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Chatwood added to Cubs' starting rotation

Right-hander has made 4 appearances out of bullpen this season
@MLBastian
April 11, 2019

CHICAGO -- Even though Tyler Chatwood currently has a home in the Cubs' bullpen, the right-hander still views himself as a starting pitcher. With Jon Lester on the injured list, Chatwood will have an opportunity to renew that role Sunday against the Angels. Chatwood is ready to do his part

CHICAGO -- Even though Tyler Chatwood currently has a home in the Cubs' bullpen, the right-hander still views himself as a starting pitcher. With Jon Lester on the injured list, Chatwood will have an opportunity to renew that role Sunday against the Angels.

Chatwood is ready to do his part for Chicago's depleted rotation.

"I feel really good," Chatwood said Thursday afternoon. "I feel like everything's where it needs to be, and I'm just looking to continue that."

The overall small-sample set of numbers have not been great out of the chute for Chatwood, who has a 6.00 ERA with six strikeouts and five walks in six innings across his four appearances so far this season. The righty has, however, shown an uptick in average fastball velocity (95 mph on his four-seamer and 94.7 mph on his sinker in 2019, compared to 93.4 mph and 92.6 mph, respectively, in 2018).

In a limiting showing, Chatwood also has posted a 27.9 swinging-strike percentage (up from 22.2 percent in '18) and a 46.2 edge percentage (up from 39.1 percent in '18). Per Statcast, opposing batters have made contact on 69.7 percent of pitches in the strike zone against Chatwood, who allowed a 84.9 percent contact rate on in-zone pitches last season.

One of the reasons Chatwood was relegated to the bullpen this year was the fact that he issued 95 walks in 103 2/3 innings last season. The pitcher feels that, for the most part, there has actually been progress within his mislocated offerings this year.

"I think you guys are focused on my walks, because of what I did last year," Chatwood said. "But, I'm not really worried about it. I think all my misses are competitive now. Like I've said, my mechanics are in the right spot. My hand is in a great place, and I'm staying behind the baseball, which is very nice."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon did not disagree.

"No doubt," Maddon said. "If he gets off the rails a little bit, he's able to get back a lot more quickly, even if it's like maybe 2-0 and all of a sudden we're back in the zone. Even 3-0's, he's coming back from 3-0's and dumping the ball back in the zone. He's pitching with a lot more confidence."

Chatwood worked one inning in Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the Pirates, but threw a simulated inning in the bullpen prior to that 27-pitch outing. Maddon said the righty will likely be prepared to throw around 60-75 pitches in his upcoming start against the Angels. Chatwood was not concerned about the jump in pitch count.

"I'll be able to throw plenty of pitches," he said. "So it's just go out there and eat up as many innings as I can and give us a chance to win."

Almora grounded offensively
During the spring, Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. arrived with a widened stance in an effort to utilize his legs more during his swing. The results both on the back fields and in Cactus League games were promising, but the early returns of the regular season have taken a hit.

Maddon said it is important for Almora to stay the course.

"I like his approach, meaning I like his physical, mechanical approach," said the manager. "It's very similar to what he looked like in camp, where he was absolutely killing it there. I think he's fine. A couple games doesn't push me over the top anyway. I'm looking at how he looks."

Through 39 plate appearances, Almora has a .222/.263/.222 slash line, but the red flags are found when looking a little deeper. What's worrisome is that the center fielder currently leads the Majors in ground-ball rate (74.1 percent) and entered play Thursday with an average launch angle of minus 1.9 degrees.

"He’s got to continue to stick with the process and get at-bats under his belt," Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. "He’s a line-drive hitter, so his misses are going to be a little bit more on the ground than the average person. Obviously you don't want as many as he had early in the season, but that’s part of what he does good as far as hitting line drives. We’re seeing some progress hitting line drives, really trusting the plan."

Cubs honor Sanderson
The Cubs held a moment of silence before Thursday's game for former pitcher Scott Sanderson, who passed away at the age of 62. Sanderson pitched for the Cubs from 1984-89 and spent parts of 19 seasons in the Major Leagues between stops with seven clubs, including the White Sox. Sanderson, a product of Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill., also suited up for the Angels when Maddon was a member of their coaching staff.

"Scotty was so nice. Such a good guy," Maddon said. "A really thoughtful, kind man. Just a wonderful man. Just a wonderful man. I saw him at the Cubs Convention a couple years ago and we had a really fun conversation. It's just a shame."

Worth noting
• Left-hander Mike Montgomery (mild left lat strain) threw long toss and then a bullpen session prior to Thursday's game against the Pirates. Maddon said "it's probably not likely" that Montgomery is activated from the 10-day injured list when eligible on Monday, but the manager noted that he still needs to discuss the matter with Chicago's medical staff.

• Prior to Thursday's game, Cubs shortstop Javier Baez was presented with his 2018 Silver Slugger trophy. That came a day after first baseman Anthony Rizzo received his 2018 Gold Glove Award.

• Right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng cleared waivers and was released by the Cubs on Thursday. The 24-year-old pitcher was designated for assignment Saturday to clear room on the 40-man roster for reliever Allen Webster, who is currently in Chicago's big league bullpen.

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.