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Maddon: 'I won't declare anybody the closer'

Cubs have multiple options with late-inning experience as Morrow heals
@MLBastian
March 19, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Brandon Morrow knows what is coming when reporters begin approaching his locker this spring. On a recent morning, the Cubs' closer cracked a smile and surmised that his throwing schedule was once again going to be the topic of conversation. "Let me guess," quipped Morrow, who then

MESA, Ariz. -- Brandon Morrow knows what is coming when reporters begin approaching his locker this spring. On a recent morning, the Cubs' closer cracked a smile and surmised that his throwing schedule was once again going to be the topic of conversation.

"Let me guess," quipped Morrow, who then looked at the ceiling while searching his memory for the dates and details of his upcoming workload.

The song-and-dance routine is due to Morrow's importance for the Cubs, who have nearly as many bullpen uncertainties with nine days until Opening Day as they did when Spring Training opened. With Morrow healthy and available, there is no question whom Chicago will feature as its closer. Without Morrow, the last few innings morph into a mix-and-matching maze in which manager Joe Maddon must maneuver.

This spring, the situation became a touch more complicated when right-hander Pedro Strop -- expected to be the primary fill-in for Morrow over the first month -- felt a pull in his right hamstring on March 9. There is still a chance that Strop might be ready for the start of the season, especially since he has continued to throw each day, but expect the Cubs to exercise caution under the circumstances.

That means there is no real answer as to who will be the main closer when the season begins.

"I won't declare anybody the closer," Maddon said. "I didn't even declare Stropy the closer. Once Brandon's out, we've got to figure it out. Once Morrow comes back, he will be the closer. But until we get to that point, I like the idea of using guys in the higher-leverage moment that suits their abilities better. I don't want to run away from a moment, just because I classified somebody as the ninth-inning pitcher."

There is, naturally, discontent among a segment of Cubs fans when it comes to this matter. One of the driving forces behind that is the fact that star free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel remains unsigned. He would add a considerable layer of depth and skill to Chicago's question-riddled relief corps, but the reality of the Cubs' budget situation appears unchanged from the winter months.

The Cubs did not spend big during the offseason and, barring unexpected approval from ownership, will not be in the hunt for Kimbrel.

"As far as how we look at possibly bringing in someone from the outside, it’s just the same as always," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said recently. "Obviously, we're always looking to get better. I don't foresee anything significant at all at this time."

The good news here -- at least in the eyes of the pitchers who occupy the Cubs' clubhouse -- is the fact that multiple arms on the staff have late-inning experience.

Strop, if healthy, is more than capable of handling the closing duties while Morrow is sidelined over the season's first month. Sidearmer Steve Cishek, who had a 2.18 ERA in 80 appearances last season, has closing experience with both the Mariners and Marlins on his resume (125 career saves). Brad Brach and Brandon Kintzler have had stints as closers. Carl Edwards Jr. has closing potential. Mike Montgomery picked up the save in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

"Probably over half of the guys we'll have in Chicago have held closer's roles at different points," Morrow said. "So, it's not going to be something where we're going into the ninth inning and it's going to be overwhelming. It's just a little different in the ninth, but it's not going to affect those guys."

As for Morrow's schedule, he threw off a mound on Monday for the first time since his right elbow scope in November. That was a good step forward, but he is still a few weeks away from potentially returning to the Cubs' bullpen.

Maddon will make do with multiple options in the meantime.

"The ability to mix and match is always interesting," Maddon said. "And having all those different options available for the latter part of the game, you don't beat anybody up. You put them in and out of the situation and show trust in a lot of these guys."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.