to a left-handed hitter. That specific pitch was responsible for four of the nine groundouts (11 outs total due to a pair of double plays) that the righty generated in the outing. He also created groundouts with his cutter (two), slider (one), changeup (one) and four-seamer (one).

"If the ball's around the plate, you're going to see a lot of that contact off the barrel," Maddon said. "The ball's moving so much at the end of the pitch. That's what he's capable of doing. The curve's good. The cutter's good. The change. He's got four good pitches now. It's not just the fastball."

Overall, Chatwood averaged 95.5 mph with his four-seamer, topping out at 97.1 mph per Statcast. The Cubs' righty averaged more than 96 mph on his fastball in the sixth inning, showing Maddon that there was still something left in the tank. Still, considering Chatwood had been in a bullpen role, the manager felt 71 pitches was the right time to pull the plug on an impressive start.

"I think as a competitor you always want to stay out there," Chatwood said. "I'm not going to lie, I was pretty gassed."

Chatwood had done enough.

"It's all about Chatwood today," Maddon said. "That was pretty spectacular."