The hidden benefit of the universal DH for the Cubs
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — With the rushed Spring Training, MLB has instituted a rule where each team will have 2 extra roster spots for the first month of the regular season.
That will help, for sure, but it’s another rule that could have hidden benefits for teams like the Cubs.
With the DH now universal across both leagues, the Cubs have 162 games to utilize the spot for the first time in history. In the 60-game season of 2020, David Ross used the extra hitter as a rotation to keep players — particularly his catchers — healthy and rested.
Expect that to be the case again in 2022, especially early on.
But there’s another added advantage of the DH spot — how it affects the Cubs’ pitching staff.
“Now we can just let the bullpen guys — if they’re throwing well, try and let them go,” Ross said. “If they can give us more than 1 inning or more than 2 innings, we’ll let them roll as long as the game dictates that and they’re pitching well.
“It’s kind of a nice luxury to have and in theory, should help protect the bullpen a little bit.”
With less than four weeks of Spring Training to gear up for the season, starting pitchers around the league are struggling to build up to their normal workload by Opening Day.
The Cubs feel confident Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman can handle a near-normal workload from the outset but after that, the rotation is a bit of a question mark. There is a lot of talk of piggybacking starts and the Cubs will break camp with a variety of multi-inning options available out of the bullpen.
But in the past, part of the reason relievers wouldn’t throw more than an inning in NL games is because their spot would come up in the batting order. That is no longer the case.
Now that Ross and the Cubs don’t have to worry about the pitcher’s spot in the batting order, they can let relievers pitch as long as necessary and also allow starters to go deeper into games without pinch-hitting for him.
That has a trickle-down effect of saving arms for future games and providing more of an opportunity for building in rest.
It also frees up the Cubs to use the bench to their advantage and play matchups later in games vs. having to save position players for pinch-hitting roles in the pitcher’s spot.
“I don’t have to think about some of that stuff anymore,” Ross said. “If I like a matchup with a guy that’s on the bench and can pinch-hit in a situation and I don’t have to worry about where the pitcher’s spot is coming up and running out of players and different things like that.
“It definitely takes some of that off my plate — the double switches and guys being ready and communicating a bunch of different scenarios.”
With an off-day after the first series of the season, the Cubs don’t need a fifth starter until Game 9 on April 16. Wade Miley was initially projected to be a part of the opening rotation but he has been slowed in camp and just threw his first live bullpen Sunday, tossing 17 pitches in a simulated inning.
The Cubs could opt to keep Miley in Arizona to continue building up and break camp with a four-man rotation of Hendricks, Stroman and two others.
Justin Steele and Alec Mills have each started 2 Cactus League games while Keegan Thompson and Drew Smyly have 1 start under their belts and other live BP work. Two of those pitchers could head to the bullpen as long relief options alongside Daniel Norris, Scott Effross and Jesse Chavez. Non-roster invitee Robert Gsellman could also factor into the mix as a multi-inning arm.
“We’re looking at it in two-week increments in my mind, like OK the first two weeks of the season — what are we gonna need from a pitching staff perspective?” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “What is that gonna look like? And then after that, it could be completely different from what we want to do the next month-and-a-half, two months.
“So really it’s just communicating with the players and getting them on a plan that’s gonna be best for them to keep them healthy and the best version of themselves and then we’ll piece that puzzle together once we come up with all that.”