As August starts its official descent into September, teams are especially conscious of how their pitchers are feeling. With many clubs' young hurlers reaching their career highs in innings tossed, an extra day of rest for them here and there sometimes becomes a necessary practice.
That is the strategy the Cubs will implement Saturday when they send spot starter Dan Straily -- one of the pieces in the Jeff Samardzjia trade -- to the hill for his first National League start. For now though, Straily won't confuse his temporary role for a long-term ticket to the team.
"My job is to pitch, and not make decisions," said Straily. "I'm just going to do what I'm told. One start on Saturday, that's what I've been told. That's what I'm here for."
He was 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts with the Athletics last season, but was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA this season until transferring to Triple-A Sacramento. In his last outing for Triple-A Iowa, Straily gave up two hits over six innings and picked up the win. He has not given up an earned run in his last three starts.
"I got out of the little funk I was in, some mechanical flaws, if you will, that had taken over my game," he said. "You have one good game, and it's like, OK, I had a good game. Two in a row, OK. Three in a row, OK. Hopefully, we got it."
The Mets, who snapped their three-game losing streak Friday, used a similar strategy before the All-Star break in the hopes of resting Jon Niese, who will get the ball opposite Straily on Saturday. But those plans backfired when they discovered a shoulder injury that landed Niese on the 15-day DL.
Niese has been uneven since returning from that stint. One of his sharper starts came Monday against the Phillies, when he limited them to two runs in seven innings.
In his five starts after the All-Star break, however, Niese owns a 5.06 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while allowing opposing batters a .302/.362/.484 slash line. That Niese and Dillon Gee, who entered the season as the veterans of the Mets' rotation, have not been pitching particularly well of late has proven troublesome.
"That's hurt us," said manager Terry Collins. "They were both pitching so well when the injuries came. Not to have them bounce back to where they were before they got hurt has been a big problem for us. I know they've worked hard at it. I know certainly they've shown flashes, but we've got to get them back, and we've got to get them back now."
Mets: Collins takes stock of Cubs' talented youngsters
The Cubs' grand plan has started to come to fruition with the likes of Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara getting called up to the big leagues, and Collins is among those who have taken note. The Mets haven't seen a lot of either player, but they know enough to be careful, especially with Baez, who has four home runs in his first 11 games.
"We were just commenting today when we were going over the video of some of those guys, boy, [the Cubs have] got some athletic people coming out," Collins said. "They're pretty athletic. You look at them, start with [Junior] Lake. We haven't seen a lot of Baez, except for we've seen [him] play the infield, we know he can hit. Alcantara, this guy was an infielder, they put him in center field -- you talk about being athletic. He's got a plus-arm, they stuck him in center field, he's a switch-hitter. They're really athletic.
"[Baez has] big-time power. Big -- big-time power. Real aggressive at the plate. Right now, probably the wisest thing is to keep the ball out of the middle."
Cubs: Jackson hoping to turn things around
The Cubs' Edwin Jackson led the National League in losses last season, and he is tied for the most this year with the Phillies' A.J. Burnett and the Padres' Eric Stults, who have 13. But Jackson is staying in the Cubs' rotation in hopes of getting back on track.
The Cubs do want to give innings and possibly starts to Jacob Turner, Straily and Felix Doubront in September when rosters expand, and general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday that he will meet with pitching coach Chris Bosio and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to map out a strategy.
Jackson's situation is puzzling. On Thursday, he lasted 4 2/3 innings against the Brewers in a 6-2 loss, and he hasn't finished the sixth inning in 15 of his 25 starts.
"We're trying to give [Jackson] an opportunity to right the ship," Hoyer said. "It seems like the first inning, we're in a hole right away, and he's battling right away, and we haven't been able to solve that problem. Hopefully, we can find a solution by the end of the year and go into the offseason with some momentum."
• Niese has pitched better at home (2.89 ERA, .247 opponents' batting average) than on the road (3.83, .272).
• Starlin Castro enters Saturday with a 14-game hitting streak (24-for-57/.421 average), the club's season high. Castro has nine hitting streaks of 10 or more games in his career, including two other career-best 14-game streaks.
• Boyz II Men will perform a concert at Citi Field following Saturday's contest.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.