MESA, Ariz. — Tyler Chatwood said he spent the winter concentrating more on fixing what broke in 2018 than on looking for any trade talk about him after his wild and woolly debut season with the Cubs.
What’s more, the bulldogged Chatwood looks around the clubhouse at the likes of Cole Hamels — who was brought back to join four more locked-in Cubs starters — and still insists he wants a starting job.
But Chatwood also insists he wants no part of a trade, even if it might be his best shot at finding his way back into a rotation.
“That hasn’t even crossed my mind,” said Chatwood, who shattered the franchise record with a walk rate of 8.2 per nine innings in 2018. “Last offseason, I signed a three-year deal here because I wanted to win. I chose to be here. This is where I wanted to be.”
In what might end up a case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, Chatwood started the steep, uphill climb toward his goal Sunday with two mixed-results innings in his spring debut against the Giants. After a leadoff single, followed by a double-play ball, he walked Evan Longoria on five pitches and then gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Belt on a 2-2 changeup. He got two quick outs in the second inning, then hit Rene Rivera with a 3-2 pitch, then retired the next batter on Kyle Schwarber’s diving play in left field.
“I felt like I made some good pitches, so it was good,” said Chatwood, whose delivery seemed quieter than last year’s.
Chatwood, who signed with the Cubs after six years with the Rockies, was billed as a “stuff” pitcher who could flourish once he got out of Coors Field and could use all his pitches more effectively.
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But his command meltdown cost him his rotation spot when the Cubs acquired Hamels at the trade deadline in July. And with no way to bank on Chatwood as they approached a pivotal 2019 season, the Cubs blew most of their budget flexibility to exercise Hamels’ $20 million contract option.
“Obviously, if everybody were healthy, it’s going to be tough for [Chatwood] to be able to fit in the [starting] five — absolutely it is,” said manager Joe Maddon, who raves about Chatwood’s ability. “He’s exciting. The way his ball moves is unusual. A lot of it’s in his control how this is all going to play out.”
That’s almost literally true, but maybe not the way Maddon meant.
If everybody else on the staff is healthy, the Cubs have their starting five, their backup sixth man (Mike Montgomery) and no realistic place to use Chatwood that doesn’t essentially involve mop-up work. In fact, if he pitches well this spring, he’s more likely to be shopped by the budget-strained Cubs to try to recoup some of the $25.5 million left on his contract.
Chatwood, who believes he found an answer to his delivery through two coaching friends back home in California, sticks with a stone-faced, competitive approach when talking about the goals that remain clear in his mind.
“I want to be a starting pitcher,” he said.
And he wants to do it again with this team. The rest is noise to him — especially the trade talk.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” he said. “I can’t control that. My job is just to go out there and pitch and show these guys I’m back to what I was and feeling good, and then make the decision tough on them.”