GLENDALE, Ariz. – As Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy made his way out to the row of bullpen mounds earlier this weekend, a clipboard under his arm from him and a basket of baseballs in hand, he let out of laugh.
“Head on a swivel,” Hottovy quipped as he quickened his pace.
Hottovy has been bouncing between the practice fields, bullpen, pitch lab and stadium in recent days, while the front-office team on the second floor of the complex has continued to add new pitchers to camp. Chicago has been rapidly building up depth, given the abbreviated build-up to Opening Day.
The task for Hottovy and the Cubs’ pitching group right now is to map out a rotation blueprint, but with multiple contingencies in place for the start of the regular season. The reality for Chicago (and every other team) is that pitchers will not be fully stretched out when camp breaks this spring.
“I’ve thought about that myself,” Cubs lefty Justin Steele said. “How are we going to get through nine-inning games when nobody’s really built up to like five, six, seven innings yet? I don’t really have the answer to that.”
Here is what the Cubs are looking at right now:
• Right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman appear on track to be ready to reach at least five innings before the April 7 opener against the Brewers arrives. As things stand, they are positioned to be the candidates for the Opening Day nod.
• Lefty Wade Miley is currently on what manager David Ross called a “veteran” program. He is slated to throw a bullpen session Monday, but is currently a little behind the other arms in camp. Hottovy said the goal would be to get him over 40 pitches by the end of spring.
• Lefties Drew Smyly and Steele are going to be stretched out as starters, along with righties Alec Mills and Keegan Thompson. It is possible they are part of “piggyback” outings in early April.
• The Cubs also have Daniel Norris, Adrian Sampson (non-roster) and Robert Gsellman (non-roster), among others, in camp as multi-inning options. Norris, specifically, is hoping to compete for rotation innings.
“Ultimately, that’s what I would love to do,” Norris said of starting. “But at the same time, I think I can do whatever. I’m going to compete the best I can and whatever they choose is what they choose, and I’ll be excited regardless.”
Ross noted Sunday that Steele, who worked 57 innings between the rotation and bullpen for the Cubs in 2021, has a Minor League option available, if the lefty does not crack the Opening Day rotation. The manager previously started that Mills (out of options) is going to have a shot at being a starter.
Mills — who authored a no-hitter in 2020 and has performed better when on a starter’s routine — is hoping to be part of the rotation.
“I’ve done some things in the past I feel like I have warranted me a chance at being a starter,” Mills said. “But, it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. So obviously, I need to keep pitching well and keep showing them that I deserve to be a starter.”
They key to all of this will be remaining flexible, especially given the latest wrinkle with Miley. If he is only built out to three or four innings by the end of Spring Training, the need for multi-inning relievers will be even more pressing.
Hottovy noted that the 35-year-old Miley recently threw a 15-pitch bullpen session that went well. Ross added that the veteran lefty will be in games “soon,” but the Cubs are taking a conservative approach to his throwing program as they monitor data and get Miley’s feedback.
“We’re just trying to evaluate each bullpen that he gets,” Hottovy said, “and make the best decision possible for him and for us. In general, we’re really just trying to give him that runway he needs.”
Under the circumstances, Hottovy is holding out hope that MLB allows for extra roster spots at the season’s outset. In the meantime, the Cubs and every other team planning for a 26-man roster with a 13-man pitching staff.
How that staff is constructed come Opening Day is an unsolved puzzle.
“[There] may be 10 three-inning guys,” Hottovy said. “All these guys are really in a similar boat. We’re going to try to get all these guys stretched out in a similar fashion.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism