How a conversation between Rex Brothers and David Ross has paid huge dividends for the 2021 Cubs
When the Cubs finalized their 2021 Opening Day roster, there were some really hard conversations between David Ross and players who didn’t make the team.
There were also some great interactions, such as when he told veteran reliever Rex Brothers that he had made the season-opening bullpen for him.
Brothers also made the Opening Day roster in 2020 but appeared in just 2 games before the Cubs optioned him to the alternate site in South Bend.
It was in that conversation where Ross learned a valuable lesson early in his managerial career.
“Last year when I sent him down, we had a real good conversation in his hotel room that made me better as a manager in how to talk to players,” Ross said in late March. “I’ve got a special place for Rex and for what he’s helped me do.”
What was so important about that interaction?
“Sometimes guys just need a kick in the rear end and pushed a little bit harder and can handle a little bit more honesty than maybe you give them credit for,” Ross said Saturday. “Just a guy that wanted me to demand more out of him. He seems like a guy that pushes himself, you would think, without him needing any extra affirmation or things from me.
“But just a little bit of a kick in the rear end is never a bad thing from my seat. He kinda told me that in our conversation and wanted me to demand more from him, which was a real good learning lesson for me.”
Brothers has rewarded Ross’ faith in him in a big way. The 33-year-old has been one of the Cubs’ most valuable relievers this season, sporting a 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 15.8 K/9.
On Friday, Ross called on Brothers to get the final out of the Cubs’ win over the Pirates and the southpaw came through for his first save since 2013.
He remembers last summer’s pivotal conversation vividly and recalls what he told Ross.
“I remember being a rookie and getting in some trouble in some games, falling behind in some counts. Todd Helton at first [base] when I was back in Colorado, I would hear a ‘psst!’ and I’d look over at Todd and he’d give me this stern look and he’d say ‘let’s go,’” Brothers recalled. “I always seemed to respond pretty well to that.
“I just told Rossy: lemme know when you need more out of me and if you see me slacking, just flat out tell me, ‘hey, I need you to pick it up here and just be better’ or things like that.
“Throughout my life, I feel like I respond better that way. It’s just one of those in-game moments to where I recalled how Todd had handled me and relayed that to Rossy, which I’m sure he’s done for guys the same way. But being able to communicate with Rossy about those kinds of things is huge. That’s why so many guys love playing for him.”
Brothers hit the free agent market after the 2020 season but he knew immediately he wanted to re-sign with the Cubs and play for Ross again.
“As soon as I became a free agent this offseason, I knew where I wanted to be because people believed in me and I just respect the heck out of these guys and the whole organization,” Brothers said. “I knew I wanted to be a Cub so I just can’t say enough about them believing in me and giving me the opportunity. I’m just gonna take it and make the most of it, really.”
He has made the most of it so far.
For the first time since posting a 1.74 ERA in 2015, Brothers is finding consistent success in the big leagues.
He’s always had great stuff, with a fastball that touches in the upper-90s from the left side. It’s been a matter of whether he can control that stuff, but that hasn’t been an issue this year (3.8 BB/9).
A big part of that is mechanics, as Brothers has shored up his lower half to help him throw strikes on a more consistent basis.
He also made some mental adjustments, getting back to the days of playing baseball like he did in high school.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to keep baseball in its place and have fun,” Brothers said.
His family situation helped drive that point home, too.
“Off the field, when my wife and I had our twin boys, they went through quite the battle in the NICU in 2018,” Brothers said. “I’ve just always since then have [found] it’s been a lot easier to keep baseball where it needs to be.”