MESA, Ariz. — It might have been the Cubs’ lineup that “broke” during a spotty second half of run production last year, as team president Theo Epstein put it.
But the pitching staff is making noise so far in spring training for the kind of fixes that might make the most impact on the upcoming season.
Maybe a young hitter or two will have a more productive season, but Kris Bryant’s healthy left shoulder might be close to all the lineup needs to avoid the kind of anemic stretches it went through last year, when the shoulder sapped his power.
As for the pitching, check out the work underway to improve on a staff performance that included an ERA (3.65) and save percentage (70.8) that each ranked second in the National League — and an NL-leading 3.35 bullpen ERA.
Yu Darvish’s health and confidence: The $126 million pitcher flamed out in a series of strange and bad performances before his elbow started bothering him in late May during the worst year of his career in 2018.
But the four-time All-Star got healthy in the offseason and this spring has engaged more with teammates and media — including conducting interviews in English with the U.S. media.
Carl Edwards Jr.’s hesitation move: Edwards went back to the video of idol Kenley Jansen over the winter to borrow a move that Jansen took from Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw.
But unlike Jansen, who uses it occasionally, Edwards is trying to incorporate the “reset” before he starts his delivery as a regular balance mechanism in an effort to cut down on walks.
He was efficient and impressive in a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 inning in his spring debut — which he called “beginner’s luck” — but wants to use it in one or two more outings before judging how it’s working.
“It feels real smooth,” he said. “It feels just like playing catch.”
Kyle Hendricks’ curveball: The major-league ERA leader in 2016 has made an impressive big-league living out of spotting an 89 mph fastball and using that against one of the best changeups in the game.
But a big focus this spring is on improving the effectiveness of — and confidence in — a curveball that he’d like to use more than 7.6 percent of the time, as he did last year.
“Just to see where I can use it in spots will give me more confidence,” he said.
Just what NL hitters want to hear.
Jose Quintana’s changeup: The 2016 All-Star said his poor start last year helped inspire a big offseason of work and a recommitment to a changeup he hasn’t trusted enough to use often in his career.
Primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher, Quintana showed off good results with the change in his spring debut Friday and said he hopes it can help return him to the All-Star Game this year and reach 200 innings again.
“That will help my team a lot,” he said.
Tyler Chatwood’s cleaner delivery: Chatwood said that over the winter he discovered, with the help of coaches back home, a small adjustment in his mechanics that should help keep his arm — and pitches — from drifting toward third when he throws.
“It just put my body in the right place,” said Chatwood, whose enormous walk totals cost him his rotation job. “So that’s what I’m doing, and I’m able to repeat everything easier.”
It looked good in his last appearance, and if he maintains it, he could become an important part of the rotation depth — or allow the Cubs to trade him and recoup a portion of the $25.5 million left on his contract.