Cubs News

The Cubs rotation has a new pregame routine and it could be the secret to their success

3 months agoTony Andracki

About 30-40 minutes before first pitch at Wrigley Field, you’ll notice the Cubs starter heading out to the bullpen under the left field bleachers to get loose for the game.

If you’ve been paying close attention this year, you’ll notice something else too — the whole Cubs starting staff is behind him.

The Cubs rotation has a new pregame routine in 2023 where the entire starting staff attends the bullpen prior to first pitch.

Before Marcus Stroman threw his complete game shutout at Wrigley Field on Memorial Day or Kyle Hendricks flirted with a no-hitter in San Francisco earlier this month, they were joined by their rotation mates for the pregame bullpen.

“We all go down pre-start,” Drew Smyly said. “When I go down to get warmed up for the game, everybody comes and watches. And then we all walk back into the dugout together. That happens every day.”

Jameson Taillon introduced the new routine when he joined the Cubs rotation this season.

“I’ve been loving it,” Hendricks said. “Something we should’ve been doing for a while. As a starter, sometimes you can feel on your own program a little bit, especially out there. You’re always on your own schedule.

“It brings us all together as a group really well. We’re all in it together, we’re watching each other’s bullpens. It just adds something to the group for sure.”

Starters Follow Hendricks

It certainly appears to be working.

The Cubs rotation sports the best ERA (3.77) in the National League and ranks 2nd in WHIP (1.20).

They’re accomplishing it all together as a cohesive unit, supporting each other like never before.

The new pregame routine seems like a very simple addition but it has had a profound effect. The starters have all bought in and fully believe it has led to an added level of comfort within each individual pitcher and the group as a whole.

“It’s awesome,” veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “You have a very clear showing that everybody’s got everybody’s back. That’s what you need.

“It’s neat to see. That cohesion and that togetherness is something you need as a group to win games and get to ultimately where we want to go.”

When one starter is warming up, the other four guys are behind him, cheering him on or tossing out support after pitches with simple comments like, “that’s nasty!” or “sick!”

It has become such an important part of each pitcher’s routine that they plan their schedule around it, ensuring they are present for their teammates.

Last homestand, Hendricks took the ball for Friday afternoon’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, which came after a night game on Thursday.

Taillon had to throw a between-starts bullpen and had a lifting session so under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t be dressed in uniform and out to field level until about 10 minutes before the 1:20 first pitch. But with the new routine, he set his alarm to wake up earlier, got to the field earlier and made sure to get his work in so he was ready to go 30-40 minutes before the game to be there for Hendricks.

“Now it’s just a thing to get your work done X amount of time before game time knowing that we have to be out there,” Taillon said.

Taillon had held similar routines with his rotation mates with the Pirates and Yankees earlier in his career and broached the subject with his new teammates in Chicago before the season began.

On Opening Day, the Cubs starters didn’t really have a direct conversation about the new routine and simply headed out as a group to attend Stroman’s pregame bullpen at Wrigley Field. From there, it has developed organically.

“I think it’s cool,” Taillon said. “For me, I get a feeling of, ‘hey, we’re all out there together. You guys are with me from the start to the finish. We’re grinding together.’

“And then if you dig a little deeper, it could be the day Stro threw the complete game here [on Memorial Day], we were all in the bullpen like, ‘he’s got it today.’ You could just see his arm is moving differently and we’re so in tune with each other.”

[MORE: Watches, Wines and Outs: Inside the dynamic, fruitful relationship between Cubs’ Marcus Stroman and Tucker Barnhart]

Beyond the level of comfort and the feeling of support, the Cubs starters have also found they’re learning and adapting individually.

Stroman has been the best pitcher in the National League this season while Justin Steele is continuing his breakout from last season and Smyly and Hendricks keep posting quality numbers.

Taillon hasn’t yet lived up to the big contract he signed in the offseason (6.71 ERA) but he has confidence it will turn around because of the way he sees his teammates work in their pregame bullpens.

“I watch Stro warm up, I watch Smyly warm up, Steele/Hendricks — I’m doing the same thing,” Taillon said. “We’re all really in a similar routine and that lets me know, I’m doing the right things. Stay with the course.

“Stro’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball and I watch what he does every time. I’m like, ‘OK, if I keep doing what I’m doing, I know I’m on the right track.'”

Starters With Stroman 1

Hendricks missed the first eight weeks of the season recovering from a shoulder injury but joined the team at several points along his road to recovery. Each time he was in town, he made sure to take part in the pregame bullpen group.

“It keeps us more cohesive and pulling for each other,” Hendricks said. “Just that little extra. And learning — you learn more from every guy. You see what their routines are, you see what they do in their side work, you see what they do in their pregame bullpen.

“You can pick up a lot of things just by watching. There’s a lot of positives to it that I really love.”

The Cubs aren’t the only team coming together as a rotation before games. Hendricks noticed the Orioles doing the same thing last weekend at Wrigley Field.

But it is quite the contrast from how baseball used to be.

“That wasn’t common earlier in my career,” Smyly said. “There were people I played with that if you tried to watch a bullpen, they’d tell you to get lost.”

But for the Cubs, it’s a no-brainer and something they will continue throughout the season.

“It just brings a level of comfort,” Smyly said. “It enhances your trust of what you have, what you’re working with when you have veteran guys or other people on the team commenting on how good of a pitch that is or whatnot.

“It brings a level of trust into the game like, ‘oh, I can throw this and get this guy out.’ And you just believe in yourself more.”

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