Yu Darvish (triceps inflammation) is set to throw live batting practice tomorrow at Wrigley Field, which could be the precursor to a minor league rehab assignment.
From there, it’ll still be a little while yet – a couple turns through the rotation, at least – before Darvish is ready to return to the big league team, so there’s still some time to figure out what the plan is going to be when the Cubs suddenly have six starting pitchers ready to go.
But, that day is coming.
With Mike Montgomery pitching so well as a fill-in starter, and with Tyler Chatwood struggling through the worst control stretch of his career, it’s very hard to imagine the Cubs pulling the plug on Montgomery as a starter when Darvish returns, if Montgomery hasn’t suddenly fallen way off or become injured. So what are the Cubs going to do?
“We’ll use common sense,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told the Sun-Times. “[Montgomery is] pitching so incredibly well. All he’s done is taken that opportunity and done all you can with it. We’re obviously going to keep that in mind.”
Common sense, in this situation, is that if Montgomery puts up yet another two or three excellent starts, the Cubs are simply not going to pull him from the rotation when Darvish returns. That’s just a fact. They aren’t fools.
But Hoyer was quick to caution that no one should assume he’s saying another guy – Chatwood, for example – is going to lose a rotation spot instead.
In fact, Hoyer said, “We have the ability to do many different things.” Hmm. Sure, that could mean Chatwood to the bullpen, but I’d like to imagine it means the possibility of the six-man rotation. Joe Maddon has previously suggested that’s not the plan (though the Cubs have gone with short-term six-man rotations at times during his tenure), but, as I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of that option:
In other words, although the Cubs might slide in a sixth starter here and there as they’ve done the last couple years, a dedicated six-man rotation for a long stretch is not currently in the plans. I remain of the mind that doing that for a solid month would be an excellent way to (1) keep Montgomery in the rotation, where he could offer more valuable innings than as the 5th or 6th option in the bullpen, (2) give extra rest to the other starting pitchers, which could improve their health and effectiveness in the short AND long-term, and (3) reduce the heavy, heavy reliance on the bullpen by having the starting pitchers work a little deeper.
I think, given the Cubs’ unique mix of starters, relievers, and Montgomery, they would actually be better with a six-man rotation – both in terms of the immediate results, and the value it would provide in August, September, and October, as arms are fresher.
I have to admit, though, that most of that is theoretical. They are good theories, many supported by data, but just theories nonetheless. Moreover, there is a human side to having starting pitchers start working on different regular rest (even if it’s more) than they’re used to. I can’t claim to know whether everyone would take to the plan in such a way as to make it actually more effective than the traditional five-man rotation. I’m just a dude pecking away on a computer.
To me, if everything is going as it has been, and if the Cubs aren’t ready to remove Chatwood from the rotation for a little bit, then the “common sense” move is a six-man rotation.