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Cubs spring notebook: The carryover effect, pitching depth and bullpen days

2 years agoTony Andracki

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Opening Day hits, all the spring training statistics and standings wash away and will rarely — if ever — be referenced.

But the feeling remains.

No player sets out to go hitless or post an ERA over 10.00.

Confidence is not tangible, but it is vital to success.

Recently, we discussed how getting into the home run column could have a carryover effect for a player like Kris Bryant. But it can also impact a team, too.

The Cubs lost 15-7 Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium but it was their first defeat in over a week (March 13). They had rattled off five straight victories prior to Monday’s outing and entered the day with the best winning percentage in the Cactus League.

“I talk a lot about stats not mattering until you’re 12-5 in the Cactus League and now I’m excited,” a laughing David Ross said. “I make it up as I go. I think any time you’re winning, that’s how we’re built. We’re some of the most competitive people in the world and that’s our job to compete.

“…The fact the guys have good at-bats no matter the situation or out there getting outs from a bullpen perspective or pitching perspective is always reassuring. Scoring runs and winning is the goal every time you are in any kind of competition. Yeah, I think there’s a carryover because it feels good to win.”

The Cubs have certainly had some feel-good moments this spring from Nico Hoerner’s hot start to Joc Pederson’s power display to efficient outings from pitchers Zach Davies and Trevor Williams. They even had a walk-off grand slam when Rafael Ortega turned the trick on March 9.

It’s been a strange spring filled with shortened games and rolled innings. Ross has admitted his managerial approach has been more about getting players looks than competitive strategy.

But when you’re a team trying to prove doubters wrong and claim a second straight division title, winning is part of the equation — even in exhibition games.

Pitching depth

Well before winter arrived, one of the Cubs’ top offseason priorities was to add as much pitching depth as possible. A lot of key arms were headed for free agency but the organization also knew they were going to need a lot of pitchers to help get them through the season as the schedule jumped from 60 games to 162.

Ross has been impressed with the pitching depth in camp and the Cubs are going to have quite a few tough roster decisions ahead of Opening Day.

“Once you started to find out that it was 162 and trying to plan accordingly with getting pieces, having depth, guys that have options, guys that don’t, guys that we identified that might have bounceback years — a lot of stuff went into that and trying to get as many good arms as we can,” Ross said. “I think that has stood out in spring training with these guys’ performances.

“It’s looked pretty good all the way up and down the organization — guys coming in and doing a pretty darn good job.”

That pitching depth will undoubtedly be tested in 2021 whether due to pitchers’ workloads, injuries or performance.

Bullpen day

On the topic of pitching, the Cubs opted to have likely Opening Day starter Kyle Hendricks throw a bullpen instead of in the Cactus League game against the Angels.

Ross and his staff preferred to get a look at some of the arms competing for the final few bullpen spots.

The Angels plated 12 runs in the first 2 innings of the game but all those came off players who were optioned to minor-league camp last week (Keegan Thompson, Juan Gámez, Robert Stock).

Ryan Tepera threw a scoreless inning, striking out a batter and giving up a hit.

Rex Brothers still has not allowed a run this spring and struck out 2 in a perfect frame.

Jason Adam gave up a solo homer to Anthony Rendon but limited the damage there in his inning of work.

Brad Wieck also threw up a zero in an inning, striking out 1.

Brothers and Wieck are competing for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen as a second lefty alongside veteran Andrew Chafin. Tepera and Adam were both integral parts of the team’s relief corps last season and figure to fill a similar role this year.

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