Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Pitching staff slowly starting to take shape

1 year agoTony Andracki

PEORIA, Ariz. — With the Cubs halfway through their Cactus League schedule, the pitching staff is starting to take shape?

No, that’s not a question mark that snuck into the teleprompter.

As the Cubs played the San Diego Padres Saturday — with Ron Burgandy apparently on hand to catch the game — the Opening Day pitching staff may be slowly coming into focus.

Attempting to project the team’s group of arms for the first series of the regular season will come down to one simple aspect: Who is going to be ready?

Once the lockout ended, the Cubs added a slew of veteran arms that can impact the bullpen. But each guy is on his own timeline — both in terms of when he got to camp and where he is at in his progression building up for the season.

David Ross typically isn’t into defining specific roles for relievers and that’s even more true right now with so much uncertainty.

“I don’t know that we know exactly who everybody is gonna be,” Ross said. “We gotta continue to let these guys build up and see what they’ve got. We’ve got a lot of pieces we continue to add. These guys are starting to really get into games and take shape.

“We’ve got some ideas in our head about what it looks like but we also need to make sure these guys get to where [they need to be].”

Codi Heuer (elbow), Adbert Alzolay (lat) and Brad Wieck (elbow) are already out of the equation due to injury. Newcomer Steven Brault (triceps) is in the same boat.

From there, let’s look at the staff on a case-by-case basis:

Kyle Hendricks has made 2 spring appearances, building up to about 50 pitches his last time out. He is on track to start Opening Day on April 7.

Marcus Stroman is on a similar timeline as Hendricks and would also be on regular rest for the opener but has said he’s preparing to pitch Game 2 against the Brewers.

Justin Steele and Alec Mills have also made 2 Cactus League starts. Keegan Thompson started a game Monday while Drew Smyly made his spring debut Saturday by tossing 2 innings.

Smyly faced live hitters Tuesday for the first time all winter and was encouraged to see some swings and misses by Padres batters in Saturday’s game.

“I was more focused on attacking hitters but it’s good when you get that feedback and get some swings and misses, especially on pitches that weren’t really my curveball,” he said. “I didn’t throw very good curveballs today and that’s usually my bread and butter. So to get some groundballs and weak contact on cutters and other pitches, that was good to see.”

Wade Miley has been on his own timeline in camp, as the veteran will throw his first live BP session Sunday. Depending on how he feels after that, he should have enough runway to get into a Cactus League game before spring ends but it is currently unknown how much he will be able to build up before Opening Day.

Rowan Wick is one of the holdovers from the 2021 bullpen and will be a late-inning arm for Ross in some capacity. Wick made his 2nd Cactus League appearance Saturday against the Padres, allowing an unearned run in an inning.

David Robertson (free agent signing) arrived in camp last week but has not yet appeared in a spring game. He was away from the team for a few days to attend the birth of his third child, Everett. He is expected back in camp Monday and his first Cactus League appearance should come Tuesday.

Mychal Givens (free agent signing) has also not pitched in a game yet but first joined the team on Thursday.

Chris Martin (free agent signing) made his spring debut Thursday and tossed a perfect inning.

Jesse Chavez (minor league deal) has made a pair of multi-inning appearances, allowing 2 runs in 4 innings.

Daniel Norris (free agent signing) and Robert Gsellman (minor league deal) each threw a live BP session against Cubs hitters Wednesday and could get into Sunday’s game at Sloan Park.

Manny Rodríguez ended last season on the IL with shoulder inflammation and got his first taste of game action Thursday with a scoreless 9th inning.

Scott Effross has been the Cubs’ most active pitcher this spring, making his 4th appearance Saturday and has not allowed a run in 5.1 innings. The 28-year-old right-hander impressed in his cup of coffee down the stretch last year and could emerge as a big piece of the team’s bullpen in 2022.

Michael Rucker notched his 3rd outing of the spring Saturday, giving up a home run in his 2 innings of work.

Prospect Ethan Roberts was added to the 40-man roster in the fall and has not allowed a run in 2 Cactus League innings.

In short: There is still much to be decided on the Cubs pitching staff over the next week-and-a-half.

Assessing Suzuki’s debut

Ross didn’t want to get too analytical on Seiya Suzuki’s debut Friday afternoon.

“I saw a good-looking guy in a Cubs uniform,” A smiling Ross said. “I know he was anxious and jumpy out there to be in front of everybody to get on that field. I think everybody would be first time coming over.

“Looks good, continue to let him work and get healthy, make sure he’s alright and he’ll be back in there [Sunday].”

Odds and ends

—Frank Schwindel has reported well in his recovery from lower back tightness. If all goes well, he could return to the Cubs lineup Sunday at Sloan Park.

—Andrelton Simmons has only appeared in 1 game so far this spring despite joining the team just before the Cactus League schedule started. He served as the designated hitter in that game and notched 2 at-bats before being lifted for a pinch-runner.

“He’s got a little bit of some soreness in his shoulder just building back up, jumping into things,” Ross said. “Want to make sure we’re taking care of his arms. You see him have the at-bats, just want to make sure he’s fully healthy.”

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