Rotation questions answered as Cubs enter new territory in 2016

By Cat Garcia 

After an eventful offseason that saw the Cubs organization add a bounty of talent to it’s already All-Star caliber roster, this year’s Spring Training was a fantastic preview of what’s in store for the coming 2016 season.

With one more ceremonial game in Las Vegas on Thursday evening to close out the Cactus League season before crunch time approaches, let’s take a look at the biggest takeaways from Mesa this season.

Heading into March, the certainty of Kyle Hendricks’ rotation spot seemed in jeopardy due to the arrival of newcomer Adam Warren in the Yankees-Cubs deal for Starlin Castro.

Hendricks, a finesse style pitcher, worked this spring to improve his changeup and ability to command the strike zone and did so quite successfully. Despite a poor outing on Monday against the Angels in which he allowed two home runs to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, Hendricks had posted 19 strikeouts in 19 innings, accompanied by a 1.89 ERA and surrendered just two walks.

Manager Joe Maddon has stated that he is naming former starter Trevor Cahill as his “just in case” sixth starter, implying that Warren’s role is best relegated to the bullpen. Warren has allowed 4 earned runs in 6 innings of work this spring, while Cahill, who worked out of the Cubs bullpen in the second half of 2015, has posted a 2.57 ERA in 7 innings of work.

After a rough second half last year, starting pitcher Jason Hammel is looking to post successful numbers continually throughout the 2016 season and has done so during camp thus far. Before having a rough outing on Sunday, Hammel posted an impressive 1.20 ERA through 12 innings.

Hammel exited Sunday’s game after 4.1 innings, giving up 9 earned run on 8 hits. After the game, he attributed his unsuccessful outing to his inability to command the lower half of the zone, a problem that Hammel frequently faced last season. So far, this has been Hammel’s first poor outing of the Spring.

Former Cardinals starting pitcher John Lackey, who signed a 2-year deal with the Cubs in the offseason, will serve as the Cubs third starter in the rotation according to Joe Maddon. Lackey has posed some questions in the rotation with a turbulent Spring in which he has allowed 10 earned runs on 10 hits during 13 innings of work. Lackey has also issued 14 strikeouts, however, fastball command continues to be an issue for Lackey.

Often one of the final decisions to be made during roster construction, the Cubs are still seeking out who will fill the club’s final bench role. Options include left-handed bat Tommy La Stella, who has recently begun participating in minor-league games after suffering a calf injury earlier this spring, left-handed bat and infielder Munenori Kawasaki, and outfielder Matt Szczur, who was out of action most of March with an oblique injury.

As of now, despite Szczur being out of minor league options, La Stella seems to be the most likely candidate for the final bench spot. Kawasaki is currently signed to a minor-league deal with the Cubs and after receiving high praises from Maddon this spring, will likely serve as an immediate depth option should he not secure a roster spot.

Former Cubs outfielder Matt Murton, who was signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, was setback this spring after undergoing an emergency appendectomy just before the start of Cactus League play. Murton was recently reassigned to minor-league camp and will serve as depth, most likely at Triple-A Iowa.

Cy Young award winner and starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who suffered a blister, shortening his last Spring outing vs. the Giants, is still scheduled to make his Opening Day start against the Angels in Anaheim on Monday.

Cat is a Staff Writer for BP Wrigleyville and BP Southside, Baseball Prospectus’ blogs covering Chicago baseball, and a Contributor for Follow her on Twitter: @TheBaseballGirl.

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