Very early on this Spring, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon announced the starting rotation order, including Opening Day starter Jon Lester, and it looked something like this:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 28, 2018
So when the Cubs open up the season in Miami – just two weeks from tomorrow! – the Marlins will get Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jose Quintana from Thursday to Sunday. But who will the Cubs get in return?
Well, as far as Opening Day goes, it looks like we’ll see right-hander Jose Urena on the mound:
For those who aren’t super familiar with the 26-year-old hard-throwing righty that Don Mattingly named as the Marlins’ Opening Day starter against the Cubs, we figured he was worth a look.
Given where Urena was last year, winding up the Opening Day starter is quite a turnaround (MLB.com): “A year ago, Urena’s status with the organization was up in the air. He was out of options, and he made the club as a reliever before becoming a fixture in the rotation.” Of course, Urena went on to make 28 starts for the Marlins in 2017, posting a well-above average 3.82 ERA.
If you’re unfamiliar with Urena, you can watch a couple highlights below, as Marlins Manager Don Mattingly discusses the decision to pick him for the job:
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Urena’s 3.82 ERA out-paced his peripherals by quite a bit (5.20 FIP, 5.29 xFIP) last season.
In his 169.2 innings of work last year, Urena posted just a 15.6% strikeout rate, with a mediocre 8.8% walk rate. When you also consider the small ground ball rate (43.1%), healthy fly ball rate (38.3%), uncharacteristically low BABIP (.249), unusually high strand rate (79.0%), and middling contact management numbers … yeah, I’d say Urena was probably very lucky to get the results he did.
But make no mistake, he still has talent, and his teammates seem to be plenty happy with the decision.
“If you see him, and the intensity at which he pitches, you’d say, ‘Dang, there’s some fire in this kid,'” Marlins third baseman Martin Prado said. “Sometimes you need those kinds of guys. You always want him to be the guy that you feel like, ‘We have a chance to win this game.'”
And in case you were hoping the pressure of going from non-rotation pitcher to Opening Day starter in just one season would get to him, think again. “I don’t feel that way. I feel normal,” Urena said about starting on Opening Day to the Sun-Sentinel. “Some people take it that way but I don’t take it in that way,’ he said. “I’m not prepared for just one start. I try to be healthy and do the best I can every fifth day when I get out on the mound.”
As far as what the Cubs hitters can expect, Urena relies primarily on his four-seam fastball (thrown 56.2% of the time last season), which he throws, on average, at about 96 MPH. Beyond that, you might see him mix in his 88.7 MPH change-up (19.8%), and 85.4 MPH slider (24.0%). It’s a simple repertoire, but one that’s worked for ages.
So now, the natural question is … who’ll the Cubs line up against him?
Well, for his career, Urena has been far weaker against left-handers (.341 wOBA) than right-handers (.317 wOBA) (though the split did shrink some last year), so I’d generally expect to see your typical against-righties lineup:
- Ian Happ, CF
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Willson Contreras, C
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Addison Russell, SS
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, 2B
- Jon Lester, P
The *one* exception I could envision is that if, over the next couple weeks, Ben Zobrist proves that he’s 100% healthy, ready to go, and looking good at the plate, maybe Joe Maddon decides to give his veteran switch-hitter the start at second over Baez. If I’m betting, though, even if Zobrist is healthy, I’m still expecting to see Baez out there on Opening Day.
What are your thoughts? Is this the lineup you’d go with against Urena? You have only 15 days to lodge your opinion!