Why Cubs are going against the grain with their Spring Training plan for pitchers
MESA, Ariz. — A sense of normalcy has been a blessing for the entire Cubs pitching staff and coaches.
Over the past few seasons, the circumstances surrounding Spring Training have affected pitchers in their preparation — especially those fringe pitchers that weren’t a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
“Last year we were kinda rushed through everything,” righty Adrian Sampson said. “They only had so many resources for their 26 guys, or 28 guys I think, they could break camp with last year.”
In 2022, the lockout prohibited pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and his staff from communicating with players on the 40-man roster, so when the lockout was lifted after 100 days and communication renewed, it was a game of catch-up: Where are you at in your ramp up? How many bullpens have you thrown? Have you faced live hitting yet? Are you healthy?
“I think it is significantly different [this year],” Hottovy said earlier this week. “We’ve been communicating with guys all offseason. We’ve had videos and Zoom calls. We were able to make a pitch change, grip adjustment with Jameson Taillon before we even saw him [in person].”
And, more than anything, they were able to have a concrete plan of attack when camp did open up on Wednesday and there was no catchup — pitchers and catchers officially reported, and it was as if it had been going on for weeks. That allows Hottovy and the rest of the coaching staff to get thorough looks at pitchers.
On Thursday, Justin Steele and Sampson both threw live bullpens. Eight pitchers — Drew Smyly, Julian Merryweather, Adbert Alzolay, Jordan Holloway, Hayden Wesneski, Manuel Rodríguez, Jeremiah Estrada and Ryan Jensen — all threw bullpens, allowing Hottovy and his staff time to look at those pitchers in various situations and work with them better.
“I think from a training perspective, we can get into live BPs a little earlier and spread out that volume,” Hottovy said. “So, it’s like maybe hit a live BP and then have a bullpen in between to work on some stuff, then another live BP, then you’re getting into games, instead of like ‘pen, ‘pen, live BP, live BP, game, which we’ve done for forever. But now we just know where guys are so you can plan that a little bit better.”
That benefits not only the Opening Day roster pitchers, but the entire staff. Injuries will occur and knowing exactly what you’re getting when you call up a new pitcher is beneficial.
“We have this very good group of young guys and they wanna make sure they’re establishing them, doing them the right way and all this kinda stuff,” Sampson said. “’Cause I think they didn’t have a chance to kinda get eyes on them [last year], get them in a routine that they wanted to get ‘em in. It was just kinda hard to get through April and the season.
“We have all this time, they’re benefiting very well.”