Cubs Pitcher Notes: Hendricks Health, Fifth Starter, Depth Needs, Assad and Thompson, Alzolay, More
Yesterday I ran down the various contenders for the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen, but I also have a bunch of tabs to get through with general pitching notes …
- Sahadev Sharma reports that Kyle Hendricks is throwing his bullpen sessions at 100 percent intensity at this point, using all of his pitches, and has his velocity back to a normal range for him. He is almost ready to face hitters, and remains on track to perhaps participate in extended spring training games and maybe a rehab start or three in the minor leagues. If everything continues along that path, he could be ready to return to the Cubs sometime in May.
- For now, though, that means the fifth starter spot is still open, and although Sharma won’t call him a lock, but says it’d be a surprise if it’s not Hayden Wesneski. “The Cubs coaches and front office members aren’t blind. They see what we’re all watching. Wesneski looks the part and is getting the results.” Sharma suggests that Wesneski is just a decent fastball away from looking like a number two starter, which is exceedingly high praise (not that you can just count on his fastball taking such a big step forward this offseason).
- If Wesneski gets the fifth starter job, it could mean that Adrian Sampson heads to Iowa as depth. I appreciated his comment on how well others are pitching, and what that could mean for him, via The Athletic:
“You always want to be in Chicago, up in the big leagues helping the ball club,” Sampson said. “The stuff you can’t control, you just let it go. You get caught up in that kind of stuff and you get stressed out. Stress leads to injuries, in my opinion. When you’re free, calm and collected out there, everything is going to work out how it’s supposed to ….
“It’s a great thing these guys are pitching so awesome. We’re going to need everybody all season. You’ve seen it the last couple of years, how many pitchers we’ve thrown out there. When these guys are pitching well and their confidence is high, it’s great for the Cubs. We want to win. And when you have seven, eight, nine starters that can go out there and compete and not just throw them out there and hope for the best.”
- That’s spot on. Whether it’s Sampson in the rotation on day one or Wesneski, both are going to make starts for the big league Cubs this year. I’m sure of it. And the Cubs will need both to pitch very well when that bell rings.
- In the bullpen, it seems more and more likely to me that Javier Assad will get a spot on Opening Day, especially if Keegan Thompson needs more time to ramp up. Here’s how bullpen coach Chris Young talked about Thompson’s status (Sun-Times):
“As a group, we’re trying to get him to get back to moving like he was last year, which he’s done a really good job of. He’s done a really good job in his bullpens, in side sessions, catch play, of getting his body back moving. And now that he’s moving well again, I think he feels really comfortable. And so I think he’s able to start getting back into his legs and start stepping on the gas again ….
“There’s multiple roles he can fill, right? He’s had so much success in the multiple-inning role. As a group, we think in a one-inning sprint, he can be really good, too. So the plan is always evolving with him based off of where he’s at in his progressions and how we can get him to where he needs to get to.”
- Thompson threw just after Young’s comments, and was still only 90-91 mph with the fastball, so the gas isn’t quite there yet, so to speak. It feels increasingly plausible that Thompson starts the season either in extended spring training or at Triple-A Iowa, trying to get back to at least where he was last year.
- Mark Leiter Jr. also seems more and more likely to make the Opening Day bullpen, though he’ll need a 40-man roster spot first. If the Cubs don’t put him on the 40-man roster, Leiter can opt out of his minor league deal just before the season starts.
- One guy about whom there are no questions is Adbert Alzolay, who is as clearly locked into the bullpen as the two free agents the Cubs signed to anchor the thing, Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger. Perhaps not a coincidence, those are the two pitchers Alzolay has been using to help model his between-outing preparation. Fulmer has been of particular help, because he, too, recently transitioned from starting to relieving, as Alzolay told the Tribune: “The way I’ve been doing it so far in the spring has helped me a lot, building on my routine to coming out of the bullpen. I’m in a good position in my mind already knowing what is going to be your role, so it’s just going from there and listening to your body.”