WASHINGTON -- With the Cubs' bullpen still fluid given the injury to Brandon Morrow and some recent ups and downs by C.J. Edwards, the opportunity is there for a reliever to succeed while being thrown into some high-pressure situations. Thus far, Justin Wilson has made the most of his chances.
Wilson has continued to impress of late, with 14 straight scoreless outings over eight innings of work dating to Aug. 7, including a critical hold in Thursday night's 6-4 win over the Nationals. He entered with two on and one out, and struck out a dangerous right-handed hitter in Mark Reynolds and retired Wilmer Difo on a fly ball to end the threat.
The lefty had stranded 29 of 31 runners this season entering Friday, a 93.5 percent clip that led the Majors, and a big reason why manager Joe Maddon continues to show faith in Wilson.
"We talked about this a lot in Spring Training, that he could be the linchpin to this whole season in the bullpen, and right now, he's demonstrating that," Maddon said. "What he's doing right now is [throwing strikes] with that little extra thing he's got at the end. That gets out righties and lefties."
As might be expected, Wilson is holding left-handed hitters to a .188 average, but he has also been effective against righties, holding them to a .215 clip.
"I've always been close to a reverse splits guy, if not a full reverse split guy," Wilson said.
Perhaps the biggest attribute of Wilson's recent success is a mental one. While he struggled to keep everything in check last year, when he dealt with control issues, this season, Wilson is keeping it simple.
"I feel a lot freer," he said. "You pitch when your name is called. When I get told to warm up, I warm up. You keep it simple like that, there's not a whole lot to it."
Zobrist injury shuffles lineup
Maddon's initial lineup on Friday featured a rare occurrence -- Kristopher Bryant was scheduled to play center field for the just the second time in his MLB career. But when Benjamin Zobrist, who was slated to be in right field, reported a stiff neck, Maddon decided to scratch Zobrist and move Bryant to right and Ian Happ to center.
"Zobrist was in the lineup, we communicated, [he was] a little stiff," Maddon said. "Take your day and that way he should be good for [Saturday] and probably Sunday, too. He was going to get Sunday off regardless, so now we just changed it around a little bit, that's all."
During the Cubs' 23 games in a 23-day stretch, Maddon said he wants to make sure that everyone gets a chance to get some time off to keep everyone relatively fresh for the final few weeks of the regular season.
"The biggest thing I have is the rest component with the players," Maddon said. "[Daniel Murphy] had a day off the other day. I gotta work Bryant in there and I gotta work [Javier Baez] in there, too. Otherwise, I think everybody else has had their moments off. Bryant and Baez will be next."
Shifts lead to tough calls
Baez was assessed a tough error in the fourth inning of Thursday's game while playing in right field as the Cubs shifted against Bryce Harper. Baez ranged deep to snag the ball, but his throw from the halfway point of the outfield didn't connect with starter Kyle Hendricks, who was attempting to cover the base.
Maddon felt that Baez's 12th error of the season was undeserved and speaks to a larger issue of scoring as teams depend more and more on the shift to try and take away hits.
"I think if they really want to make some changes, I think any time an infielder makes a play on the grass, or attempts to make a play on the grass, and is unable to, it should be a hit," he said. "At least balance it out for the hitter a little bit. If you start on the dirt, that's different. If you start on the grass, that's a different world."