It didn't take long to see why general manager Jim Hendry acquired former Cubs starter Steve Trachsel from the Orioles on Friday.
Sean Marshall's poor outing in a 6-1 loss to the Astros, along with his 6.18 earned-run average in August, was only one reason to add starting help for the September stretch drive.
Carlos Zambrano finished with a 7.06 ERA in August. Ted Lilly was at 5.05 for the month and Jason Marquis' ERA is 5.45 since the All-Star break. Marquis, Lilly and now Marshall all have experienced shaky first innings in their most recent starts.
"You can see why we've gotten a veteran pitcher who has been through this before," manager Lou Piniella said.
At the end of the day, the Cubs were 1½ games ahead of Milwaukee and two games ahead of St. Louis.
Although Cubs starters rank second in the league to San Diego with a 4.08 ERA, they're clearly not pitching like the same five who have kept the team afloat most of the season.
Marshall lasted only 3 2/3 innings, yielding four runs on five hits with four walks.
The first of Hunter Pence's two home runs—a three-run blast in the fourth—led to another early exit for Marshall, whose spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy.
"It's up to the management and up to the skipper what he wants to do next," Marshall said. "I just have to keep pitching well to stay in it. I like to compete."
Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who came in with a 7.80 ERA in road games, shut the Cubs out on four hits over six innings as the Cubs fell to 13-21 against lefty starters.
Piniella ruled out any possibility of a letdown after the emotional series against the Brewers.
"It had nothing to do with it," Piniella said. "We just didn't hit and didn't pitch good."
The day began with the news that Hendry had dealt prospects Rocky Cherry and Scott Moore to the Orioles for Trachsel, who was 6-8 with a 4.48 ERA but 1-1 in six August starts with a 2.37 ERA. The Cubs will pay the remainder of Trachsel's $3.1 million salary, about $500,000. They also have a $4.75 million option on him in '08.
Trachsel, 36, will enter the rotation, giving the Cubs six starters to get through the stretch run. Piniella said he will use a "modified" six-man rotation, and that Trachsel will start a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers next week.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who managed Trachsel in Tampa Bay, said they will try to split up the three left-handers, instead of having Lilly and Marshall follow each other in the rotation, and go with whatever is the best matchup.
If Trachsel starts Monday against the Dodgers and the Cubs use a six-man rotation for the time being, Zambrano can pitch Tuesday against the Dodgers and Sept. 10 in the makeup game against St. Louis at Wrigley. That would put Zambrano on track to pitch in the Sept. 15 double-header in St. Louis, along with Trachsel. Otherwise, Zambrano will miss St. Louis both times.
Hendry didn't give any hints as to how Trachsel will fit into the mix.
"Lou and Larry will figure that out," Hendry said. "If they want to give somebody an extra day of rest, they can. Like [Thursday] night, for whatever reason, we're in the fourth inning and Ted had thrown 80-something pitches. …
"I try to get them the best players I can. [Piniella and Rothschild] control when they pitch, when they play. They were both very excited about trying to get Steve. I'd been talking to [former Cubs and current Orioles President Andy MacPhail] the last seven to 10 days about it."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times