The Cubs' pitching staff is staring at a block of 17 straight games to start the season. After just three weeks of Summer Camp.
“There’s a reason why Spring Training’s so long,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Because we want to stretch it out, make sure everybody’s healthy. So, outside of the virus factor, there’s a risk factor of injury as well.”
Expecting starting pitchers to consistently throw seven innings at the beginning of the season isn’t realistic, so pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has built in a cushion. While most Cubs starters are upping their workloads to three-plus innings this week, some middle relievers are stretching to multiple innings as well.
Late this week, Hottovy said he expects Rex Brothers, Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, Duane Underwood Jr. and James Norwood to throw two innings in simulated games.
“As much as it is important to get these guys going multiple innings,” Hottovy said, “it’s also important to get them the volume they need, that you would see during a regular season. So throwing a two- or three-inning stint and having three or four days off, it may help us in one game, but over the course of the season … we’re going to need guys to be able to bounce back.”
Those who aren’t expected to throw multiple innings will, for the most part, still work up to a batter or two over one inning.
Lefty reliever Kyle Ryan, who was delayed by what Ross called “protocol technicalities,” is in that category. He arrived in Chicago Wednesday night, according to Ross. Ryan was scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 along with the rest of the team Thursday. He will be quarantined until the Cubs receive his tests results, as long as they come back negative.
But Hottovy still believes there’s a chance Ryan could be ready to pitch in time for Opening Day in two weeks.
“We still have to get our eyes on him,” Hottovy said. “I feel like there is because of the work that he’s done and what he’s had access to back home.”
Either way, the Cubs hope to avoid having Ryan pitch in back to back games early in the season.
“I don’t think anybody,” Hottovy said, “no matter what work you’ve done, is going to be ready to go back-to-backs at least consistently and definitely not those three days in a row.”
Not even veteran closer Craig Kimbrel. Hottovy anticipates that several pitchers will need to fill late-inning roles due to the compact 60-game schedule.
The team's bullpen depth figures to be put to the test immediately, especially with starter José Quintana sidelined due to a lacerated left thumb. But even with swingman Alec Mills expected to join the rotation, Ross has been pleasantly surprised with the overhauled Cubs pen.
“It’s definitely deeper than I had in my mind going into it,” Ross said. “These guys have really taken it upon themselves to be in tip-top shape.”