Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Acclimation, timelines and unfinished business
TEMPE, Ariz. — Much of the focus of the hurried Spring Training has been on the health and “build-up” period for players.
But another top storyline is the human component: The short time for new players to simply get adjusted to their team and feel like they have their feet under them.
The free agent signing period was a flurry of activity and from a Cubs end, it culminated Wednesday when the deal for Mychal Givens was made official. The veteran right-hander was in Cubs gear for the first time Thursday morning — exactly two weeks before Opening Day.
Keegan Thompson joked earlier in the spring that Cubs players should start wearing name tags since there are so many new faces. He at least has the advantage of being a holdover from the 2021 team. Imagine joining a team and having only two weeks to learn an entirely new organization, a roster of teammates, a full coaching staff *and* build up physically for a 162-game marathon.
However, Givens isn’t too worried about the assimilation period right now.
“It just feels like baseball,” he said. “Fresh smell of grass and the crack of the bat and seeing everybody throwing, it’s been a joy with the long time period of waiting through the lockout.”
Givens is a 7-year MLB veteran who has switched teams two other times in his career. He has extensive experience in a variety of late-inning roles but he’s up for pitching whenever David Ross asks him to.
“I’m expecting to go get outs and help our team get the opportunity and get ‘em in the best position to win a ballgame. That’s my job,” Givens said. “Whatever position they put me in, need to just do a great job at it and have fun. That’s the most important thing that we need to do in a childhood game is just have fun and get outs and just win ballgames.”
Givens has a career 3.41 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while striking out 10.6 batters per 9 innings. The 31-year-old experienced free agency for the first time and after the lockout ended, he felt the Cubs were the perfect fit.
“It’s the fans. The organization — what they’ve done,” Givens said. “Really great friends with Kyle Schwarber and he had a great time here. He’s my workout buddy. He’s always talked highly about this organization for many, many years. That was the enjoyment of having the opportunity to come here.”
Givens and Schwarber have the same agent through Excel Sports Management and work out together in the offseason.
Smyly’s unfinished business
Like Givens, Drew Smyly is also getting acclimated to a new clubhouse.
But while Givens — as a short-inning reliever — might be able to get where he needs to be physically by Opening Day, it’s tougher for a pitcher like Smyly who will eventually factor into the rotation mix.
The veteran southpaw threw live BP to hitters Tuesday at Cubs camp but has not yet seen Cactus League action after officially signing with the team on Saturday.
He is working to build up as quickly as possible but knows health is the priority right now and is instead focusing on maximizing his opportunities when he gets to face hitters.
Smyly has experience working out of the bullpen so he could certainly be a long relief option for the Cubs to begin the year if he’s not ready for the rotation.
This is actually his second stint with the Cubs, though he didn’t appear in a major league game his first time around.
Smyly missed the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery and signed with the Cubs as a free agent prior to the 2018 campaign to finish his rehab. He was never quite able to make it back to full health, appearing in only 1 rehab game with Class-A South Bend before shutting it down for the season.
That winter, he was traded to the Rangers so it left a bit of unfinished business.
“Definitely. I was super excited when I was here and got to spend the summer in Chicago and watch these guys play and how electric Wrigley was,” Smyly said. “I was pretty bummed when I didn’t get a chance to put on the jersey and play for them. I’m definitely excited for that this summer.”
Justin Steele got the start for the Cubs Thursday against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The first batter he faced was none other than international superstar and reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani.
That was exactly the matchup Steele wanted.
“I was really looking forward to facing Ohtani,” he said. “One of the greatest players. Modern day Babe Ruth. Really cool to face somebody like him of his stature.
“I was like a little kid out there on the mound, facing Shohei Ohtani. It was pretty cool.”
Steele ended up walking Ohtani as part of his 2 free passes on the afternoon. Other than those walks, the southpaw was perfect in 2 innings, whiffing 2 batters.
Opening Day starter
While Marcus Stroman made his case for the Cubs Opening Day starter on Wednesday, Ross isn’t prepared to make such a claim at this point in camp.
“I don’t [have my Opening Day starter] yet,” he said. “We want to make sure everybody gets healthy.”
Kyle Hendricks and Stroman are both on a schedule to have regular rest ahead of the April 7 game at Wrigley Field. But Stroman believes the incumbent should get the ball in Game 1 and he’s preparing to pitch April 8.
“That shows me how he looks at his teammates and where he fits in,” Ross said of Stroman. “That shows some unselfishness on his part. I did see that and that’s a really cool thing to hear from a guy that comes in and gets the kind of contract that he gets, has had a lot of success and defaults to a veteran guy that’s been around and done a lot of things. That’s awesome.”
—Frank Schwindel has been slowed by lower back tightness and hasn’t played since Sunday, when he first felt the issue running the bases.
Thursday, Schwindel took swings and played catch.
“It’s been really good the last two days,” David Ross said. “[We’ll] see how he shows up tomorrow and as long as everything’s moving along, he’ll get back in games and taking some lives and things here soon.”
—Wade Miley threw another bullpen Thursday (he also threw Monday). His next step will be a live BP session against Cubs hitters before seeing time in a game.
“He’s on his own timeline,” Ross said.
The 35-year-old is building up after the lockout period and will factor into the Cubs rotation at some point in April. Right now, it doesn’t appear as if there’s enough time on the calendar for Miley to be ready to pitch in the opening series of the regular season at Wrigley Field but time will tell.
—Andrelton Simmons made his Cactus League debut Thursday against the Angels. He started at DH and hit 2nd, going 1-for-2 with an infield single.
Simmons signed with the Cubs last week but the veteran has eased into game action.
“He’s on a little bit slower progression, making sure,” Ross said. “He’s been around a long time and he knows his body and we’re just trying to listen to that get him the at-bats and still keep his feet underneath him.”