Cubs

How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

As the Cactus League shuttered its doors and Cubs players scattered across the country – some headed home, others stayed in Arizona —Tommy Hottovy stepped into uncharted territory.

Hottovy has been the Cubs pitching coach since December of 2018, so he’s guided his pitchers through offseasons before. But going from ramping up in Spring Training to not knowing when Major League Baseball would return? No one had a play book for that.

“Our philosophy was be over-ready and not try to play catchup,” starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “So, luckily we were able to do that.”

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Fast forward to Sunday, Day 3 of Cubs Summer Camp. By the end of the holiday weekend, four of the Cubs’ five presumptive starters had thrown at least two innings in an intrasquad scrimmage and four relievers had also gotten time on the mound.

“It’s just a testament to the work those guys put in over the process,” Hottovy said.

During the shutdown, Hottovy held regular meetings with the pitchers via video conference. They bounced ideas off each other and discussed their overall approach.

“We had so many resources between Tommy, Rossy (manager David Ross), the whole coaching staff staying in touch with us the whole time,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “And then other players. So, we really did it as a group.”

Out of those conversations, Hottovy learned that many of the pitchers wanted arm strength to be a focus during the break.

“Not just pitch-count wise,” Hottovy said, “but to feel that their arm was in the right throwing shape.”

So, he incorporated that into the pitchers’ throwing programs.

Each pitchers’ program was catered to the resources and facilities he had access to, as well as his own goals. But before ramping up for Summer Camp, most of the starting pitchers were throwing one bullpen session early in the week and a simulated game later in the week. As the season got closer, they added a second bullpen.

RELATED: Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

“The reason I liked getting to those two bullpens,” Hottovy said, “was because now you kind of start simulating what it’s like to be on a five-game rotation.”

By the time they entered camp, many of the starting pitchers were already throwing multiple-inning simulation games. By Day 2 of camp, the Cubs were ready for a short intrasquad game. Hendricks threw three innings, and Yu Darvish threw two.

“Both of them had actually thrown more pitches in a simulated outing prior to coming here,” Hottovy said, “but we wanted to back that off a little bit, obviously knowing that the intensity was going to go up. They’re back on the field with players behind them facing more of our lineup, more of our hitters.”

On Sunday, the Cubs stretched an intrasquad out to five-innings. Chatwood and Alec Mills started, and Dan Winkler, Duane Underwood, Rex Brothers and James Norwood all pitched in relief.

“Everything’s based off pitching,” Ross said and then laughed. “We give the pitchers a hard time all the time; the pitchers kind of dictate how long the day’s going to go because these guys have got to get their pitch counts up.”

With less than three weeks until the season opener, Hottovy’s job still doesn’t return to normal. Instead of setting a schedule based on the order of the pitching rotation, he’s “front-loading” the starters. He also is preparing some relivers to throw extended innings.

“Right now, in my mind we have seven opening day starters,” he said, “…You can’t space them out too much in my opinion just because you can’t take that chance.”

 

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Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

The Cubs plan to start swingman Colin Rea on Saturday against the Brewers, manager David Ross said after Friday's game.

Alec Mills was originally slated to pitch Saturday but was bumped up to Friday because Tyler Chatwood was scratched with mid-back tightness. The Cubs will evaluate Chatwood to see if he's an option to pitch on Monday, when they're scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Rea, 30, has made two appearances this season, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out three in three innings. He was named the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts.

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Rea's last big league start was July 30, 2016 with the Marlins. He allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four with no walks.

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Quick takes: Pitching duel implodes in Cubs' loss to Brewers

Quick takes: Pitching duel implodes in Cubs' loss to Brewers

The Cubs just barely fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Brewers Friday at Wrigley Field.

In the ninth inning, Cubs relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel stepped into the highest-pressure situation he’s been in, perhaps all season. And he delivered. Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia and Manny Piña for the first and third outs of a scoreless frame. He also walked Justin Smoak and got Ben Gamel to line out to second.

But the Cubs offense didn’t overcome the late one-run deficit.

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Here are takeaways from the game:

Patience is a virtue

Jason Kipnis fouled off seven pitches before driving in the Cubs’ first run of the night.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and Jason Heyward and David Bote had just recorded the Cubs’ first and second hits of the game. Runners stood on first and third with one out.

Kipnis fouled off the first two pitches he saw, a changeup and a fastball. Just like that, he was behind in the count and his margin for error had shrunk. But he battled off fastballs and changeups that peppered the strike zone, and even strayed out of it. He watched a curveball in the dirt.

And then finally, Kipnis got a solid piece of an inside pitch. 

After Kipnis hit the tying run home, the Cubs’ offense kept flowing. Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ drew back-to-back walks for Bote to score. Anthony Rizzo poked a changeup out to right-center field to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead and force a Brewers pitching change.

Freddy Peralta replaced starter Brandon Woodruff on the mound. Peralta struck out the next two batters to end the inning.

Not quite pitch perfect

Alec Mills wasn’t even supposed to be pitching Friday. But when the Cubs scratched Tyler Chatwood from the lineup with mid-back tightness, Mills’ start moved up a day.

Mills was perfect through four innings, striking out six.

Mills finally put a batter on base in the fifth inning, when he walked Garcia. Then, Smoak got the Brewers’ first hit of the night off Mills. He pulled a ground ball to the right side. The Cubs defense was in the shift, so Bote, the third baseman, was playing in between first and second. Smoak’s hit snuck through the hole between Bote and second baseman Nico Hoerner.

Mills allowed two more hits but got out of the inning after giving up just one run.

The Brewers did most of their damage in the sixth. Eric Sogard singled to center field. Then, Mills hit Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura with a pitch. Christian Yelich drove them both home with a three-run homer to right field, erasing the Cubs’ lead with one swing.

Pitching duel implodes

Woodruff’s night mirrored Mills’ in many ways. The score remained locked in a scoreless tie through four innings.

The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was the first player from either team to reach base. He did so on a fielding error by Smoak, the Brewers first baseman, in the fourth.

The first hit from either side was a single by Smoak the next inning. Woodruff didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning. But through 4 1/3 innings, he allowed three runs on four hits.

Where they stand

Despite the loss, the Cubs still have the best winning percentage in baseball. They are 13-4 (.765).

On Deck

The Cubs play two more games against the Brewers to finish the four-game series. What was once a 10-game homestand for the Cubs is now scheduled to be a 12-game homestand.

On Friday, Major League Baseball announced that the Cubs would play doubleheaders against the Cardinals on Monday and Tuesday, to begin making up the three-game series that was postponed due to more positive COVID-19 tests within the Cardinals organization.

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