Manager David Ross deciding how to best use fifth-starter options Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills
Chatwood is the clear favorite, but top challenger Mills has had an impressive spring and is all but assured of a spot on the opening roster either way.
LAS VEGAS — Cubs manager David Ross said he might be ready to declare an Opening Day starter in the next few days, but he vowed to wait until some longtime media members return from breaks at the end of the week.
His vision for the fifth starter, however, might be even more interesting.
Power-pitching Tyler Chatwood is the clear favorite. Top challenger Alec Mills, more of a command-type pitcher (like teammate Kyle Hendricks), has had an impressive spring and is all but assured of a spot on the opening roster either way.
One school of thought about how to deploy the tandem of right-handers best is to use Mills as the fifth starter and Chatwood as an option to unleash one to three innings at a time out of the bullpen, similar to how he was used last season.
‘‘I’ve definitely thought about that,’’ Ross said. ‘‘That’s the skill set Tyler brings, right?
‘‘I think Tyler is maybe one of the most valuable starters/long guys that we have. There’s not too many guys we’ve got coming out of the pen throwing 99, which he hit last year a couple of times.’’
But for at least the start of the season, Ross isn’t inclined to use him that way.
‘‘I think Chat’s in a really good head space, and his outings have been very powerful,’’ Ross said. ‘‘He’s made a statement, as has [Mills]. And he’s got some experience that [Mills] doesn’t have.
‘‘I would say Chatwood’s still in the lead for that [fifth-starter] role.’’
From an organizational standpoint, Chatwood’s value is highest as a starter in the final year of his $38 million contract. That’s not only because of what he might contribute to the Cubs competing but also because of what he might bring on the trade market if he’s pitching well as a starter and the front office winds up in sell mode.
Ross, however, has his mind more on how Chatwood might play in a long season and into October. That’s where Chatwood’s versatility, including pitching in every inning last season, comes into play.
‘‘I’m never going to put him in a situation that he hasn’t already seen, whether it’s out of the bullpen or as a starter,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’ve got a long way to go, but my eye goes to a Kenta Maeda, who starts all year and then goes to the bullpen and is nasty in the playoffs.’’
Maeda was a productive starter with the Dodgers last season, then went to the bullpen in October and made four scoreless relief appearances in the postseason. Half of the 14 outs he recorded were strikeouts.
‘‘That’s how my brain works,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’re a long ways off from that, but that definitely could be a possibility.’’