Ross finds more depth than expected in Cubs bullpen
When assessing the Cubs bullpen less than a week before the season opener, the focus is on a surprise, a shaky start and an injury.
The surprise was Rex Brothers. The 33-year-old lefthander has been nearly perfect, with no earned runs allowed over 7 innings, with 9 strikeouts, 1 walk and 2 hits.
Brothers wasn't very good in three outings with the Cubs last season. In fact, he hasn't had much big-league success since 2015, when he posted a 1.74 ERA for Colorado, or 2013 when he recorded 19 saves. So can manager David Ross be certain Brothers is for real this time?
"I've looked at Rex hard and he's done nothing but prove that he belongs in the big leagues," Ross said Thursday. "This guy, I've thrown him to the wolves multiple games and he's done nothing but answer the bell. The ball's coming out as good as I've ever seen it. He's been consistent throwing strikes.
"He's had dominant success in the big leagues, has went through a unique journey and when you talk to him, he's mentally tough. He's put his struggles behind him, I truly believe, and is ready to impact our ballclub in a great way."
The slow start was from closer Craig Kimbrel. He gave up 9 runs in his first three spring outings, but seemed to find his groove and followed with three consecutive scoreless outings, giving up 1 hit and no walks in the process.
"We've talked and he's found those cues," Ross said. "The ball had ride on it, getting fly balls. A lot of foul balls with the barrels underneath the baseball. That's when he's at his best and I thought he looked really good (Wednesday). It looks like he's on a good track to close out games when the season starts."
Last year, when Kimbrel had a rough start to the regular season, the Cubs turned to Jeremy Jeffress to step in as closer. With Jeffress no longer on the roster, it's not clear if they have a suitable substitute.
One candidate, Rowan Wick, is still working his way back from an injury and will probably miss the first month or so of the regular season. Wick was seen throwing off the mound recently, which is a good step.
New addition Brandon Workman has had a good spring, with a 1.29 ERA over seven innings. The 32-year-old right-hander pitched for the Phillies last season and saw action in the World Series for the Red Sox in 2013.
Ryan Tepera (3.00 ERA) has done fine after a late start. James Norwood has 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Jason Adam (3.00 ERA) is another high-strikeout guy.
Left-hander Andrew Chafin (5.14 ERA) hasn't had a great spring, but figures to be a lock for the final roster. Lefty Kyle Ryan hasn't pitched in the spring after a COVID positive. The Cubs might have a tough decision on Dillon Maples (6.14 ERA), who is out of minor-league options.
"We've got probably more depth than we thought we may have had, at least in the bullpen," Ross said. "At the end of the day, all of them have got to get outs."
--Ross announced a couple more starting pitchers for the regular season, slating Jake Arrieta for Game 2 and Zach Davies for Game 3. Trevor Williams looks to be a heavy favorite for the fourth start. The Cubs will open against Pittsburgh on Wednesday at Wrigley Field with Kyle Hendricks taking the mound.