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Chatwood hopes small fix has big results in '19

Right-hander wants to prove himself as starting pitcher
February 14, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- All Tyler Chatwood needs to do is look around the Cubs clubhouse to realize that the odds are stacked against him making the North Siders' starting rotation. In fact, there are so many arms in camp this spring that Chicago will need to invest a lot of

MESA, Ariz. -- All Tyler Chatwood needs to do is look around the Cubs clubhouse to realize that the odds are stacked against him making the North Siders' starting rotation. In fact, there are so many arms in camp this spring that Chicago will need to invest a lot of time sorting out how the right-hander might fit into the roster puzzle at all.
Chatwood has his thoughts on the situation.
"I want to be a starting pitcher," he said. "That's my goal coming out of spring, is to be a starting pitcher."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
That is all well and good, but Chatwood -- a pitcher in whom Cubs invested a three-year, $38 million contract before last season -- has a lot to prove over the next six weeks. Once a Statcast™ darling, Chatwood was unable to harness his elite spin rate last season. The pitcher struggled to harness much of anything in a season defined by a bloated walk rate (19.6 percent) and constant mechanical turmoil.
The offseason presented a clean slate, however, and Chatwood went to work on refining elements of his delivery with the goal of pitching his way back into favor this spring. During Wednesday's sessions, Chatwood was throwing off a mound rigged with high-speed cameras and instant-data feedback. Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy was able to watch in person what he'd seen on videos sent to him over the offseason.
"Watching him," Hottovy said, "he was definitely being able to [implement a mechanical change] and not revert back to some of the things that were causing issues last year. I think he's in a great, great place. And again, [Wednesday] was the first day with as much attention and people out and around him. And I think he handled it great. He's focused on the right things."
Over the offseason, Chatwood got his work in at the University of Redlands in California, where two of the school's coaches (Chris Hernandez and Ryan Garcia) helped him iron out a delivery flaw. Chatwood explained that he eliminated a glove tap at the start of his throwing motion last year, but he was still sort of stabbing his right hand in the direction of third base. This caused a chain reaction, ending with his hand not being in sync with his landing foot.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it a subtle, but pertinent adjustment that would be hard for an average onlooker to even decipher. But if the alteration becomes second nature this spring and Chatwood (5.30 ERA in 103 2/3 innings in 2018) can consistently find the strike zone, then Chicago will have an interesting discussion about how to best utilize the right-hander.
The Cubs' projected rotation will feature Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and José Quintana. That has pushed lefty swingman Mike Montgomery to the crowded bullpen field. If Chatwood can command the strike zone this spring, he could be in the mix for a relief job as well.
"You just don't know what's going to happen over the course of a camp. You don't know," Maddon said. "I'm very open-minded about it. This guy's a high-level talent. Keep an open mind. Let him go play. Let him go play and his abilities will answer the questions."
Chatwood was asked what he learned from last season's trials.
"How strong-willed I am," he said. "I think last year I beat myself. I don't think anybody else really beat me. I kind of beat up myself with all the free passes I handed out. Like I said, I think that just shows mental toughness that I have. I still wanted the ball every day last year, which I think says a lot. A lot of guys might've run away from it. But I'm excited to get going."

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, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.