Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills ready to step up on Cubs pitching staff
Tyler Chatwood and the rest of the Cubs pitching staff tried to keep themselves as ready as possible during MLB’s 3-month shutdown. It was tough, though, with no real target date as negotiations between MLB and the players association went on.
So, he and the rest of the pitching corps emphasized being over prepared.
“I think our philosophy was be over ready and not try and play catch up,” Chatwood said after throwing 3 innings in an intrasquad game on Sunday. “We were throwing bullpens, but we didn’t know when we needed to be ready by or what we were getting ready for. So, I think that was the toughest part. Luckily, we were able to stay pretty much ready.”
Staying ready was a focus for him and Alec Mills. With news of José Quintana’s hand laceration and subsequent time off, Chatwood and Mills likely moved up in the pitching rotation depth chart.
For Chatwood, who was likely in line for the final spot in the Cubs rotation in the spring, not too much changes for him mentally. He’s still preparing for a spot in the starting rotation and staying focused for the dash that is the 2020 season.
“The only thing different with this season [is] it’s more of a sprint,” Chatwood said. “You essentially have two months of games and you gotta be locked in for those two months and ready to go.”
It shouldn’t be too difficult for Chatwood, who admitted he had worked his arm strength up to pitch up to 4 innings during the shutdown.
“We were able to throw bullpens and stay safe, follow all of the protocols and kinda watch,” Chatwood said. “Obviously we didn’t throw the competitive innings we wanted, but we wanted to be as ready as possible cause it is a shortened season. So, we wanted to be ready and not try to play catchup during this ‘cause I think that’s when injuries and stuff happens.”
Already down one starter, the Cubs have to keep the rest of their arms ready to go right out of the gate.
That means an even greater emphasis for pitching coach Tommy Hottovy to keep Mills and Chatwood in positions to help the Cubs rotation.
Mills, who appeared in 9 games for the Cubs in 2019, has displayed the versatility of starting for the Cubs and coming out of the ‘pen. That flexibility proves crucial with Quintana’s injury and the shortened season.
“I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” Mills told reporters on Sunday after throwing 2 innings in the intrasquad game. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like [Quintana’s], I think it’s just even more heightened. [I’m] ready to do whatever; whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there; a couple more starts, long guy out of the ‘pen, it’s just whatever I need to do, I like to pride myself on being ready to do that.”
That process of getting ready has been occurring through the shutdown. Hottovy and the Cubs kept their pitchers on a workout plan as close to a real season as possible, throwing a bullpen session early in the week and then a simulated game later on. That allowed the pitchers to maintain their arm strength and stamina for when they returned to the team.
In turn, that allows them to be far enough ahead of schedule that they’re not over burning their pitchers’ arms in an effort to get up to speed in time for the season opener.
“For the most part, we wanted guys to get the work in that they needed to be able to face hitters and do simulated games,” Hottovy said. “A lot of our guys are probably a little further innings-wise or pitch count-wise than you’re gonna see these first couple of games, but backing them off a little bit and getting them on a five-day rotation more similar to what they will be like during the season I think puts us in a good position kind of moving forward.”