Cubs have hearty, healthy hopes for high-upside Anderson

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Brett Anderson pitching in his spring debut for the Cubs on Monday.

MESA, Ariz. — By the time he broke into the big leagues, left-hander Brett Anderson was the No. 7-ranked prospect in the game, according to Baseball America.

By the end of his first year with the Oakland Athletics, he had 30 starts and 11 wins and finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.

But three teams, eight seasons, seven disabling injuries (requir-ing three surgeries) and thousands of hours of therapy and rehab later, Anderson finds himself in Mesa, Arizona, on an incentive-loaded contract with the Cubs.

He’s the secret weapon of their pitching staff.

“I would be curious to see this guy with a full season of good health, because it might even be better than a lot of teams’ third and second starters,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is that good. With health, there’s no telling.”

The Cubs aren’t counting on medical miracles with Anderson. That’s why $6.5  million of a potential $10 million deal for 2017 is written into workload-related incentive clauses.

But they are leaning on a medical staff and pitching infrastructure that has kept their entire starting rotation remarkably healthy over the last two seasons, helping them to amass 200 regular-season wins and five playoff-round victories.

“If I’m healthy, everything else will work itself out,” Anderson said, “and I’ll take my chances.”

Anderson, 29, made only three starts last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers because of back surgery in March — the second of his career. He made 31 starts the year before but just 19 the previous three seasons combined.

Anderson said a third back injury “is potentially career-threatening.” But after his scoreless inning against the White Sox on Monday, he already is far ahead of last year, when his back flared up during a live batting practice session.

In addition to “tedious” maintenance work on his back, Anderson may also have found a key in his mechanics since joining pitching coach Chris Bosio’s staff.

“[Bosio’s] not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Anderson said. “It’s more so to limit the pressure on my back, just mild mechanical adjustments where I don’t land on my heel as much and kind of land on the ball of my foot or my toes so it’s not such a whiplash effect.

“It felt kind of awkward the first couple times just because I’d thrown the same way since I could walk and talk. I feel strong, and I feel more directional towards the plate, rather than rotational. So it’s been good so far.”

The Cubs aren’t looking for workhorse results. They don’t intend to let Anderson get anywhere near 200 innings even if he’s healthy all year. He has pitched more than 112 „ innings only once in his career, with 180„ in 2015.

This is where the Cubs’ “hybrid” rotation plan comes into play — using a combination of Anderson and lefty Mike Montgomery in the fifth spot and occasionally in six-man stretches, as needed.

It might be a tall order to replace departed free agent Jason Hammel’s 15-10 record and 3.83 ERA. But Anderson said he feels healthy and strong so far and seems to like his chances to stay that way between Bosio’s help and the maintenance work he does with the training staff.

“[Bosio’s] had a good track record with health, and especially the last couple of years,” Anderson said. “And hopefully I can fall in line there, too.”

The Cubs have dreams of what that could mean for a rotation that already has 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, 2016 Cy Young finalists Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks and three-time World Series champion John Lackey.

“I’m like everybody else in the industry [who’s] always looking at this young man to see if we can get him out there for, I’d say, 160 to 175 [innings],” Maddon said. “If he could do something like that, my God, he’d be outstanding, I believe.”

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