5 issues illuminated at Cubs Summer Camp

July 18th, 2020

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have seen enough of their own pitchers and batters for the past two weeks at Wrigley Field. The next phase of Summer Camp has arrived.

On Sunday night, the North Siders will welcome the crosstown-rival White Sox to the Friendly Confines for a 7:05 CT exhibition game (live on MLB.TV). Right-hander -- the Cubs' Opening Day starter -- is scheduled to toe the rubber, and manager David Ross will be one step closer to his first regular season at the helm.

"I'm going to treat it like a real game as much as I can," Ross said. "There's going to be guys that need work and to see pitches. I'm going to listen to these guys and their bodies. We've pushed them hard."

On the eve of the Cubs' first exhibition game, here are five things we have learned in Summer Camp so far:

1. Rizzo's status unclear for Opening Day
With less than a week until the Cubs' Friday opener against the Brewers, it remains uncertain whether first baseman will be available to start the season. Rizzo played in an intrasquad game on July 5 and has been held out of game action since due to lower-back tightness. He did field grounders and take normal batting practice on Saturday, per Ross.

"It was a good work day for him. Felt good afterwards. All positives," Ross said on Saturday. "We'll wait and see how he reacts tomorrow. He's still day to day. Same status, but a step in the right direction."

If Rizzo is unable to avoid the injured list, Ross will need to pick a new No. 2 hitter and shuffle his defensive plans. Backup catcher Victor Caratini and third baseman Kris Bryant are next on the depth chart behind Rizzo for first base.

2. Hendricks capitalized on time off
Besides track record and ability, one of the reasons that Ross named Hendricks his Opening Day starter was the righty's readiness for the season. He arrived at Summer Camp built up more than his starting peers in terms of pitch count. He is on target to work roughly 85 against the White Sox and should be in line for 100 in the opener.

"I put a lot of time in in the quarantine," Hendricks said. "I stayed on my throwing, kept my pitch count up, just waiting for this day, to get that call and to come back. It was all part of the plan, all part of the routine."

Yu Darvish will slot into the second spot, with Jon Lester and Tyler Chatwood occupying two of the final three rotation jobs. Righty Alec Mills is in the driver's seat for the fifth spot, due to José Quintana (left thumb) being ticketed for the IL to start the season.

3. Multi-inning relievers critical
The Cubs have used Summer Camp to stretch a handful of relievers out to multiple innings. Ross said it will be important to have these "bridge" relievers at the start of the season, if any of the starters are unable to last deep into games. Duane Underwood Jr., Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, James Norwood and Rex Brothers are among the arms who have been building up their pitch count. They could be in the mix for the innings between the starters and back-end bullpen arms.

"We're trying to just stretch everybody out as much as we possibly can," Ross said, "to give ourselves some length out of the bullpen and not knowing where the starters might be when we get through with this three-week process."

4. Contreras firing on all cylinders
There have been plenty of offensive fireworks in the Cubs' intrasquad games, especially with how the hot and humid Chicago evenings can turn Wrigley Field into a hitters' haven. One batter, in particular, who has stood out has been catcher . He has made consistent hard contact and has belted four intrasquad home runs so far.

"Two-time All-Star, right? He's just a good player," Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. "He was one of the guys that sent me video [during the three-month break], and you didn't even really need to critique or do anything to it. You just say, 'Keep doing what you're doing.'"

5. Cubs have taken COVID-19 seriously
To date, the Cubs have had no positive COVID-19 tests within their player group. Chicago has had to delay a couple of workouts in Summer Camp due to testing delays, or had staff or players skip workouts while awaiting results, but overall the team has avoided any major hiccups related to the ongoing pandemic. The players have adhered strictly to the protocols put in place and have been serious about self-policing the group's behavior when away from the ballpark.

"We can't allow the good results thus far to create the illusion for us that we're in control," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "Because we're not. The virus is the only thing in control right now. We're taking every safeguard that we possibly can, and I'm proud of the way the players have been responding. But we can’t let our guard down."