If play resumes and starting rotations expand, Cubs have plenty of options
Before spring training was halted by the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, the projected starting rotation was falling nicely into place for the Cubs.
Yu Darvish was down with the flu for a few days, but he looked strong in two Cactus League starts, striking out seven in 5 innings, and was getting ramped up to pitch Opening Day.
Kyle Hendricks was just as good, or better, allowing a run over 9 innings in three exhibition starts while all but locking down the No. 2 slot in the Cubs' rotation.
New manager David Ross also liked what he was seeing from his next three starters -- Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood -- and was equally pleased with the rest of the depth chart.
"Love it," Ross said. "There are lot of good players here, a lot of good young arms."
The original plan was using young pitchers like Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Colin Rea and Jharel Cotton out of the bullpen or in the rotation at Class AAA Iowa.
With Lester and Quintana likely in their last seasons with the Cubs and heading toward free agency, there was time to get their possible replacements more innings to develop before turning them loose in the rotation.
That plan has obviously changed.
If major-league owners are able to work out a deal with the players and get an abbreviated regular season going in early July, rosters are expected to expand from 26 to 30 and rotations will likely carry six or seven starters.
As the players' side responded to the owners' 67-page health and safety proposal on Thursday, a decision whether to play or not could be coming next week if the two sides can reach a financial agreement.
Should baseball return this summer, Mills is the favorite to become the Cubs' No. 6 starter, at least until Darvish, Henricks, Lester, Quintana and Chatwood are stretched out enough to pitch deeper into games.
Out of minor-league options, Mills was originally ticketed to open this season in the bullpen.
Acquired in a Feb. 8, 2017 trade from the Royals, the 28-year-old righty pitched in 9 games (four starts) for the Cubs last season and was 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA to go with 42 strikeouts in 36 innings.
Mills' final two outings last season were starts against the Cardinals, and he was impressive. In 9⅔ innings, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder allowed 1 earned run and had 15 strikeouts.
Alzolay was likely going to open the season in Iowa's rotation, but the 25-year-old righty is hoped to be a big part of the Cubs' future.
Making his major-league debut last year, Alzolay pitched in four games (two starts) for the Cubs and was expectedly erratic while giving up 10 runs on 13 hits and 9 walks in 12⅓ innings to go with 13 strikeouts.
Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery last season, Rea was 14-4 with a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts for Iowa.
Acquired from the Athletics in a November trade, Cotton is also trying to make it back from Tommy John.
The 28-year-old righty made 29 starts for Oakland in 2016-17 and was 11-10 with a 4.95 ERA.