Casey Coleman has been something of an afterthought in the rotation competition, despite being one of the Cubs’ first rotation fill-ins last year (not that that’s a particularly high compliment). The 24-year-old former Minor League Pitcher of the Year struggled with his control last year, and did little to engender a belief that he could succeed long-term as a starter in the big leagues.

So maybe I shouldn’t call it a surprise that Coleman might be emerging as a bullpen candidate this year – and not the swing-man/long reliever type. Coleman recently pitched a scoreless ninth inning, during which he flashed a fastball that touched 94 mph. After a career of starting, could Coleman convert into a one-inning reliever? That velocity increase could certainly help.

And it turns out, Coleman’s happy to crank it up when he’s coming out of the pen.

“There’s a lot of bullpen spots open and guys competing,” Coleman said. “I don’t mind where I’m at. I can come in for one inning. As a starter I like to establish a sinker and throw different pitches. Out of the ‘pen, I can hit 93, 94 [mph] if I need a good fastball.

“I’ve developed a new slider where I drop down a little bit, and that’s a strikeout pitch. I feel [that] overall I can adapt better to the bullpen now with what I have. Last year, at the beginning of spring, I was throwing normal stuff, and I didn’t think I would be effective in the bullpen. Now I’m striking out a few more guys and making pitches when I need to. I think I could adapt to that very easily.”

If Jeff Samardzija makes the rotation, the Cubs will be even more pressed to find another reliever capable of taking a late inning from time to time, especially considering Kerry Wood’s advancing age and tenuous health, coupled with Sean Marshall’s departure. It still seems a long-shot that the guy could be Coleman, but it’s an interesting new possibility.

  • Cedlandrum

    Coleman is a better pitcher then people give him credit for. I like him. I think he will have a successful big league career one way or another.

    • Karen P

      Seconded. If he can stay injury free and is given consistent opportunities, I think he’ll show that.

  • Kyle

    I’m certainly intrigued by the possibility of him becoming a useful MLB pitcher out of the pen. He wouldn’t be the first guy to do it. But we have a lot of intriguing guys, and I think maybe we run out of pen spots before we get to Coleman.

    I do think he could be kept around as a mop-up guy. I’ve always felt that was an underrated position in the pitching staff. The MLB season is a war of attrition on pitchers’ arms. Why not keep around a cheap guy without much long-term upside to soak up innings in blowouts? A guy whose arm you can just flog to death and not care if he gets hurt or worn out.

    • CubFan Paul

      Wasn’t that Mateo last year? Quade left him out there for 5 innings and he sprained his elbow..

      • Diesel

        I remember that game.  The thing with that was Mateo was pitching lights out and had a fairly low pitch count for 5 innings.  He only threw 56 which was only 22 more pitches than Zambrano did who started and Zambrano only pitched one inning and then pitched to 3 batters in the second and couldn’t get anyone out.  Mateo really showed some good stuff that day.

        • CubFan Paul

          But Mateo wasn’t stretched out for 5 innings of work tho ..I forget the bullpen situation/freshness but I remember blaming Quade for his injury

          • Diesel

            I blame him too.  For a lot of things.  But how many times have we seen relievers throw 40+ pitches in 2 or fewer innings which is usually a lot more stressful on a pitcher than 56 pitches in 5?  They aren’t really stretched out for that either but it happens.  He was pitching so well that he was never in any high stress situations.  The thing I remember thinking the most is why can’t our starters pitch like this more often?

            • TC

              2 innings and 40 pitches and 5 innings and 56 pitches are totally different things, though. The actual pitch count may only be slightly higher, but that doesnt include the extra 8-10 warm up pitches before each inning, which all put strain on a guys arm. If a pitcher isn’t ready for that, thats a ton of work to put on his arm

              • Diesel

                I concede that.  Watching that game though it was just one of those things where quade got caught up in it and let him go to far because he was just pitching out of his mind.  Pitched awesome the previous time he pitched as well.  When you bring someone in from the bullpen in the second inning someone is going to have to take a few more innings than usual.  It turned out that game went 13 innings so they may have run out of pitchers otherwise.  I hope he is able to be that guy out of the bullpen for us this year.

  • daveyrosello

    A reliever is a failed starter. Period. So Coleman has that going for him 😉

    Seriously, even Rivera, Hoffman, Papelbon, Sutter, Lee Smith et al. did some starting pitching in the minors, all minor leaguers with legit major league talent begin as starters.

    So sure, Casey Coleman, why not? The Cubs need 6th and 7th inning guys.

  • Ian Afterbirth

    Reminds me of when Marshall ended up in the pen after mediocrity as a starter.
    Let’s hope it turns out similarly!

  • Tarheel Cub

    Yes, pulling for Casey and these young pitchers out of our minor league system to take these remaining spots. Would bode well for the future and go along with our youth movement. But I think the bottom line is Dale Sveum will take the pitchers North who deserve to go – unless they have a guaranteed contract lol.

  • Idaho Razorback

    Remember Goose Gossage was a failed starter who ended up in the bullpen and is now a Hall of Famer.