CHICAGO -- Mapping out a normal Spring Training is complicated enough with six weeks of bullpen sessions, live batting practices and games to build up pitchers' workloads. Three weeks of Summer Camp after a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 crisis presents a new set of challenges.
"We're trying to just stay as prepared as we can and be ready for anything," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said on Sunday.
Three days into Summer Camp, the Cubs have provided a glimpse into how they plan to structure the pitching schedule in the coming weeks. At the same time, Hottovy, manager David Ross and other staffers are starting to strategize ways to navigate through a 60-game season that features some new rulebook wrinkles.
Hottovy praised his pitchers for positioning themselves to be ready for instrasquad games and live BP workouts as soon as Summer Camp arrived. On Sunday, right-hander Tyler Chatwood worked three innings and righty Alec Mills logged two in a five-inning intrasquad contest at Wrigley Field. That followed Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks squaring off in an abbreviated sim game on Saturday.
There is a reason behind Hottovy pairing the pitchers up in this manner, too.
"We're trying to front-load all our starters," Hottovy explained. "In a normal Spring Training, you'd be lining guys up. This guy would be your Opening Day starter. Ideally, here's Day 2. Right now, in my mind we have seven Opening Day starters, because [we want to] get everybody healthy through a Spring Training like this. You can't space them out too much, in my opinion, just because we can't take that chance."
Darvish and Hendricks are the leading candidates to be in the Nos. 1-2 slots of the rotation (the Opening Day starter has not been announced). Chatwood and Mills are also leading contenders for starting jobs, especially with José Quintana (left thumb) sidelined. Hottovy noted that Jon Lester might be paired up with righty Colin Rea, who looks to be sixth on the depth chart right now.
By bunching the pitchers together and having them work on the same day, Hottovy said the Cubs can remain flexible as the regular-season opener approaches. If any pitcher needs an extra day off to rest or recover, given the unique circumstances, the Cubs can better adjust later in camp than building in off-days in the first week.
At the same time, Hottovy said he plans on stretching at least three or four relievers out to three innings throughout Summer Camp. With the designated hitter in play this season, relievers required to face a minimum of three batters and the season whittled down to 60 games, Hottovy said it will be important to have nearly the entire bullpen capable of logging multi-inning outings.
"All those things factor in," Hottovy said. "Right away, when you start thinking about the American League game, and you start thinking about the fact that guys are already going to have to face three hitters, then it's almost imperative to get everybody up to basically two innings, just because I think you're going to see a lot more opportunities for guys to give you four, five, six outs than you have potentially seen in the past."
• Shortly before Summer Camp began, Hottovy revealed that he had a grueling 30-day battle with COVID-19 that was difficult both physically and mentally. Hottovy, who is negative for the virus but still not back to full strength, gained national attention for his story and has received a steady stream of messages from people in and out of the game in recent days.
"It just reemphasizes why I needed to say what I said," Hottovy said. "And I'm glad I went through that. Like I've said, hopefully I can be a resource to not only guys in this clubhouse, but across the game and outside of the game. There's a lot of people that have dealt with it similar to me and it's been great to be able to talk to those people and help them through their process."
• Hottovy noted that Lester looked "really good" in a bullpen session on Sunday and is on target to pitch against batters in a live BP session in the next two or three days. Over the past three months, the veteran left-hander followed a conservative throwing program.
"He was a guy that really wanted to manage his throws," Hottovy said. "He wanted to, as he put it, kind of save as many bullets as he possibly could. That doesn't mean by any means he wasn't throwing a baseball. He was staying active. He's in a really good spot."
• Unofficially, Chatwood allowed four runs on five hits and ended with five strikeouts and one walk in his three innings on Sunday. Mills allowed one run on two hits with three strikeouts and no walks in 2 1/3 innings (he faced an extra batter in the second). Relievers Dan Winkler, Duane Underwood Jr., Rex Brothers and James Norwood also pitched on Sunday.
• The Cubs will not have an intrasquad game on Monday, but they will instead have a group of pitchers (Jharel Cotton, Trevor Megill, Casey Sadler, Ryan Tepera and Rea) throw to batters in live BP.
"It was just such a pretty day. Fourth of July. We had the flag up there. It was flying high. I got the scoreboard and the American flag in a picture just for my own keepsake. Just taking a minute, try to enjoy what I get to do. ... Everybody was gone. I just finished a workout and had a minute. It just looked cool on the Fourth of July. Just a little moment for me." -- Ross, on walking out onto the field Sunday to take a photo of Wrigley Field