Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Rotation clarity and a champ in camp
MESA, Ariz. — A couple days ago, Tommy Hottovy compared the Cubs’ pitching situation to an old family puzzle that comes out every year at the holidays.
“There’s pieces missing, you’re trying to find them on the floor,” Hottovy said. “It’s gonna come together. To say each piece is gonna fit perfectly in the puzzle is still to be determined.”
Each day, slowly but surely, another piece of the pitching puzzle seems to come together.
Tuesday, we gained some clarity on the rotation while a veteran reliever got his first taste of live action.
David Ross confirmed free agent signing Drew Smyly will be in the rotation and Justin Steele is expected to join him behind Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman.
“There’s a strong chance that he’ll be in the rotation,” Ross said of Steele. “He’s looked really good, building off last year. Ball’s coming out nicely, looks like he’s healthy and gonna give us some really good starts.”
Steele started Tuesday’s game at Sloan Park and while he admitted he struggled with his fastball command early in the game, he settled in and threw 2.2 innings.
Steele got into a bit of trouble in the 2nd inning, allowing a pair of runs. Ross opted to give him the hook so as to not overload his pitch count but thanks to Spring Training rules, Steele was able to return for the 3rd inning.
“I was so confused at first,” Steele said, laughing. “When Rossy came out there, he was like, ‘you’re still pitching.’ And I did a double take like, oh, I need to stay out here. And he was like, ‘no, no.’
“So I walked back to the dugout and Hottovy was like, ‘you’re still in the game.’ I’m like, ‘what?’ They [said], ‘you’re going back out next inning.’ So I sat down and gathered myself. It was weird but had to get back out there and continue to get some work in.”
It was beneficial for Steele, as he settled in and worked a perfect frame in the 3rd inning.
“I wanted to go back out there and fix what I was doing wrong and I was able to so it was good to end on that note,” Steele said.
The 26-year-old southpaw made his MLB debut last season with the Cubs and showed his immense potential working between the bullpen and rotation. He went 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA and struck out 59 batters in 57 innings.
Smyly will get the ball Wednesday to start on short rest after pitching 2 innings in Saturday’s game.
The 32-year-old veteran has worked as both a starter and reliever in his career — including in Atlanta’s World Series-winning bullpen last fall — but the Cubs signed him as a starter and he’ll be in the Opening Day rotation.
“I think we’re starting to get some things laid out with everybody,” Ross said. “We’re starting to feel how many innings we can get out of each guy and where the bullpen is starting to shape up.”
It has been a crazy couple of weeks for veteran reliever David Robertson.
The 36-year-old signed with the team on March 16 but then left camp for a few days to go back home to Rhode Island for the birth of his third child.
Robertson returned to Arizona this week and threw a live bullpen against teammates Michael Hermosillo and Cubs prospect Cole Roederer.
The right-hander threw 26 pitches and was having some fun, joking around on the mound with Hermosillo, whose locker is next to Robertson’s.
Earlier today, David Robertson threw his first live BP at #Cubs camp and gave up a HR to Hermosillo. His reaction was not what you'd expect but he said later he was having a blast and was more focused on getting the work in than the results: https://t.co/OXvjLIF1Pe pic.twitter.com/SitZHT2BYE— Scott Changnon (@ScottyChags) March 30, 2022
The main focus of Tuesday’s session was getting the ball into the strike zone and he’ll aim to build up to a workload of about 30 pitches before the season starts.
Robertson is expected to appear in a Cactus League game Friday and is optimistic about his progression this spring. While he was back home, he had a friend come catch a bullpen and also threw a few times with a neighbor who lives down the street.
“I know we got eight days left, so it’s crunch time but I feel good physically,” Robertson said. “It’s a different camp, so I’m gonna do the best I can to be ready. I feel physically good.”
A champ in camp
The Cubs had a world champion guest in attendance Tuesday.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce strolled into the complex and had an opportunity to interact with Cubs players and coaches. He also took in a few innings of the Cubs’ win at Sloan Park.
“That was really cool,” Steele said. “I didn’t pick his brain too much. Just said what’s up, introduced myself and stuff. I’ve had him a few times in fantasy football.”