Maddon: '18 Cubs rotation could be his best

Rizzo expected to rejoin club Monday; Skipper backs Wilson for strong season

February 17th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- When manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey were together with the Rays, they never had a pitcher in their rotation who had signed a $100 million contract. This year, Maddon and Hickey are reunited on the Cubs and will have a pair in and . And the Cubs' other three projected starters aren't too shabby either.

"I think this group has the chance to be the best we've had here," Maddon said Saturday of the Cubs' projected starting five of Lester, Darvish, , and . "It's a combination of ability and ability -- the ability is pretty darn good. You combine ability and ability, and it's pretty darn nice."

Maddon laughed at his ability squared reference. It may be the best way to describe the group.

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"If Tyler is in fact the last guy who starts, it's pretty darn good," Maddon said. "There's some lefties in there, some righties in there, some power in there. Good makeup and personality guys in there. It's an interesting group. I like it a lot."

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Maddon and Hickey have talked about the rotation order and may be close to revealing the Opening Day starter. It's hard to pick one.

"It's difficult in a sense but also a really nice problem to have," Maddon said.

• First baseman was expected to rejoin the Cubs in time for Monday's full-squad workout. Rizzo returned to Parkland, Fla., to be with family and friends after the shooting on Monday at his high school.

• If isn't available to close for the Cubs, they could turn to nearly any of their other relievers to fill in, Maddon said. That includes lefty , who Maddon predicts will have a great year.

Acquired from the Tigers last season, the lefty struggled, posting a 5.09 ERA in 23 games with the Cubs.

"Getting here, feet on the ground, Spring Training, being more comfortable with everything, starting from Day One, I see him having that great year," Maddon said.

It was tough for the lefty, who posted a 2.68 ERA in 42 games and was 13-for-15 in save situations with the Tigers before the trade.

"I think he dealt with adversity at a critical moment of the year, and I thought he handled it really well," Maddon said. "He made an adjustment and the adjustment that he made, he understands the importance of strike throwing in his delivery so in a perverse way it was not good but he figured something out mechanically or physically that I think long term will benefit him. The other point is through the tough moments, he did not lose trust in us and we did not lose trust in him."

The tweak Wilson made was that he used a lower leg kick, which Maddon said permitted Wilson's arm to work better.

"Justin Wilson could really provide a tremendous boost and he's going to," Maddon said.

• On March 3 at Sloan Park, Maddon will host his "Respect Bald" fundraising event in which he and several of the players will get their heads shaved. Fans can participate by making a donation to Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation.

• Quote of the day: "He almost throws like a Frisbee up there sometimes. He's got like eight different pitches." -- Cubs shortstop on new teammate Darvish and his variety of pitches