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Brandon Workman looking to recapture 2019 form with Cubs after rough 2020 season

Workman was one of the game’s best relievers in 2019, but after struggling last season, he’s looking to turn things around in Chicago.

John Antonoff/Chicago Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Brandon Workman is coming off a 2020 season to forget, and after being on his third team in less than a year, the right-hander is hopeful he has found a home in the Cubs’ bullpen this season.

Workman, 32, signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Cubs in February to help shore up the bullpen. And with a few games under his belt, he’s beginning to find his rhythm.

“It’s been great so far,” Workman said. “Personally, I’m just kind of getting into the swing of it. Getting ready for the season, trying to get some arm strength built up, fine-tuning some pitches and just getting ready to roll this year.”

Things took a weird turn for Workman, who is coming off a spectacular 2019 season, which saw him go 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 73 games for the Red Sox. After getting off to a slow start in Boston last year, the struggles continued following his trade to the Phillies in August.

He finished the season with a career-high 5.95 ERA over 21 appearances.

“Honestly, I believe if I had a full season, I would have been able to right the ship, but that wasn’t the case last year,” Workman said. “That was tough to deal with and kind of put a bad taste in my mouth for the offseason. But I feel like I’ve done the work to be where I need to be coming into this year.”

“I think he’s a guy who’s gonna pitch big innings for us,” manager David Ross said in February. “He’s got a true four-seam ride. Breaking-ball guy, which is really big in the game right now. He’s a guy that is a really good competitor and a great teammate. Fun to be around, works his tail off and does everything you ask. I see him pitching big innings for us.”

Workman will play an important role in the Cubs’ bullpen this season as one of manager David Ross’ right-handed, high-leverage arms. With setup man Rowan Wick likely to start the season on the injured list as he works back from an intercostal injury, Workman likely would be the primary option late in games.

The 31-year-old may also serve as the emergency option should Craig Kimbrel be down for the day or is struggling in the ninth inning. Workman’s 26 career saves are the most in the bullpen behind Kimbrel.

But what will ultimately be the key for Workman’s success this season will be the effectiveness of his curveball. When he was successful in 2019, he threw the breaking ball a career-high 47% of the time. That number fell to just 40% last season.

“That’s definitely one of my main weapons,” he said. “It did leave me last year, so that was tough. I was able to make some mechanical adjustments. Watching film some this offseason and throughout last year. I feel like I have it in a good place right now.

“My pitch usage has changed through the years. It’s just been finding out what breakdown and pitch usage makes me the most effective and trying to use it that way.”