Caleb Kilian, Matt Swarmer and where the Cubs roster stands entering grueling week
With a grueling schedule coming up, the Cubs face a lot of questions with the current state of the roster.
Monday begins a stretch of 8 games in 6 days with doubleheaders on Monday and Saturday at Wrigley Field. That means the Cubs pitching staff has to cover at least 81 innings until the team’s next off-day on Monday, June 6.
That task was made all the more difficult Sunday when the team placed starting pitcher Wade Miley on the 15-day IL with a shoulder strain and reliever Chris Martin on the bereavement list. To make matters worse, the game stretched into the 12th inning, eating up more of the bullpen’s workload as the Cubs lost 5-4.
The Cubs are hopeful Miley’s shoulder injury is not serious but either way, he’ll miss the entire homestand. Martin will be out of action until Wednesday at the earliest.
Mark Leiter Jr. was called up to take Miley’s spot on the roster Sunday while there was no corresponding move for Martin’s trip to the bereavement list.
“We’ve got a lot of innings to cover. We’ve got some guys banged up,” David Ross said. “We’ll try to do the best we can to cover those and map them out as good as we possibly can and see where guys are at.
“You have to take each game individually and give yourself a chance to win that game and if it doesn’t look like that’s a possibility, you try to mentally also have tomorrow in mind with all the innings we have coming up. We got a lot of games in a short amount of time. We’ll get through it.”
But…how will the Cubs get through it?
The team announced Sunday evening that Matt Swarmer would get the ball in Game 1 and Drew Smyly will pitch Game 2.
It will mark Swarmer’s MLB debut after 6 seasons in the minors. The Cubs drafted the 28-year-old right-hander in the 19th round of the 2016 Draft. He has turned in a solid 2022 campaign with Triple-A Iowa, going 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 9 games (5 starts).
Justin Steele will pitch Tuesday and Kyle Hendricks starts Wednesday’s game. Marcus Stroman — who pitched 7 shutout innings Sunday — would be in line to start again Friday.
Keegan Thompson stepped into the rotation Saturday with 5 strong innings in the win over the White Sox. The Cubs can keep him as a starter and give him the ball Thursday on regular rest or they could fold him back into the bullpen as a multi-inning weapon after a couple of days off.
Entering the week, the Cubs bullpen consists of:
Plus Leiter or Thompson. But Robertson, Givens and Effross worked both games on the South Side over the weekend and figure to be unavailable for Monday’s doubleheader. Gsellman offers some length but he threw 17 pitches over 1.1 innings Sunday as the game stretched into extras.
Beyond that, the Cubs don’t have many options to augment their pitching staff — even with the ability to add a “27th man” to the roster for each doubleheader.
That spot isn’t expected to go to one of the organization’s top pitching prospects.
The team stated this weekend that Caleb Kilian will not be an option for this week’s doubleheaders.
“We talked about a number of guys,” Jed Hoyer said Saturday. “Caleb has been fantastic ever since we got him. Went to the Fall League and did a great job. Because of the Fall League, we sort of took it slow with him in spring and we’ve continued to do that.
“I don’t think his development is done yet. There are more steps and there’s probably development that will happen when he gets up here. We’ve had good conversations with him about his timeline. He knows where things are and where things stand. We’re excited to have him.
“Yeah, there were discussions about it, but ultimately, we’ve talked to Caleb. He knows where we are as far as his progress and his development. I think we’re in a good place.”
A big reason for that is the Cubs’ 40-man roster situation. It is already full and there will be a crunch when Jason Heyward, David Bote and Alec Mills have to come off the IL in the coming days/weeks and need to be added back onto the 40-man roster.
“You don’t want to mess up the 40-man or lose a really good player for something that might be two or three days,” Hoyer said. “We’ve been thinking about those things a lot. I think we’ll get through these doubleheaders, we’ll get through some of these short-term ILs and when we do that, we’ll have a better chance to make some of those decisions that might affect our 40.
“But right now, the 40-man is a real consideration. Some of the challenge of having some prospects on the 40 makes that difficult.”
The Cubs have a trio of pitchers currently on the IL, but they may not represent much in the way of reinforcements this week.
Sean Newcomb (ankle) is scheduled to throw again Tuesday on a rehab stint, which means Thursday would probably be the earliest he returns to Chicago. Ethan Roberts’ return from a shoulder injury is not imminent. Michael Rucker (toe) made a rehab appearance Saturday and is eligible to come off the IL later in the week.
Alec Mills (back/quad) can be activated off the 60-day IL after the Cubs’ homestand.
The pitching staff isn’t the only part of the Cubs’ roster that is facing a crunch this week.
Seiya Suzuki sprained his finger during the series finale in Cincinnati Thursday and was not able to take part in either of the weekend’s Crosstown games. He was able to swing and play catch before both games.
The team was hoping to avoid an IL stint, in part because Suzuki is one of the Cubs’ best players but also because of the aforementioned roster crunch.
Outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez is on the 40-man roster already and reportedly is on his way to Chicago. That will help provide some depth for the grueling week, regardless of whether Suzuki lands on the IL or not.
Nick Madrigal (back) began his rehab stint Saturday in Triple-A and he could possibly return on the homestand.
The Cubs will certainly be cautious about their position players with all the innings this week. Willson Contreras missed a few days last week with a hamstring issue, Nico Hoerner just returned from the IL Wednesday and Andrelton Simmons is still recovering from a shoulder injury that cost him the first six weeks of the season.