Cubs manager David Ross has reiterated his commitment to Craig Kimbrel as the club’s closer, despite some recent mechanical issues that have affected the veteran's Cactus League performance.
It's the setup situation that is more fluid, and the status of several of the Cubs’ potential options is worth updating in the wake of Sunday’s 1-1 tie against the Angels at Sloan Park (the Angels only had enough pitchers for eight innings, so the game ended after the top of the ninth).
Brandon Workman: The veteran right-hander worked a scoreless seventh despite allowing a walk, a single and a wild pitch. He’s given up three runs this spring (all unearned) in four innings after notable struggles with the Phillies (6.92 ERA, 2.46 WHIP) following a midseason trade in 2020.
But from 2017 up until that ill-fated trade, Workman had given the Red Sox a 2.65 ERA and 28.8 percent strikeout rate in 159 1/3 innings. So there is reason to suspect he can emerge as a go-to setup man in Chicago.
“Work is a guy who is mentally tough and has a chip on his shoulder to be good and wants to be good,” Ross said.
Rowan Wick: The right-hander won’t be ready by Opening Day due to an intercostal injury, but he figures to be a prominent option once available. Ross said head athletic trainer PJ Mainville found the area in Wick’s rib that was giving him trouble and has been able to alleviate the pain. Wick is now throwing up to 105 feet.
“I think he’s in a really good place,” Ross said. “He turned the corner a couple weeks ago.”
Ryan Tepera: Having re-signed with the Cubs after the start of camp, the right-handed Tepera, whose cutter had the highest whiff rate (62.2 percent) of any pitch in baseball last season, is a bit behind. But he’s expected to make his Cactus League debut on Monday.
“He’s had two lives [live bullpen sessions],” Ross said. “He looked really good the second live.”
Pedro Strop: In camp on a Minor League contract and delayed by a violation of COVID-19 protocol, Strop threw live batting practice for the first time this spring on Sunday. He threw 16 pitches and induced four ground balls, and he's likely to throw another live BP before making his Cactus League debut.
Whether Strop will have enough outings to be an Opening Day option remains to be seen.
Nico Hoerner’s sensational spring was put on pause Sunday when he was scratched from the game against the Angels with lower back tightness.
Hoerner, who had been slotted into the DH spot, was replaced by Nick Martini.
In seven games this spring, Hoerner is 9-for-18 with a homer, three doubles, two walks and two stolen bases, making a strong case for the starting second-base job.
Maples 'in the mix'
Dillon Maples is on the bullpen bubble after posting an 8.49 ERA in 31 appearances in the big leagues over the last four seasons. The right-hander has struggled to harness his high-90s heat, so he came to camp with a reworked delivery.
While the 6.23 spring ERA doesn’t reflect it, Ross feels Maples is making strides in his strike-throwing. Ross made it a point to get Maples to the mound early in Saturday’s game so that he could face the Royals’ starting lineup. Maples gave up a run on two hits with a strikeout and no walks in his 1 1/3 innings.
“Some of the issues in the past are long gone,” Ross said. “He’s throwing a lot of strikes. The main thing with Dillon, staying consistent is going to be key for him to help us. I’ve definitely seen the version of him growing every single season to get better and be able to help us. He’s in the mix to be on the team.”
• Trevor Williams had a nice work day in his third start of the spring Sunday. He went 3 2/3 innings against the Angels, allowing just three hits with one strikeout (of Mike Trout, no less). Most of the contact against Williams was soft, and he induced two double-play balls.
• Adbert Alzolay’s uncertain fourth option year will affect whether the Cubs could send him to the alternate training site without exposing him to waivers, but Ross said it doesn’t affect his evaluation of the right-hander.
“I don’t ever look at players when they’re on the field [in terms of] their option status,” Ross said. “It’s, 'How are they performing? Do they have a chance to make our team better? How are we best fit to break camp and be the best version of ourselves?' If a guy has an option, I don’t automatically think he goes to the alt site. If he’s the best pitcher or position player [for the job], he should make the team.”
The Cactus League version of the Crosstown Series takes place when the Cubs face the White Sox at 3 p.m. CT on Monday at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Right-hander Alec Mills will get the start opposite former Cubs right-hander Dylan Cease.