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Cubs reinforce bullpen with homegrown lefty reliever

10 months agoAndy Martinez

Luke Little was understandably a little concerned.

Iowa Cubs hitting coach John Mallee came up to him in the locker room and whispered into his ear.

“You gotta go to the manager’s office right now,” Mallee told the pitcher. 

“So I was kinda scared,” the 6-foot, 8-inch lefty said.

When he got to Marty Pevey’s office, pitching coach Ron Villone was there with the I-Cubs’ skipper. It was there Villone told Little he’d be joining a playoff race — but he had a little fun with it.

“[Double-A] Tennessee was in a playoff race and [Villone] said ‘but [you] gotta go to the big leagues instead,’” Little said.

The Cubs selected the contract of Little, the team’s 2020 fourth-round pick prior to Wednesday’s finale against San Francisco, designating Shane Greene for assignment to make room on the active roster. The move gives the Cubs’ another southpaw option in the bullpen alongside Drew Smyly.

Cubs’ manager David Ross will likely ease Little into playing time, opting to find a favorable matchup and not immediately throw him in a high-leverage situation. That moment arose in Wednesday’s win over the Giants, as Ross turned to him to pick up the final 3 outs in the Cubs’ 8-2 win. Little struck out the first hitter he saw, J.D. Davis and struck out Paul DeJong to seal the Cubs’ win. 

“We’ll use him as needed in the pockets that we identify and the game situation that calls for it,” Ross said prior to Wednesday’s game. “I think the main thing is he’s throwing the ball really well. We’ve been looking for a lefty for a little while now.”

The Cubs have relied primarily on Mark Leiter Jr. this season as a lefty specialist, in part. They’ve cycled through a few left-handed relief options throughout the season, but none have really made enough of an impression to stick around.

They’re hopeful Little will buck that trend.

“We’ll try to use him to help us win games,” Ross said. “He’s throwing the ball well and deserves this opportunity.”

Little follows a positive, new trend for the Cubs. They’ve been able to rely on homegrown pitchers to supplement and fill out their pitching staff to much success. Justin Steele has emerged as the team’s ace and Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad have been valuable members of the rotation. In their bullpen, the Cubs have relied on Adbert Alzolay and Keegan Thompson this season.

“I think big picture stuff when I take a step back and look at where we’ve come – and we’re nowhere near where we need to be, in opinion – but the health of the organization when you’re able to call upon guys and have real conversations of guys within the organization that are willing to help you,” Ross said. “So big picture, I think it’s really nice for the front office to have confidence in that, the hard work of player development and scouting and the draft. All those little things that I don’t think we talk enough about but when you sit in my seat, you really see how important they are and the depth when you need pieces to be able to call on a young man that you feel like could maybe help.”

And Little believes he’ll be ready for whatever moment.

“I mean it’s a little bit of an adjustment, but at the end of the day I gotta go do my job as a baseball player,” Little said. “I gotta go throw to the best of my abilities and obviously it’s intensified cause we’re in a playoff race, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna go out there and do my job.”

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