Pencil in Rex Brothers as the Cubs’ second left-hander on the opening pitching staff.
Cubs manager David Ross all but officially announced that the power-pitching veteran with the sizable command issues in recent years has earned one of the final spots in an eight- or nine-man bullpen after an exceptional performance so far this spring.
“I’ve looked at Rex hard, and he’s done nothing but prove that he belongs in the big leagues,” Ross said Thursday — just one week from Opening Day. “I’ve thrown him to the wolves multiple games, and he’s done nothing but answer the bell. The ball’s coming out as good as I’ve ever seen it. He’s been consistent throwing strikes.”
Brothers, 33, would be only the second lefty on a pitching staff that is projected to include at least 13 pitchers — including no lefties in the opening rotation for the first time since 2011.
Reliever Andrew Chafin is the other lefty.
Brothers, the former Rockies first-round draft pick, always has been a hard-throwing pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff (10+ strikeouts per nine innings in his career), and in 2013 he posted a 1.74 ERA with 19 saves in 40 appearances for the Rockies, playing his home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
But command has always been an issue, especially as he struggled since that big ’13 season — with a 6.1-per-nine walk rate that has contributed to a 1.74 WHIP and 5.77 ERA since.
The Cubs traded for him after the 2015 season before releasing him during the following spring training, then signed as a low-cost, low-risk free agent before last season, when he made three inauspicious appearances.
If he has rediscovered at least a modest amount of command and repeatable mechanics, the Cubs might have a significant weapon in their 2021 bullpen (Mr. Brothers, meet Mr. Yelich).
That could be the biggest “if” for a roster full of them as the Cubs open the season, based on the last seven years.
But Ross seems convinced by what he has seen from the veteran, especially in seven scoreless spring appearances in which he has nine strikeouts and just one walk.
“He’s had success — dominant success — in the big leagues, and has gone through a unique journey,” Ross said. “You talk to him, and he’s mentally where he needs to be. He’s mentally tough.
“He’s put his struggles behind him, I truly believe, and he’s ready to impact our ball club in a big way.”