What signing a 'big-time horse' could do for the Cubs' rotation - petsitterbank

What signing a ‘big-time horse’ could do for the Cubs’ rotation

PITTSBURGH – Before the Cubs’ 8-3 win against the Pirates on Sunday, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy called building and improving on starting pitching depth, “crucial.”

“I know we’ve done some really good things this second half of the year,” he said. “But we struggled early in the year when we didn’t have the consistency and the depth quite as we wanted it. When you have good, consistent starting pitching in this league, you can do a lot of things.”

Case in point: right-hander Adrian Sampson held the Pirates to one run through six innings on Sunday, his fourth straight quality start. His strong stretch has been one of those second-half positives. But the Cubs have also continued to play shorthanded in the starting pitching department.

With the offseason fast approaching, the Cubs are identifying the holes they’ll need to fill. To vault into contention and close the rebuilding chapter of this cycle, the Cubs will not only need to add depth but do it by adding to the top of their rotation.

Look at how this season has played out. The injuries to the rotation began even before the lockout ended. Adbert Alzolay, initially expected to compete for a rotation spot, was sidelined for most of the season with a lat strain he sustained a few weeks before spring training opened.

Wade Miley was delayed in starting his season for inflammation in his left elbow. He’s only made eight starts due to a string of injuries.

Marcus Stroman has had two IL stints, for COVID-19 and then right shoulder inflammation. Drew Smyly missed six weeks for a right oblique strain and skipped his last start due to shoulder fatigue. Kyle Hendricks sustained a season-ending shoulder strain and has been on the IL since early July.

In the first half of the season, young pitchers Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson took on more responsibility than originally expected, and they thrived in those roles.

“If these guys continue to understand who they are, just keep learning about themselves and learn about pitching,” Miley said in a conversation with the Sun-Times a couple months ago, “they don’t have a lot of work to do in the starting pitching department moving forward to win. … If you can get a big-time horse, throw them in there behind them all day long.”

In other words, if the Cubs acquire an ace, that boosts the quality of the rotation throughout. Steele and Thompson would be high-quality middle-rotation options.

Late in the year, as Thompson and Steele have both missed time for low back injuries, in their first full major-league seasons, the spotlight has turned to rookies like Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad.

“To expect them to all throw 180 innings next year is probably a little bit lofty of a goal,” Hottovy said of the Cubs’ young starting pitchers, also mentioning Thompson, Alzolay and prospect Caleb Kilian. “So, it shows you how important it is to have guys that can come in and eat up innings and be good starting pitchers to build those guys around, instead of making them the focal point of one of those main spots.”

As for the veterans, Smyly has a mutual option for next season. Stroman and Hendricks will still be under contract, with 2024 options– Stroman’s is a player option and Hendricks’ is up to the club.

Hendricks’ health moving forward is still a question mark. He’s building up in his strength program in Arizona and has not yet started throwing.

“I’m confident in [Hendricks] getting some rest,” Hottovy said. “I’m confident in him having a good normal offseason and build up. So, as of right now, we absolutely are believing in Kyle Hendricks to be a huge part of what we want to do next year.”

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