Cubs News

Cubs lay out plan for rotation through end of season

3 years agoTony Andracki

The Cubs will welcome Justin Steele into the big-league rotation this week at Wrigley Field but he won’t be taking anybody’s place.

The organization plans to move to a six-man starting staff over the final two months of the regular season with Steele slotting into the mix.

Here’s how the rotation will line up for the four-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers:

Monday — Alec Mills
Tuesday — Justin Steele
Wednesday — Jake Arrieta
Thursday — Kyle Hendricks

No team can predict the future and plans change all the time, but the Cubs are opting for a six-man rotation in part to help manage each pitcher’s workload through the remainder of the season.

“Everybody seemed to be fine with it,” David Ross said. “We communicated the reasons why and everybody was on board.”

With last season such an unusual year for pitchers, the Cubs entered 2021 cognizant of the likely workload increase for each arm on the roster.

Now that the team is prioritizing the future over trying to make a run at the playoffs this season, the Cubs can let their foot off the gas a bit with regards to their starting rotation.

“For the most part, every guy was understanding about what we’re trying to accomplish,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “They understand the workload side of it. Every single guy is having a heavier workload than last year. And they all want to finish healthy. That’s the goal.

“The guys that are gonna be free agents next year especially want to finish the season strong. Going with a 6-man is gonna cost them 1 start. It’s not like they’re gonna miss 3 or 4. They go from 10 to 9. It’s really not that big of a deal. It allows them to have extra work in between and continue to build.

“They also understand that it’s important for us as organization to evaluate some of the young guys so we can make better decisions when we go into the offseason. … As an organization, it’s important for us to be able to give them the room to work through some outings and be able to see what we have and make better decisions.”

The Cubs are hoping Steele and Keegan Thompson are a big part of the pitching staff moving forward. The pair of 26-year-olds got their first taste of MLB action earlier this season out of the bullpen and are now getting an opportunity to show what they can do in the rotation.

Steele boasted an 0.87 ERA across 5 starts with Triple-A Iowa in his ramp-up to the big leagues. He struck out 27 batters in 20.2 innings, carrying over the success he had in the big-league bullpen earlier this year (14.2 K/9).

Steele’s arrival will also be a change of pace for a Cubs team that has trotted out a right-handed starter for every one of its 113 games this season.

“First off, getting a lefty in the rotation’s fun,” Hottovy said. “Some new weapons, some new scouting reports, thought processes of how we want to do some things. For him in particular, he’s done everything he needed to do to show us his ability to be a starter and get stretched out.

“Now we’re just excited to get our hands on him in more of a 1-on-1, personal [way] — the starter relationship is way different than the reliever one. Being able to work on things during bullpen days and have time to continue to refine things, that’s been an important part of his process. Just excited to see him go out there and go two and three times through a lineup and continue to attack with some plus-plus stuff.”

The Cubs will obviously want to monitor the workloads for Steele and Thompson for the rest of the season after both players got most of their innings in at the alternate site last year.

But the two young pitchers aren’t coming up to toss only the first couple innings of a game. The Cubs want to give them a real shot to face opposing lineups multiple times and showcase their respective repertoires.

It’s also important to the Cubs to give their young pitchers — Steele, Thompson and Adbert Alzolay — the experience of a full big-league season, getting used to pitching in late September.

Alzolay and Steele have come up through the Cubs farm system together and now they’ll get a chance to do it on the game’s biggest stage as well.

“We’ve been pitching in the same rotation for 4 years in a row,” Alzolay said. “For me, it’s going to be special having one of my best friends next to me in the rotation.”

Thompson is still probably a couple weeks behind Steele, as he was optioned down to Triple-A Iowa in late July to stretch out. He has made 2 starts in the minors, including a 3.1-inning appearance Thursday in which he threw 52 pitches.

“It’s about pitch count and building that,” Hottovy said. “One thing we can’t do is have guys come up and start and throw 50 pitches here. With a six-man rotation, you’re gonna burn your bullpen if you do that.

“Giving him the opportunity to get some starts in and get built up and then we’ll kind of evaluate where we are.”

The next few weeks will be important for the organization to evaluate whether the Cubs can count on Steele and Thompson to fill spots in the rotation for 2022 and beyond.

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