Spring Training Notebooks

Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Brandon Hughes’ injury, roster cuts and a trade

1 year agoAndy Martinez

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MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs know how critical Brandon Hughes is to the back end of their bullpen.

So, they’re in no rush to bring him back as he’s recovering from some left knee inflammation.

“He’s a really important piece to us, but we’re gonna do what’s right by him for the season,” manager David Ross said. “Same with Seiya [Suzuki’s injury] — are we going to risk anything that’s gonna deter him from having a really good season for us and be an important piece? No, we’re not.”

Hughes hasn’t appeared in a game since March 16, when he allowed a run on 2 hits in an inning of work. He allowed a pair of runs on 3 hits and a walk in an inning of work on March 13 against Milwaukee.

In 2022, Hughes was one of the breakout stars for the Cubs, quickly establishing himself as one of Ross’ most trusted relievers. He posted a 3.12 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP in 57.2 innings of work and racked up 8 saves. He was more than just a lefty specialist as Ross wasn’t afraid to use him in high-leverage situations.

That’s why the Cubs want to play it safe with him. But Hughes is the only lefty reliever on the Cubs 40-man roster and there’s just three lefties (all non-roster invitees) left in camp — Roenis Elías, Anthony Kay and Ryan Borucki.

Would the Cubs be OK opening up the season without a southpaw in the bullpen if Hughes needs to start the season on the injured list?

“Yeah, yeah. We have righties in camp that can get lefties out, for sure, at a high rate, with a high punch rate,” Ross said. “We have options. We have some good lefties that are in camp as well.”

Mark Leiter Jr. is the most likely fit when Ross mentioned righties that gets lefties out. He had reverse splits last year as lefties hit just .176 off him, while righties hit .248 against him. Leiter Jr., though, is not on the 40-man roster, so the Cubs would need to make a move to clear a spot for him.

The Cubs could opt to add Elías (7.71 ERA in 4.2 innings this spring), Kay (1.50 ERA in 6 IP) or Borucki (3.52 ERA in 7.2 IP) to the Opening Day bullpen, but also would require clearing a 40-man spot.

Roster Moves

The Cubs reduced their spring roster by 10 players on Thursday morning and made a trade.

They optioned outfielder Nelson Velázquez to Triple-A Iowa and reassigned 9 players to minor league camp: RHP Nick Burdi, RHP Manuel Rodríguez, RHP Cam Sanders, LHP Brendon Little, C Dom Nuñez, INF Sergio Alcántara, INF David Bote, INF Matt Mervis and OF Ben DeLuzio.

The team also traded minor league infielder Esteban Quiroz to the Phillies for a cash consideration. Quiroz, 31, made his major-league debut last season, going 11-for-40 in 14 games. The team designated him for assignment over the offseason to clear room on the 40-man roster.

For Velázquez, the Cubs see the value in him getting regular at-bats in Iowa and continuing his development there. Velázquez has played just 372 in the minor leagues and only 34 at Triple-A, so continuing to play, especially after a successful WBC, could help him and the Cubs.

“Just about getting his game back on track, getting the at-bats,” Ross said. “That’s why doing that early, get him down there, let him get his at-bats, get ready for the season and hopefully get off to a good start in case anything — we need to call up on somebody, he would be one of those guys that would be in the mix.”

Wesneski bolsters 5th starter case

The mentality shift that many players are going through in the final days of camp is nothing new to Hayden Wesneski.

“To be honest with you, it’s kinda been compete mode for me the whole time,” Wesneski said. “I know that they say Spring Training is time to work on stuff and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just Spring Training.’ I didn’t treat it like that. I can’t treat it like that. I’m not in that position.”

Wesneski turned in another stellar performance as he battles for the 5th spot in the Cubs rotation. The righty tossed 5 innings, striking out 5 and allowing just 1 unearned run. The rookie looks to be in pole position for the spot — he’s posted a 2.12 ERA and 1.12 WHIP across 5 starts and 17 innings this spring.

“Oh, today’s probably the best I’ve felt,” Wesneski said. “The results probably weren’t the best of the spring, but I felt good. I was commanding the ball.”

Quote of the day

Wesneski touched 97 mph during Thursday’s outing — the hardest he’s thrown this spring. It was impressive, but he was more proud that he got the out.

“That was sick. That was sick,” Wesneski said. “That’s one of the things I’m really happy about. That’s not the hardest I’ve thrown. It’s one of those things where, we’re just trying to get back to top-end speed. I think we’re getting there. It’s cool to see the velo just to know you have it.

“But it’s not everything. If I would’ve touched, 99, but I didn’t get the out first, I think I would be upset than I am throwing 97 and getting outs.”

Next Up

The Cubs play a pair of split-squad games Friday. They’ll host the Rangers at 3:05 p.m., with Marcus Stroman taking the bump in his final outing before Opening Day. Adrian Sampson will start at 8:05 p.m. against the Guardians in Goodyear, Ariz.

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