By Bruce Levine
WRIGLEY FIELD (CBS) -- The early success of the Chicago Cubs has been the result of timely hitting, big home runs, decent-if-not-outstanding starting pitching and, perhaps most of all, a rock-solid bullpen.
Chicago's relievers have been the strongest and most reliable facet of this early winning stretch. Despite one losing game in which Brian Schlitter gave up two runs, the men in the bullpen have been outstanding. The two runs allowed by Schlitter represent half of the four runs the stingy Cubs bullpen has surrendered in six games.
Headlined by closer Hector Rondon, this young group of hard-throwing right-handed pitchers has the luxury of having two grizzled veterans added to the mix to learn from. Left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Jason Motte have both been through the wars and have World Series experience.
Their presence alone should add some real cache to share with the impressive group that's evolving on the North Side of Chicago.
"We have a good group of pitchers down in the pen," Rondon said. "We have all the guys from last year and the new people like Jason (Motte) and Phil (Coke) are helping a lot. Motte has talked to me about situations. He has helped me with things he has gone through that I am dealing with now."
Manager Joe Maddon has had to use the bullpen more than he has wanted to. The starting pitchers have gone past the fifth inning in only three of the first six games.
"There are certain times you will leave a guy out there knowing it's not the best thing to do," Maddon said about having to use his bullpen to an excess at times. "This can happen when you have played a long extra-inning game where everyone was utilized. That can mess you up for a day or two afterward. There are different things that can occur that can mess up you pen early. We have not been in the position because of poor pitching, rather because we have been winning."
The Cubs added an eighth relief pitcher Tuesday, recalling Zac Rosscup from Triple-A Iowa just to get the bullpen's main arms some rest.
"I always talk about having enough even or ahead (pitchers) to help sustain winning," Maddon said. "These are the guys who you can use when the score is tied or you are leading. A lot of guys can pitch well in a negative moment, but you need guys who are really good pitching even or ahead in the game."
Entering Tuesday's game, the Cubs bullpen has a 1.66 ERA and a .207 batting average against. The underrated Rondon has 17 straight save opportunities converted going back to August 2014.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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