SAN DIEGO — There may come a day soon when Wade Miley helps stabilize the Cubs’ pitching rotation with his veteran presence and heavy appetite for innings. That day did not come in his Cubs debut.
The 35-year-old left-hander was called upon Tuesday night with Chicago down one frontline starter and trying to piecemeal the rest of the rotation. Though he had only one rehab start and no Spring Training outings under his belt after battling elbow inflammation, Miley answered the call and gave the Cubs 64 pitches.
Those 64 pitches carried Miley only through the third inning, however. In what became a de facto bullpen game, the Cubs dropped a 5-4 decision to the Padres at Petco Park. Now the Cubs face the challenge of a bona fide bullpen game on Wednesday afternoon as they attempt to secure their first road series victory of 2022.
Miley walked five batters in his three innings and allowed three runs, but he escaped jams in the second and third innings to limit the damage and keep the Cubs in it. When manager David Ross tabbed Robert Gsellman for the bottom of the fourth inning, Chicago was one run down, 3-2.
“Wade was all right. He wasn’t as sharp as he’d like to be,” Ross said. “He had a lot more walks than normal. But for what we needed and how badly we needed some starting pitching, for him to go out there and give us a chance to win and give him something to build on and get back to full strength, I thought it was pretty good.”
The Cubs snared Miley off waivers in November as his former club, the Reds, went into full rebuild mode. The Cubs, of course, profess the desire to compete as they transition into the next version of themselves.
Miley and fellow veteran starters Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly are in Chicago for that reason. But Stroman is on the injured list (undisclosed reason), as are potential starters Alec Mills (lower back strain) and Adbert Alzolay (right elbow tightness). Plus, lefty Justin Steele exited his last start early because of left thumb soreness.
Thus, Miley was pressed into action with precious little foundation, even accounting for recent live batting-practice sessions against teammates. With 278 big league starts under his belt, Miley nevertheless felt the adrenaline for this one.
“I just got quick,” Miley said. “I was a little too amped up. I got the first two quick outs and was able to stay calm, but when the pressure went up, I went with it instead of staying calm. Instead of making pitches, I let myself get frustrated, get angry. I’m not a good angry pitcher, so I’ve got to find a way to calm down out there.”
Even with Miley hitting his pitch limit early, the Cubs darn near pulled off their second straight victory in San Diego.
San Diego County native Alfonso Rivas delighted his family in attendance with his third career home run, a two-run drive in the third inning, and the Cubs got within a run in the final inning. They had the bases loaded against uncharacteristically wild Padres closer Taylor Rogers when pinch-hitter Frank Schwindel rocketed a ball to left field, mere feet from a grand slam, before Jurickson Profar gloved it at the wall for the final out.
“That was a heartbreaker,” Ross said. “I was really proud of the way the guys fought today against a good closer on the mound, good at-bats all the way. I think everybody thought that was a homer, for sure.”
Miley certainly did, watching on the clubhouse TV. He had little time for what could have been, however, with his focus turning to his next start. He knows the Cubs need the Wade Miley who gave the Reds 163 innings last year while posting a 3.37 ERA (and throwing a no-hitter for good measure).
That 2021 resume certainly outweighs the 2022 sample of one start. But the past is written. The future could go any direction.
“I’m just hoping my body responds,” Miley said. “I’m just hoping I respond well and can get back out there in five days.”