Cubs easing bullpen arms into game action

March 2nd, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Steve Cishek showed off his sidearm style for the first time this spring in Saturday afternoon's 7-4 loss to the Brewers. Carl Edwards Jr. debuted his retooled delivery one day earlier for the Cubs. One by one, Chicago's main bullpen arms are finally being worked into game action.

The Cubs have put their primary relief arms -- Cishek, Edwards, Pedro Strop and Brad Brach -- on conservative throwing programs at the front end of Spring Training this year. Manager Joe Maddon felt it was important not to overwork them in Cactus League play, especially given the importance of that group for the success of the pitching staff in the season ahead.

"They're on board," Maddon said. "These are the kind of guys that can get less mound work, but still have the kind of command that they need and their pitches will be formed the way they want to, even without a lot of work going into a season. ... All these guys are pretty much under that umbrella right now and we're being very cautious about it.

"In-season, I really believe that the bullpen's going to be kind of thick again, so we'll be able to parcel out the work and really try to not beat them up."

Cishek, who spun a 2.18 ERA in 80 appearances last season, worked a scoreless fourth inning in Saturday's game and logged 23 pitches (15 strikes). The righty allowed two singles (one was a flared bloop hit that fell between three defenders in shallow left field) and issued a walk, but sidestepped any damage. Cishek ended with one strikeout, one groundout and one flyout.

Strop is tentatively scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Wednesday against the Rangers. Brach's spring debut should be right around the corner as well. Both of those arms -- along with Cishek, Strop and Brandon Kintzler -- will be mixed and matched in the later innings over the first month of the season, while closer Brandon Morrow (right elbow) is on the injured list.

"Last year, we lost Morrow [to injury] and it didn't hurt us," Edwards said. "It's a different year, but same guys in the bullpen. We're all capable of doing it. Cishek's got years of saving. Strop's got years of saving. Kintzler can save. Myself, if I get the opportunity, I can go out there and do it. I mean, the thing is we're versatile regardless. We're really versatile."

Shaving heads for charity

Prior to Saturday's game against the Brewers, Maddon hosted the fifth annual Respect Bald event at the Cubs' complex. Maddon had his head shaved, alongside players, coaches, staff members and fans in a fundraiser for the manager's Respect 90 Foundation. Net proceeds go to pediatric cancer research and programs.

"I consider it more of a tradition now," Maddon said. "This is what's important. And people have to understand how generous our players are. Wow. The amount of money we've already collected via the players is pretty darn impressive. The philanthropic component of our guys, I don't think is spoken about enough."

Worth noting

• Both the Cubs and righty Tyler Chatwood were very encouraged by his three-inning outing on Friday. Chatwood threw 30 of 45 pitches for strikes, issued no walks and worked around the little traffic he encountered. With no room in the five-man staff at the moment, Maddon said the club will keep stretching Chatwood out as a starter as rotation insurance.

"He believes he's a starter," Maddon said. "He knows he's a starter and he wants to be a starter and he's going to be treated as such. So, keep doing that [pitching like Chatwood did Friday]. Keep doing that and make it really, really hard for us to figure this whole thing out."

• Cubs lefty Jon Lester completed three innings in Saturday's game against the Brewers, allowing to two runs on three hits with three strikeouts and one walk. Both runs came via a two-run homer by Travis Shaw in the first inning, though Lester noted that he was focusing on his fastball.

"I'm not going to nitpick a little bit or nitpick at all," Lester said. "During the season, when it's that situation, maybe you try something different than just firing heaters. But, yeah, you've got to get arm strength. You've got to throw your fastball and know where it's going. I felt like I made a good pitch. He put a good swing on it."

Up next

Right-hander Yu Darvish is scheduled to make his second start of the spring for the Cubs on Sunday, when the North Siders host the White Sox in a 2:05 p.m. CT Cactus League clash at Sloan Park. Lefty Manny Banuelos is slated to start for the Sox.