Spring Training Notebook: Cubs roster musings, Suzuki debut
MESA, Ariz. — With Opening Day just over two weeks away, Major League Baseball reportedly instituted a rule change in the size of the roster.
News broke Tuesday afternoon that rosters would be expanded to 28 players to begin the season.
As of right now, the Cubs anticipate using those extra 2 roster spots for added arms with a Spring Training that is roughly half the time of a normal camp.
“Having a couple extra spots makes a lot of sense to add pitchers,” David Ross said. “Although I’m not committing to that, I think it makes a lot of sense to protect those guys and see where everybody is at. We’ll make that final call before Opening Day.”
The Cubs have been rolling with a 5-man rotation in Cactus League so far: Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman have each started 2 games while Justin Steele, Alec Mills and Keegan Thompson have a start apiece.
Wade Miley was acquired off waivers in November but the 35-year-old has been a bit behind in camp after the hectic nature of Spring Training starting suddenly following a 99-day lockout.
Drew Smyly will factor into the rotation mix but just signed last week and threw a live BP session Tuesday to Cubs hitters.
With a 162-game schedule on tap, teams will not lean heavily on starting pitchers to begin the year, opting instead for a big picture approach to the season. So don’t expect Hendricks to throw a complete game his first time out like he did in July 2020.
Adding 2 extra roster spots will allow for Ross and Co. to use relievers in multi-inning outings out of the bullpen without taxing the rest of the unit.
“Even if they’re young or a little bit less experienced, to have those couple extra options to maybe have some of these other guys take the time that are getting late starts — all those things kinda factor in,” Ross said. “We want to keep these guys healthy so to be able to have 2 extra roster spots, that’s gonna be nice for us. I think it was a smart move in this unique spring training.”
The long-awaited news has come: Seiya Suzuki will make his Cubs debut Friday afternoon at Sloan Park.
The prized free agent addition will play right field as the Cubs host the Rockies.
Suzuki has been in camp since last Friday. As he ramps up for game action, he has taken batting practice swings and notched some live at-bats against teammates over the last few days.
Be sure to catch Friday’s game on Marquee Sports Network beginning at 3 p.m. Chicago time.
New pitcher in camp
Mychal Givens’ deal was made official Wednesday. The veteran reliever signed a 1-year contract with a mutual option for 2023.
To make room for Givens on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated infielder Sergio Alcántara for assignment.
Givens turns 32 in May and has 360 MLB appearances under his belt with the Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds. He has pitched in a variety of roles, including as a setup man (77 holds), a closer (29 saves) and a multi-inning reliever.
He notched 8 saves with the Reds last season and had a 3.35 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.
Over his 7-year career, Givens has whiffed 10.6 batters per 9 innings including 165 strikeouts in 136.1 frames over the last 3 seasons.
“Another veteran, established bullpen arm,” Ross said. “We’ll let him kinda show us where he’s at and what he’s doing. Getting a little bit of a later start.”
Givens still has more than two weeks to ramp up for the regular season and if he’s ready, Ross wouldn’t commit to a specific job for him in the bullpen at this time.
“I’m not real comfortable with putting guys in roles before I even get to see them pitch,” Ross said. “Obviously a guy that has done really good things in the major leagues the last few years and we’re happy to have him.”
Stroman settles Opening Day discussion
When Opening Day rolls around on April 7, it seems pretty clear who the Cubs’ starting pitcher will be (health-permitting).
Hendricks got the ball for the Cactus League opener last week and is in line to start Game 1. But with the arrival of Stroman, it was at least a question if he might also work his way into the Opening Day discussion.
Stroman put any notion of that to bed Wednesday after his outing against the A’s.
“I truly believe Hendricks should be the Opening Day [starter] just because of his career, how unbelievable he’s been in the playoffs,” Stroman said. “His resume speaks for itself. He’s the guy who should be handed the ball each and every Opening Day as long as he’s here.”
Stroman will take the ball whenever Ross and Co. ask him to. But for right now, Stroman is mentally working toward April 8 as his Cubs regular season debut.
“I’ll pitch Day 5. I really don’t care when I pitch,” he said. “I’ve never been prideful on that.”
Stroman threw 2-plus innings Wednesday against Oakland, permitting 2 runs and throwing just shy of 50 pitches. His main focus was building up his workload and getting his mechanics in line.
Next time out, he hopes to throw 4 or 5 innings and is ready for a full slate this season.
“This is a lifestyle for me,” Stroman said. “I train — the second the season’s over, I’m right back in the gym. The biggest thing everyone always doubted me on when I was coming up as a rookie was: ‘oh, he’s not gonna be durable, he’s too small to go out there.’
“I’m gonna go out there and throw 180-200 innings with ease for the rest of my career because of my work that I put in. I’m in the gym the day the season ends — I’m right back to preparing for next year. I don’t travel, I just work on my body and I chill with my fam. I’m ready.”
Stroman said he feels like he will be ready to throw 6-8 innings by the time the regular season rolls around.
The Cubs announced Wednesday they signed all 28 of their pre-arbitration players to deals.
That group includes Nick Madrigal, Nico Hoerner, Frank Schwindel and Justin Steele.