Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny carving out effective role in bullpen

LOS ANGELES -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has seen it before, so he isn’t closed minded about a rookie pitcher making an impact for a playoff team, even into October. Just ask him about Francisco Rodriguez when he was a coach with the Los Angeles Angels or David Price during his Tampa Bay Rays tenure.

Could Rob Zastryzny be this year’s version of those guys?

“The makeup is what showed through to me today,” Maddon said after Zastryzny threw 3⅔ scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. “He got us out of a jam and continued on. He had a great look about him.”

Zastryzny gave up one hit, coming into the game with runners on first and second in the third inning of the Cubs' 3-2 loss. He got out of starter Jason Hammel’s jam, then threw three more innings. He kept his team in the game. It was another big performance when you consider Zastryzny was a starter all season in the minors.

“I don’t think it’s easier; I think it’s different,” he said of the transition to the bullpen.

So far it’s going pretty smoothly. In his first big league appearance on Aug. 19, he got into and out of a jam, preserving a tie game in Colorado. Two days later, he threw 2⅔ innings without giving up any damage. Then came Saturday, against a first-place team, in iconic Dodger Stadium. Maddon pulled Hammel after just 39 pitches, believing the lefty Zastryzny would be a good matchup against the heavily left-handed Dodgers. He was right.

“I thought that was a great lineup [for] Rob Z,” Maddon said. “It also illustrates ... what he can do for us in the future.”

Could that future be this October? It's very premature, but there is something to be said for a pitcher who is relatively unknown to those around the league. If his first time through a team's lineup comes in the postseason, it could make his stuff a little more dangerous. As you would expect, the question was very premature for Zastryzny, as well.

“It’s not anything for me to think about right now,” he said. “My goal is to help the team win games. Anyway I can do that is fine.”

He’s still getting used to the relief role and warming up quickly, and he has sought help from minor league buddies who have made the transition to the bullpen, such as Corey Black and Pierce Johnson.

On Saturday, Zastryzny was moving a little too quickly while warming up, so bullpen coach Lester Strode slowed him down. It worked.

“I have to make sure I’m ready for any situation,” Zastryzny said.

As for starting, who knows? Maybe the Cubs will give him a chance in September. Maddon didn’t indicate a plan either way.

“I’m keeping my mind open to it in case it happens,” Zastryzny said. “If they approach me about starting, I’ll be more than happy to do it.”

Zastryzny is simply happy to be in the big leagues and contributing. Breaking in with the first-place Cubs could be daunting, but the transition has worked so far.

“They’ve helped me out along the way and welcomed me as a teammate,” Zastryzny said. “It’s been awesome to be a part of.”

He’s responded to their welcoming by throwing 7⅓ innings of shutout baseball to begin his career. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess.