Tyler Chatwood to Cubs’ rescue? Demoted starter takes last shot at living up to free agent contract

The fifth starter job is Chatwood’s to lose after the $38 million free agent starter spent most of his first two years with the Cubs relegated to the bullpen.

SHARE Tyler Chatwood to Cubs’ rescue? Demoted starter takes last shot at living up to free agent contract
If Tyler Chatwood is finally pointed in the right direction for the Cubs, he could be a big lift for the rotation.

If Tyler Chatwood is finally pointed in the right direction for the Cubs, he could be a big lift for the rotation.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nobody is suggesting Tyler Chatwood is the savior for a Cubs rotation that needs a big year for the team to return to the playoffs.

But after the Cubs lost Cole Hamels to free agency and added nobody to replace him, that’s exactly what Chatwood is going to get the chance to be.

Two years after the Cubs jumped the market to sign the hard-throwing right-hander to a three-year, $38 million deal to join the rotation, he looks like a guy with a second chance to be that impact addition in the last year of his deal.

“When I signed here three years ago, that was the whole point,” said Chatwood, whose historically bad control problems led to a midseason demotion to the bullpen in 2018 after he had started for the Angels and Rockies. “That’s what I did my whole career.

“Last year was tough [in multiple bullpen roles], but the way I pitched at the end of the year I feel like set me up for a good year this year, and I’m excited to have that.”

Chatwood, 30, never has been confused with a command pitcher such as Kyle Hendricks. But until 2018, he kept the walks down just enough that his heavy velocity and breaking stuff compensated.

He missed all of 2015 because of a second Tommy John surgery the previous summer. He also had the reconstructive elbow surgery in high school.

As he fought back to realign his mechanics and rediscover his feel, his walk rate rose in successive years until spiraling out of control in 2018 (8.2 per nine innings).

It’s why Hamels became a necessary acquisition for a playoff contender in the first place, and why the Cubs felt compelled to exercise his 2019 option.

But the four-time All-Star and his considerable shadow are gone, opening a wide berth for Chatwood to get one last shot to be the impact free agent the Cubs thought they signed in December 2017.

Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy essentially said the fifth-starter job is Chatwood’s to lose as camp opened. Chatwood’s primary competitors are right-hander Alec Mills, who thrived in multiple roles last year and could be a bullpen fit, and rookie Adbert Alzolay, who figures to fit best as a depth starter at Class AAA Iowa, where his workload can be monitored, as well.

And Chatwood, who pitched a scoreless inning against the Dodgers Sunday in his spring debut, might be in the best condition and mindset to finally reach his ceiling as a Cub.

“I think that bad year really helped me,” he said. “It could go one of two ways. You could sulk on it and feel bad for yourself, or you go back to basics and rebuild some stuff, fine-tune it. Last year was kind of the base of that. And this offseason I was able to build on that.

“I feel like this is the best spot I’ve ever been in, mechanics, throwing and everything.”

Chatwood went 5-3 with a 3.76 ERA last season in 38 appearances, including five spot starts and relief appearances ranging from one to four innings (with two saves).

He called it his “most physically challenging” season. It also was a season in which he cut his walk rate nearly in half and kept his mechanics in check enough to produce.

“I feel like I proved enough that maybe we can get back to that [original] plan,” Chatwood said. “There’s still a lot of untapped potential.”

He might not find a better time to tap it than this year, for himself and for the team.

The Latest
The location shots are beautiful and lush, and the strong cast includes familiar veterans along with some greatly talented relative newcomers.
“It was only because the patient received high-quality CPR immediately that she survived,” said a trauma physician at Stroger Hospital.
“If we had a quarterback last year, we could have won state,” Raiders coach John Ivlow said.
Someone wake Matt Nagy: This play is what the Justin Fields offense is supposed to look like.