Brothers, Maples in: Cubs set 9-man bullpen

Duffy earns bench spot; backup catcher role still uncertain

March 28th, 2021

After ' most recent Cactus League outing on Saturday night, manager David Ross had a question for the veteran lefty. Ross wanted to know if Brothers had found a place to live in Chicago.

"He was like, 'No, why?'" Ross said with a smile on Sunday morning. "I was like, 'Well, you might want to start looking.' And he was like, 'Really?' And he just like lit up. It was fun for me."

The Cubs selected Brothers' contract on Sunday, giving the lefty a spot in the Opening Day bullpen. Ross also confirmed that right-hander  made the team, putting the final touches on what will be a nine-man relief corps to start.

Craig Kimbrel returns as Chicago's closer, and he will be joined in the bullpen by right-handers Jason Adam, Maples, Alec Mills, Ryan Tepera, Dan Winkler and Brandon Workman, plus lefties in Brothers and Andrew Chafin.

"We've got a bullpen," Ross said, "that matches up, I think, really well with a lot of different looks down there."

Ross noted that the 33-year-old Brothers -- back with the Cubs as a non-roster invitee after an inconsistent showing with the North Siders in 2020 -- made some lower-half mechanical adjustments that paid off this spring. In eight Cactus League outings, Brothers had nine strikeouts while allowing two hits, one walk and no runs.

"You guys have seen, as have I, just the consistency of strikes and power," Ross said. "It doesn't matter whether I throw him against the middle of a lineup and all righties or lefties. It plays against both. I think that's one of the better stories of spring."

Maples, 28, is out of Minor League options, so his inclusion maintains a layer of depth. The righty has posted an 8.49 ERA in parts of four seasons (31 games) with the Cubs, but he has also flashed an elite slider, a powerful fastball and impressive strikeout rates. Command has always been Maples' trouble area.

"His stuff is real," Ross said. "I think he can still be a real big piece in our bullpen and get big outs. But he's still on a path that I think we haven't even seen the best of Dillon Maples yet."

Duffy makes the bench
The Cubs made it known Saturday that veteran infielder Eric Sogard would be on the Opening Day bench. On Sunday, corner infielder Matt Duffy was also added to the reserve group.

Chicago selected the contracts of Duffy and Sogard -- both in camp as non-roster invitees -- and designated utility man Ildemaro Vargas for assignment. With Sogard and Vargas offering similar skillsets, Ross preferred Duffy's bat on the bench as a pinch-hit option.

"I've just thought it's a little more contact, on-base, quality at-bat," Ross said of Duffy. "I would say a little more power from Vargy when he's right. And in the role that they're going to be in, I think the quality AB, on-base [player] kind of swayed that decision."

Both Duffy and Sogard can play all over the infield, with the latter serving as the backup shortstop. They will be on the bench with fourth outfielder Jake Marisnick.

Worth noting
• One day after being granted his release, veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin agreed to a Minor League contract with the Cubs. He will begin the season at Chicago's alternate training site, giving the North Siders an experienced depth piece.

"When you get to have guys like that around your group and on your team, it's a positive," Ross said. "When I got the news this morning about that, I was super excited. Happy to have him around. He likes being around. He's a breath of fresh air every time you see him."

• The backup catching role remains to be determined. Austin Romine (right knee) is sidelined and P.J. Higgins (non-roster invitee) offers one internal solution. The Cubs might also look at external alternatives in the next few days.

"It's still a little bit up in the air," Ross said. "We're trying to get right up to the end and see how things shake out."

• Righty Jonathan Holder (chest muscle) has built back up to long-toss and could be cleared to throw a bullpen session soon. Ross said Holder will head to Chicago to continue his rehab and throwing program.

• Ross noted that right-hander Rowan Wick (intercostal) recently completed a 25-pitch bullpen with no issues. Wick will have another bullpen soon, but will begin the season on the injured list.

Up next
Right-hander Zach Davies is scheduled to make his final start of Spring Training on Monday, when the Cubs host the D-backs at 2:05 p.m. CT at Sloan Park. Chicago's final Cactus League game of the year will be available free on MLB.TV and the Marquee Sports Network.