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How the Cubs plan to use Alexander Canario, other September call-ups

4 weeks agoAndy Martinez

CINCINNATI — Alexander Canario’s call-up was special for the 23-year-old.

But the outfielder isn’t up at the major-league level as a feel-good story. The Cubs are in a playoff race and when the opportunity presents itself to improve the roster, they are going to take it. That’s why Canario was called up.

But the Cubs aren’t expecting him to be a bat that entirely changes their offense.

The Cubs’ offense has been clicking in the second half and that’s partially been due to the success of their outfielders — Ian Happ, Mike Tauchman, Seiya Suzuki and, of course, Cody Bellinger.

“I would say [Canario’s] probably on the back end of the depth chart,” manager David Ross said before the Cubs split a doubleheader Friday at Great American Ballpark.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be riding the Cubs’ bench.

“I think he’ll get at-bats for sure the rest of the way,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “He’s not gonna be in a position where he’s not playing for the entire month.”

So there’ll be a healthy balance in terms of playing time for Canario. For example, Friday’s games weren’t really catered to a major-league debut for a rookie who has just over 50 minor-league games under his belt this season.

Starting in a crucial game against one of the Reds’ best starters, Graham Ashcraft, in game 1 didn’t make a lot of sense. The opportunity to pinch hit never really arose — Jeimer Candelario pinch-hit for Christopher Morel and was a better matchup and Miguel Amaya wasn’t likely to be pinch-hit for since that would mean burning Yan Gomes as a defensive replacement and he was set to start the nightcap.

In game 2, Ross went with almost the same starting nine — except Candelario starting at third for Nick Madrigal. In the 9th inning, with a runner on third and two outs, Ross opted to pinch hit Morel for Madrigal, which made sense as a contact bat would match up well to drive in an insurance run. Madrigal made contact but lined out.

The Cubs are amidst a crucial stretch, but it will be key to rest some of their offensive players — Tauchman has struggled of late, hitting .143/.276/.143 over his last 15 games, so finding the right matchup for Canario and giving Tauchman or Suzuki or Happ some rest could make sense.

The same applies to the Cubs’ pitching corps.

It’s no secret Ross has leaned on his three-headed relief corps of Julian Merryweather, Mark Leiter Jr. and Adbert Alzolay a lot this season — all have career marks in appearances. That’s why the Cubs selected the contract of Shane Greene before the doubleheader. His addition was to provide the Cubs’ depth, especially on the doubleheader day.

The idea with Greene’s call-up was if one of the games became a blowout — one way or another — Ross could turn to Greene to cover those innings. As it was, Ross was able to preserve a good chunk of his bullpen in game 1 with Jordan Wicks (5 innings), Merryweather (1) and Keegan Thompson (2) covering the 27 outs in the win.

But the doubleheader has a trickledown effect for the following days. Given their usage, Drew Smyly (3 innings in game 2), Hayden Wesneski (3.1) and Wesneski all are likely to be down for a few days, leaving Greene as the only length option. The Cubs could opt to keep him around to fill that role or move on and bring on another reliever.

“On the pitching side, kind of unusual September 1 with [a] doubleheader, so we have to keep that in mind as we’re thinking through these different things,” Hoyer said. “And obviously when players get sent down, and [are] on the roster, they have a 15-day restriction. So, we had to think about what would happen after a doubleheader. You almost never have a doubleheader day without transactions afterward. So, we had to keep that in mind.”

Brad Boxberger pitched on back-to-back days with Iowa on Wednesday and Thursday, so he could be an option and could serve in leverage situations to lessen the load on Merryweather, Leiter and Alzolay.

Whatever may happen on the pitching front in terms of moves, it’s a sign of what September could look like for the Cubs with the two extra roster spots.

“I would expect, throughout September, we’re gonna have a lot of roster moves,” Hoyer said. “We’re in a pennant race, and the rules have changed. And this isn’t the September 1 of the old days, when you call everyone up, and there’s no more options.

“There’ll be a lot of moves. But these are the two we made today.”

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