Notes: Ross talks strategy with R&D team

February 20th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- Part of Cubs manager David Ross' preparation for the upcoming season is spent in brainstorming sessions with the team's research and development department. They will bounce concepts off him and he will offer his two cents from his own experiences in the game.

"I see where they're hesitant in areas that are things I think about," Ross said, "and where they'll jump right in and have conversations. Or, they'll be like, 'Oh,' and then they get quiet. And I'm like, 'OK, you don't like that idea.'"

Ross then chuckled.

One idea that is still under discussion behind the scenes is the strategy of batting the pitcher eighth. That is something former Cubs manager Joe Maddon did when he felt it made sense, which was 22 times during the 2019 season, for example. Ross is still considering the pros and cons of that approach, while getting feedback from the Cubs' team of analysts.

"That's still a thought," Ross said. "Hitting the batter eighth, it makes sense in some context, right? Like, if you're trying to get somebody on base in front of [Kris Bryant]. There's a lot that goes into that. But, I've also been a guy who's seen that eight-hole come up in the first inning with a big rally going, and it can kill it.

"Yeah, there's thoughts on all that. I'll get with R&D a lot with matchup setup, pitcher versus certain hitters, and gather that information and then make that decision on a game-to-game basis."

First baseman , who currently projects to hit second behind Bryant, said his preference was to have the pitcher in the nine-hole when he led off.

"I actually liked the pitcher hitting ninth," Rizzo explained, "just because if there's a guy on, he bunts him over and there's a guy for me in scoring position. I didn't mind it eighth, either. It's just that whole dynamic of the pitcher bunting him over. If there's a double and no outs, he bunts him over to third, that's an easier opportunity."

Worth noting

• Shortstop , who sustained a hairline fracture in his right thumb last September, has been unrestricted in workouts this spring. Ross indicated that there have been no lingering issues with the injury.

"I haven't heard anything from our training staff on that subject," Ross said. "So, as far as I know, he's 100 percent."

• The Cubs' probable starter for the first three games are righties (Saturday vs. A's), (Sunday at Dodgers) and (Monday at Mariners). Chatwood is the leading candidate for the rotation's fifth spot, with Mills and Alzolay also under consideration.

• Ross is still weighing how to handle the new 26th roster spot. While the manager said a pinch-running option is possible, he might prefer to carry an additional outfield bat or to use the extra roster spot on a third catcher (non-roster invitee ).

• Ross named rookie and utility man as the primary depth options behind Báez at shortstop. Utility man is a backup to Bryant at third base and is also competing for the second-base job.

• Ross noted that will "mostly" be in center field this spring. With so many second-base options, Happ's vying for the vacancy in center this spring.