The mound is a solid foundation. Cubs have the right idea with their rebuilding plan

Opening Day went well for the Cubs, but whether this team can exceed modest expectation, that discussion might carry on for a few months.

If a declaration needs to be made today about the state of Jed Hoyer's rebuild, well, the Cubs seem to have the right idea.

Rather than throw 10-year contracts at above average players, Hoyer made starting pitching the top priority. And that's become the key to staying in contention this season. If Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski can match what they did in the second half of last season, the Cubs should be a decent team.

And there's room for error. Smyly didn't have a particularly good spring. If he struggles in a real game, it's easy to picture an early trip to the injured list while Javier Assad, who had a very good spring, steps in.

"Our starting five's legit. Like, legit legit," Stroman said after tossing 6 scoreless innings against the Brewers. "Let's see how we roll out there. Wesneski's our five, he's nasty. Taillon's nasty. Smyly's nasty. Steele's filthy as well.

"I've got all the confidence in these guys. I'm not slightly worried about all the gimmicks or talk about best rotation in the league, let's just get to it and see what happens this year."

Kyle Hendricks, who missed the second half of last season with a shoulder injury, should be ready to test himself in about a month. At Triple A Iowa, Adrian Sampson (bad spring) and Caleb Kilian (good spring) offer a couple of decent options if injuries become an issue.

Further down the line in the minors, the Cubs have promising arms like Ben Brown, Jordan Wicks, Cade Horton, Jackson Ferris and more. A strong rotation is conducive to winning, but it's also fragile. Loading up on starters is smart, in theory.

And Hoyer surely noticed the last two World Series champs, Houston and Atlanta, didn't spend big on free agents, but did have a quality, (mostly) homegrown pitching staff.

Those teams also had star sluggers like Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley. The Astros finished fourth in the league in home runs, while the Braves were third in 2021.

The Cubs can't expect to win 100 games 3-2. If the pitching, defense and baserunning hold up, the Cubs may still need to buy or develop more offense.

Stroman feels rushed:

According to, there were 14 pitch-clock violations on Thursday - eight on pitchers, five on batters and one on a catcher.

Marcus Stroman had one of those violations, it led to a walk, whichg could have been costly, but the Cubs ended the threat with a double play.

"It's tough, this pitch clock. It's a big adjustment," Stroman said. "It just adds a whole 'nother layer of thinking. You've got to be conscious of the clock, you're trying to worry about the pitch, you're trying to worry about the guys on base, you're trying to worry about your grip. There's so many things going on now. I do feel super rushed at times."

Stroman said he even hustled back to the mound in between innings to make sure he got enough warm-up time. When a new ball is put into play, pitchers aren't able to rub it up like they're used to.

There were some pitchers' duels Thursday, but also some good pitchers that gave up a bunch of runs. Maybe the new routine was a factor.

"I'm also someone who's able to step off the mound and breathe when I need to and I don't have the opportunity to do that any more," Stroman said. "I think breathing is very important to aligning the body and putting yourself in perfect position to deliver the ball to the plate. I think it's messing up a lot of guys' prepitch routines."

Contreras watch:

In his first official game with the Cardinals, Willson Contreras left the field in the eighth inning with a knee injury. He was hit on the right knee by a 102 mile per hour sinker from teammate Jordan Hicks. The ball struck Contreras' shinguard and bounced away. He chased it down, then dropped to his knee and was helped off.

The Cardinals announced Friday an MRI showed no structural damage, just a knee contusion. He's considered day-to-day with no trip to the injured list planned. Contreras went 2-for-4 at the plate in St. Louis' 10-9 loss to Toronto.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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