Injuries kept Rex Brothers on and off of major-league rosters for the last six years, but in his second season with the Cubs, he feels like he’s back on track.
Not just because he’s healthy again, but because he has a different perspective on being a big-league pitcher. Much of this has come from the births of his twin sons three years ago.
“They went through quite the battle in the [neonatal intensive care unit] in 2018,” Brothers said. “Since then, it’s been a lot easier to keep baseball where it needs to be.”
Cubs manager David Ross is learning from Brothers, too. It’s common for players to be good at self-motivating, but few are willing to approach a manager and ask for an extra push.
“Let me know when you need more out of me,” Brothers said of his conversation with Ross. “If you see me slacking, flat out tell me, ‘Hey, I need you to pick it up here or just be better.’ Throughout my life, I feel like I respond better that way.”
Brothers’ openness to an external push goes back to his rookie season with the Rockies in 2011. First baseman Todd Helton would get his attention on the mound when he saw an inning getting away or Brothers falling behind in the count too often.
Brothers told Ross about that experience and asked that he approach him the same way.
“Sometimes guys just need a kick in the rear end, and [to be] pushed a little bit harder, and can handle a little more honesty than you give them credit for,” Ross said.
After earning his first save since 2013 on -Friday, Brothers has a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 12 innings through 17 appearances.
HBPs on the rise
Batters hit by pitches have increased steadily for decades. Since the mid-1990s, the number has grown by about 40 per year. In 2019, MLB had its highest rate since 1900.
This year has not bucked the trend. Ross believes that some of the spike is because of how younger pitchers spent the last year.
“You’re throwing indoors, sometimes into a net, maybe not even a catcher, and a lot of times not to a hitter,” Ross said. “You’re just throwing and getting data from the Rapsodos and the Trackmans and all the technology and trying to spin it rather than competing to zones with hitters.”
Add increased velocity and decreased control, and it has become a scary situation for hitters. Ross said he has had some informal conversations with people around the league about keeping batters safe. One idea that has come up is something that would mimic high-sticking penalties in hockey.
But ultimately, Ross believes it boils down to pitchers improving their command.
“We’ve emphasized pitch data a lot in our game, instead of maybe just getting outs and pitchability. That has factored into it,” Ross said.
Starter Jake Arrieta and infielder Nico Hoerner continued rehab work. Arrieta went on the 10-day injured list May 4 with an abrasion on his right thumb; he threw a bullpen session. Hoerner hit the 10-day IL on May 3 with a strained left forearm and did infield drills before the game Saturday.