MESA, Ariz. — When Trevor Cahill was a full-time starter — an All-Star, at that — he liked routine. He does still.
That’s been harder to find lately, and not just because he’s penciled in as the Cubs’ long man out of the bullpen. Cahill’s wife gave birth to a daughter last month, on the first day of spring training.
Fatherhood and relief pitching have something in common.
“It is kinda like being in the bullpen,” the 28-year-old said. “You try to get sleep when you can. In the bullpen, you try to get a lift in when you can. You don’t want to do a huge lift if you pitch the next day or that night.”
Cahill says he’s lucky that his wife wakes up with the baby in the middle of the night, particularly when she knows he has to pitch the next day. Still, he’s walked into the Cubs’ spring training complex on little sleep some mornings.
That was one reason he decided to re-sign — for one year and $4.25 million — this offseason. His family lives in the Phoenix valley, and he couldn’t stand the idea of playing for a Grapefruit League team, even if it might have given him a stronger chance to start.
“(Manager) Joe (Maddon) showed confidence in me,” Cahill said. “I appreciated that and wanted to come back. We had unfinished business.”
Maddon said Sunday that Cahill will remain stretched out as the Cubs’ “JIC” — his slang for “just-in-case” starting pitcher. Travis Wood, Adam Warren and Clayton Richard, the other long-shot rotation candidates , will join him in the bullpen.
The skipper has talked up Cahill’s versatility in camp, even bringing him in to close Tuesday. Maddon later clarified Cahill could pitch the ninth in a pinch, but it wasn’t part of the plan.
“It’s kind of like having a (Ben) Zobrist on your pitching staff,” he said, referring to the Cubs’ utilityman. “I mean, he really can do anything. You could start him, you could middle him, you could late him, you could close with him. He’s got that kind of stuff.”
Cahill was an All-Star starter for the A’s in 2010 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million extension the next year.
His struggles, though, led him to play for four organizations last year alone. Maddon said that made him more open to a bullpen job.
“If he doesn’t accept that, it makes it a lot more difficult,” Maddon said. “I think a lot of that has to do with communicating the thought to him, so that he’s comfortable with it in advance, and he knows that’s what’s going to happen. I think it’s nothing more than that — it’s acceptance, communication.
“Because, physically, he’s able to do all those different things. He’s got a rubber arm. He’s got great stuff. He gets out righties and lefties — they put the ball on the ground.”
Cahill was sharp after joining the Cubs last year, logging a 2.12 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 17 relief innings. He allowed only eight hits and five walks.
Along the way, he developed a new routine. He stretches in the third and fifth innings, and plays catch with an outfielder in the sixth.
“I don’t think it’s anything that I actually know how to do now,” he said. “You just do it.”
It’s human nature to treat each assignment differently — the sixth inning isn’t the same as the ninth, or a start — but Cahill tries to look at them as the same.
“You’re facing the same hitters regardless of the situation,” he said. “When you think of it like that, it’s not a big deal. I think the hardest part is just getting the whole routine down and making sure that, mentally and physically, you’re ready to go.”
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