What You Need To Know: Duane Underwood, Jr. made an emergency start for the Cubs, and kept the game within reach, yielding only one solo home run in four innings of work. Justin Wilson gave up another solo shot to Chris Taylor in the eighth, which ultimately proved to be the difference.
The Cubs failed to capitalize on two premium scoring chances in the game, squandering two-on, nobody-out starts to both the fifth and eighth innings. They were able to scratch across a late run in the ninth inning against Kenley Jansen, but it was too little too late to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat.
Next Level: Monday night gave us our first look at Underwood in a Cubs uniform, after starting the season in Triple-A. Underwood features three usable pitches: a relatively straight fastball which sits at 92-94 mph, an average changeup which sits in the mid-80s and a big curveball. Scouts generally agree that the Underwood’s stuff could eventually play at the big league level, but the command needs improvement for him to have a chance as a starter.
Underwood was tested early on against the Dodgers’ patient lineup, needing 41 pitches to get through the first inning. His strengths and his limitations, as they currently stand, were on full display in that first inning. The right-hander struck out leadoff hitter Joc Pederson on a well-located changeup, but then failed to put away Max Muncy after getting ahead in the count 1-2, eventually leading to a walk. After a Justin Turner single and Cody Bellinger pop-up, Underwood and Matt Kemp battled in a 14-pitch plate appearance, which eventually ended in another free pass. Underwood got ahead of Kemp 1-2, but was never able to locate his finishing pitches where he wanted, either catching too much of the zone with his changeup (those pitches were fouled away), or missing wildly with his fastball. The next hitter, Yasmani Grandal, took a high changeup out over the plate deep to right-center field, but the ball eventually settled harmlessly in Albert Almora’s glove to end the inning.
Outside of Kiké Hernandez’s second-inning home run, the Dodgers didn’t threaten Underwood again, and from that perspective, his debut could be considered a success. However, Los Angeles was able to make some loud contact (Yasiel Puig’s second-inning groundout had an exit velocity of 115.3 mph), and he got away with some dangerous pitches. Justin Turner just missed a 90 mph fastball in the third inning which caught the heart of the zone, hitting it on the ground into a double play. And in Underwood’s second at-bat against Hernandez, Underwood missed badly on his last two pitches, leaving two changeups up in the zone and over the plate. Fortunately, Hernandez took both and the at-bat ended in a strikeout, but high changeups generally do not end that well for pitchers.
Monday night gave the Cubs some reasons to be optimistic about Duane Underwood’s future, but his performance showed that there is a lot of work to do before he can contribute consistently to a major league rotation.
Top WPA Play: Willson Contreras’ single in the top of the eighth inning, which put runners at first and second with nobody out (+.129).
Bottom WPA Play: Albert Almora grounding into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and third in the top of the eighth (-.281).
Up Next: The Cubs will look to halt their five-game skid on Tuesday night behind Jon Lester, who will face off against Ross Stripling in game two of the series.
Lead photo courtesy Kirby Lee—USA Today Sports