Wins are going to be a precious commodity for the Chicago Cubs this season. Given that, the Cubs simply can’t afford to have alleged closer Jose Veras be ineffective when it’s time to put games away. Up 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning at St. Louis on Friday night, Veras hit two batters, saw one pitch get past his catcher that scored a run, and walked another, eventually giving up a run-scoring fly ball to allow the Cardinals to tie the game at three.
It marked the second time that Veras had a chance to save a victory and he failed to come through. It also marked the second straight game that the Cubs had gotten a great effort from their starting pitcher only to have the bullpen blow the lead.
Yes, it’s early, but the Jose Veras experiment has turned into the Jose Veras nightmare. Veras has almost always struggled with his control, walking more than 4.5 batters per nine innings for his career. He improved on that a little bit in 2013, allowing 22 free passes in 62.2 innings pitching for both the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros. But this season as a Cub, it’s as if Veras has no idea where the strike zone is. Not helping his cause is that he has been so wild that now even when he throws strikes, he doesn’t get the call, as happened on a pitch to Matt Carpenter in the ninth inning Friday just before Carpenter smacked the game-tying sacrifice fly.
Veras saved 19 games for Houston last season, but other than that he only has seven saves in the entire rest of his career. Now in his ninth MLB season, the Cubs are trying to make Veras into something he isn’t. For all the things Chicago is doing right in their “great rebuild” — including a minor-league organization stacked with hitters — using Veras as the closer is going to make what’s already likely to be a bad season even worse. The Cubs are playing hard. Entering Friday they were 3-6, but other than a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia, they had only lost the five other games by a total of six runs. That kind of effort has to be rewarded, and it will disappear entirely if the players keep seeing Veras blow up the rest of his team’s hard work.
It’s not as if the Cubs have a Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman on the roster as a proven closer, but in Veras, they definitely don’t have a closer. The sooner the Cubs realize that, the better the season will be.