It’s been an up and down spring for the Cubs pitching staff. And the starting rotation has been consistently inconsistent throughout the Cactus League schedule.
Before dealing with a tired arm, Jon Lester was sharp for two starts then not-so-sharp in his third outing. Jake Arrieta has shown flashes of last year’s dominance while trying to iron out his mechanics. And after a slow start, Jason Hammel has been on the right page with Miguel Montero his last two outings.
It could be argued that Kyle Hendricks has had the best camp of the Cubs starting pitchers.
Injuries zapped the starting pitching depth the Cubs had when pitchers and catchers reported last month. RHP Jacob Turner will begin the season on the DL and it appears LHP Tsuyoshi Wada and RHP Dallas Beeler will join him on the disabled list.
The fifth spot in the rotation could be shared by Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are discussing a creative way to have both pitchers on the roster. Speculation has the Cubs using Wood and Jackson in some form of a piggyback scenario. It will be interesting to hear the explanation of how the two starters will be used in the same spot.
Jon Lester – After two very good outings and a bad day against the Padres, Lester skipped a spring start with a tired arm. He’s expected to make Thursday’s start against the Angels and should be fine for Opening Night. As long as Lester can pitch, the Cubs have a top of the rotation arm and the rest of the rotation falls into place. Right now, it’s wait and see when it comes to Lester even after passing the first test with Monday’s bullpen session.
Jake Arrieta – Inconsistent might be the best word to describe Arrieta over his first three spring starts. Arrieta has struggled with his command and mechanics and the two issues have led to a so-so outing, a very good start in Vegas and a dud against the Dodgers his last time out. Arrieta has shown flashes of his dominance from a year ago. The lack of command is concerning. Arrieta threw in a minor league game Monday which would put him in line to make two more Cactus League starts. Cleaning up the command and mechanics while building his pitch count should be where Arrieta is at this point of Spring Training.
Jason Hammel – Hammel could not locate his fastball the first two times out and the numbers backup his statements. Hammel worked with Chris Bosio and has been lights out his last two starts. Hammel appears to be on the right track after a rough beginning in the Cactus League.
Kyle Hendricks – Hendricks pitched in a B-Game last Thursday and is scheduled to start Tuesday’s B-Game against the Diamondbacks. Hendricks has been very good this spring. He’s throwing strikes, hitting his spots and keeping the ball down.
Travis Wood – Wood reported to camp ready to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation and he’s been solid over four starts. Wood has found a rhythm early in each outing and thrown strikes. While he’s given up more than his fair share of hits (21 in 14 1/3 innings), Wood has walked only one batter while striking out 10. It will be interesting to see what Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon have decided to do with the fifth spot in the rotation.
Edwin Jackson – Jackson started his off-season work early and claims he’s in the best shape of his life. After two typical and serviceable outings where he struggled with his command, Jackson was very sharp his last time out. While the line does not look as good, Jackson mixed his pitches with good location. Jackson has always had the ability to put together a good run and, for now, he’s still in the mix with Wood for the last spot in the rotation … with a possible role yet to be announced.
Felix Doubront – Doubront was in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation when pitchers and catchers reported last month. Doubront was stretched out as a starter but after two really bad outings in which he could not hit his spots, Doubront has been limited to one inning in each of his last two appearances and is now pitching for a job in the bullpen. Doubront hasn’t been good in multiple innings or in short relief. Considering he’s out of options he could pitching for a spot on another team if the Cubs can’t figure out a way to stash him in the system.
Eric Jokisch – Jokisch has been inconsistent this spring and has proven he needs more time in the minors. After a miserable first outing where nothing went right and he served up one of the longest home runs ever seen in Cactus League play, Jokisch was very good his next time out in Las Vegas. Jokisch has struggled with his command and release point this spring. The southpaw could help the Cubs win games this season, he’s just not ready for the backend of a big league rotation yet.
Hector Rondon – Rondon has been effective but not sharp this spring. The velocity is in the upper-90s so the arm is fine, he just seems to be struggling with his command. Rondon has walked two batters and given up six hits in five appearances (five innings). There have been a lot of deep counts and high pitch totals. It would be good to see Rondon finish the spring by pounding the strike zone.
Pedro Strop – Strop has had a good spring and has quietly gone about getting his work in. Strop has nine strikeouts with only one walk in five innings. After a shaky first outing, Strop has thrown strikes and given up three hits.
Neil Ramirez – Ramirez has struggled this spring. He’s thrown a lot of changeups and appears to be working on the pitch. When he’s thrown his fastball, the velocity has been fine. Ramirez could use a couple of strong outings before his appearances count. The three walks and six hits, along with the deep counts, that Ramirez has allowed this spring is a little concerning.
Justin Grimm – Grimm has appeared in only three games and hasn’t pitched in a Cactus League game in 11 days (March 13). Reports haven’t surfaced that Grimm is dealing with an injury, but the long gap in appearances, coupled with a rough outing the last time he pitched, raises a red flag. Grimm was very good the first two times he took the ball but was charged with two runs on two hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings back on March 13.
Jason Motte – Motte has shown improvement each time out. Location and velocity are still a concern. Motte hasn’t been as sharp as one would like to see from a pitcher that is expected to see time in high leverage situations late in games. The plus is that Motte has been healthy this spring, but like several of the relievers, he could use a couple of clean outings before the end of the Cactus League.
Brian Schlitter – Schlitter has really struggled this spring with his location … just too many hittable strikes. Schlitter was better against the Reds and White Sox but the Cubs have better options for the bullpen. Bosio was able to get him on track before the break last season and he might have to again if injuries change the team’s plans for the beginning of the season.
Blake Parker – Parker has been better this spring pitching out of the windup with no one on base. After back-to-back scoreless outings against the A’s and Padres, Parker struggled against the Mariners and looked a lot like the 2014 version of Blake Parker. Throwing quality strikes has always been an issue for the right hander and not much has changed this spring.
Phil Coke – Coke signed a minor league contract with the Cubs after the spring games began and he hasn’t done anything to lose his spot on the roster. Coke has looked good in his five appearances.
Zac Rosscup – Rosscup could join Phil Coke as the second lefty in the pen if the front office passes on Drake Britton. Rosscup has struggled from outing to outing with his command. Rosscup has good stuff but has trouble consistently throwing strikes. Rosscup has allowed too many baserunners this spring (five hits, three walks in six innings) and until he quits walking batters he will be shuttled back and forth from Iowa.
Drake Britton – Britton has not been as sharp as his stats indicate. There have been a lot of deep counts when Britton has been on the mound and he hasn’t exactly faced a lot of big league hitters this spring. Britton has shown flashes but lacks consistency. Due to the fact he’s out of options, he could join Coke in the pen. And extra work with Chris Bosio could turn a good arm into a successful big league reliever. The stuff is there.
Joseph Ortiz – Ortiz hasn’t been bad but he hasn’t been that good either. Like many of the relievers beyond the ones expected to break camp in Maddon’s pen, there have been too many deep counts this spring. Ortiz’s numbers look good but are deceiving.
Non-Roster Invitees – Outside of Phil Coke, the other relievers in camp that signed minor league contracts with the Cubs this winter haven’t pitched their way into consideration for a spot on the first roster of the season. Depending on the language in their contracts, RHP Daniel Bard, LHP Francisley Bueno, RHP Anthony Carter, RHP Jorge De Leon and RHP Gonzalez Germen should be on the Iowa Cubs Opening Day roster when it’s released or stay in Mesa for extended Spring Training.