Maddon wants starters to have extended outings

Maddon wants starters to have extended outings

PITTSBURGH -- Joe Maddon doesn't want to put any pressure on Jon Lester, but the Cubs could sure use a complete game from the left-hander on Friday night.

In the past four games, including Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Pirates, the bullpen has been busy, and Maddon is still trying to figure out roles. Jake Arrieta went seven innings during Monday's series opener, but the next two starters lasted only five innings and Kyle Hendricks went 5 1/3 on Thursday.

"We've got to get our starters deeper into the game, and that was what I was looking for today," Maddon said.

Hendricks did go six innings in his previous start against the Padres.

"We're obviously not performing as we should as a whole," Hendricks said of the rotation. "I can only speak for me, specifically, but getting deeper in the games as a staff, in particular, and keeping the team in the game, we have to start putting up some lower numbers overall. It'll come. It's still early and we're still getting that feel. It's starting to come around."

Want encouraging news? The Cubs' starters have walked 16 in 15 games, 13th fewest in the National League.

On Thursday, Edwin Jackson, who picked up the win Tuesday's 9-8 win over the Bucs, was pressed into earlier duty than he had been in his three previous outings, but was charged with a blown save as the Pirates tied the game in the sixth.

"Jackson really wasn't that bad," Maddon said. "It was kind of an unfortunate outing for him."

Schlitter works out of trouble

On the plus side, Brian Schlitter and Jason Motte both had better outings. Maddon has cautioned that it could take one month to figure out who fits where. The Cubs' bullpen also is trying to fill the gaps created by the absence of Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez, both on the disabled list.

"It really comes down to a pitch now and then," Maddon said. "With the different people not being available, it makes it difficult."

Lester doesn't feel the rotation has hit its stride yet. Maddon feels they "can continue to anticipate better" outings from the lefty, who opens a three-game series in Cincinnati.

"He's the ace," Hendricks said. "We lost two in a row now, and he's the stopper. No doubt in my mind he's prepared. He'll get it done for us."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.