Around the Horn: Cubs' bullpen is a moving target
Our annual caution about the bullpen applies more than ever when it comes to the 2019 Chicago Cubs.
That caution goes: The bullpen a team begins the season with is never the one it finishes with.
Injuries, illness and uncertainty have caused consternation about the Cubs' relief corps this spring.
With closer Brandon Morrow needing the first month of the regular season, that has had a domino effect on the rest of the bullpen.
It's likely that ace setup man Pedro Strop will move from his eighth-inning role to the closer's spot until Morrow is back. Strop suffered his own injury scare this spring with a hamstring injury, but it's one the Cubs say is not serious.
That leaves us to discuss the innings leading up to the ninth.
For starters, the Cubs have two potential starters who likely will open the season as long- to middle-relievers: left-hander Mike Montgomery and right-hander Tyler Chatwood.
The Cubs have brought Montgomery along slowly this spring because of a shoulder ailment. Chatwood, who lost his spot in the rotation last season because of wildness, has shown improvement this spring despite one outing with command issues.
The most intriguing pitcher to watch over the first month or so will be Carl Edwards Jr. Now 27, Edwards has been the subject on intrigue since his minor-league days, with his slender frame and whip-like delivery with high velocity. He has struck out 12.3 per 9 innings over his career and has a WHIP of 1.07. The WHIP was 1.31 last year, but Edwards has gotten off to a good start this spring.
"The next step now is if I run into a rough patch or issue a few walks, how will I react?" Edwards said to reporters in Arizona. "I'm not trying to go that route. But if it happens, that would be the next test before spring training is (over)."
The Cubs' most reliable reliever last year was right-hander Steve Cishek, who made a career-high 80 appearances last year to lead the team. Cishek went 4-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 4 saves and a WHIP of 1.94.
Two veterans will be on the spot: right-hander Brandon Kintzler and lefty Brian Duensing, both of whom have had good moments and bad this spring.
The Cubs went through an assembly line of relievers last year, and one who stood out was lefty Randy Rosario, claimed off waivers in November 2017 from the Twins. He went 4-0 last year with 1 save.
Brad Brach and Tony Barnette were signed as free agents in February. Barnette (shoulder) will start the season on the injured list.
"I've been impressed by the depth," team president Theo Epstein told reporters. "We have overall (better) pen depth this year than we've had in the past. Some of the arms we'll be able to have in the Triple-A bullpen are guys we'll be very comfortable calling up. That depth will help us get through."