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Maddon coy on naming Opening Day starter

Tseng gets Cactus League opener; Cubs make promotions among Minor League staff
@MLBastian
February 22, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- As Cubs manager Joe Maddon exited the interview room on Friday afternoon, he was asked by a reporter if he could reveal his Opening Day starter. "Jen-Ho Tseng," Maddon said with a grin.

MESA, Ariz. -- As Cubs manager Joe Maddon exited the interview room on Friday afternoon, he was asked by a reporter if he could reveal his Opening Day starter.

"Jen-Ho Tseng," Maddon said with a grin.

Technically, the 24-year-old Tseng is indeed the answer to that question. The Minor League right-hander will take the ball for the Cubs in their Cactus League opener against the rival Brewers at 2:05 p.m. CT on Saturday at Sloan Park. That will be the first true pitch of the 2019 season for Chicago, which is more than happy to finally and officially turn the page on last fall's abrupt postseason exit.

On March 28, when the Rangers host the Cubs for the regular-season opener, Chicago will probably hand the ball to veteran lefty Jon Lester (though Maddon has yet to announce that decision). There will be plenty of time for that news to trickle down the Spring Training stream. For now, the focus is simply on the fact that Cubs baseball will be on the air come Saturday afternoon.

There is no word yet on the Cubs' lineup for the spring opener, but this preseason, all eyes will be on slugger Kris Bryant's swing. The third baseman is healthy again and has been putting on powerful displays in batting practice, following a left shoulder injury that sapped his slugging percentage in 2018. On the position-player front, veteran utilityman Daniel Descalso represents the main offseason addition to the Major League roster.

It is fitting that the Cubs will be facing the Brewers, as Milwaukee enters this season as the reigning National League Central champions after defeating Chicago in a Game 163 at Wrigley Field last year. The Brewers now have the target on their backs in what should be a summer-long drama in one of baseball's toughest divisions.

"Our division is, I think, probably one of the best in baseball across the board," Lester said. "Obviously, the Reds got better. The Cardinals are always going to be good regardless of who they add or subtract. And obviously the Brewers, we've got to deal with them, and Pittsburgh. I feel like we're in a good position.

"We did what we did last year beat up. And I think if we can just get our guys back to being who they are and have that little chip on our shoulder again and go out and play, I think we'll be fine."

Minor League shuffle

The Cubs announced Friday that Mark Johnson (formerly the Double-A Tennessee manager) has been promoted to the role of Minor League catching coordinator. He assumes the role vacated by Tim Cossins, who joined Orioles manager Brandon Hyde's staff in Baltimore as the Major League field coordinator and catching instructor.

Johnson's promotion caused a ripple effect throughout the Cubs' Minor League hierarchy. New roles were assigned to Jimmy Gonzalez (Double-A Tennessee manager), Steven Lerud (Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach manager), Lance Rymel (Short Season A Eugene manager), Ricardo Medina (Rookie-level Arizona League Mesa manager), Ty Wright (Myrtle Beach hitting coach) and Michael Carter (Eugene hitting coach).

Worth noting

• Right-hander Tyler Chatwood is the planned starter for Sunday's 2:05 p.m. CT Cactus League tilt against the Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz. With the rotation currently full (Lester, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana), Chatwood is vying for a spot in the bullpen. The righty will be stretched out as a starter early in camp as a depth option for the rotation.

"We want you to really not focus on last year," Maddon said of the message to Chatwood this spring. "Focus on right now. And I know the adjustments that he's made this offseason, from what I'm seeing, he's pretty much staying right there. He's staying in that lane. ... Let's just keep moving this thing forward. We know how good you are."

• Steady rain across Thursday and Friday limited how much work the Cubs could do on the fields for the morning practices. That said, Maddon was pleased with the amount of work the players and staff were able to accomplish in meetings and in the indoor facilities. The manager said the pitching plans for the first week have not been impacted by the poor weather.

• Cubs single-game tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. CT on Friday. Head to Cubs.com/tickets for more information.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.