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As youth pushes through, Cubs preparing to get creative with rotation plans

Left-hander Justin Steele has done everything the Cubs have asked; now it’s time to make room for him.

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If there’s a silver lining to this Cubs season, it’s the emergence of both talent and depth with some of the team’s young pitchers. While right-hander Adbert Alzolay has been the headliner of the group, left-hander Justin Steele and right-hander Keegan Thompson also opened eyes with their performances out of the bullpen.

Now that the Cubs are turning their attention to 2022 and beyond, getting those pitchers time in the rotation has become an important step. But to make room over the final two months, they’ll have to get creative.

“We will be as creative as possible,” manager David Ross said. “I think there is a willingness for everybody to continue to make starts, and we’ll move some things around and make some adjustments as we go.

“Things change really fast in our day-to-day. Who’s healthy, who’s not, who’s available. But we’ll get creative. Making sure we’re still keeping guys healthy is a priority for us, and making sure guys can continue to compete.”

Steele will get the first crack in the rotation. He has been lights-out since going down to Triple-A Iowa to get stretched out, posting a 0.87 ERA over 20 „ innings in five starts since July 1. While there’s nothing set in stone, Steele making his next start in the big leagues wouldn’t be a shock.

“We’re gonna map some things out here — talk to all the starters and figure out exactly where he fits in,” Ross said. “We’ve got a plan. We’ll communicate that to him and the rest of the group really soon. But we should see him sooner rather than later.”

The balancing act will involve keeping starters such as Kyle Hendricks and Alec Mills on their schedules and watching Alzolay’s workload. He’s up to 98 „ innings this season, just 27„ innings away from his career high.

A modified six-man rotation is one way to accomplish all of the goals. In the short term, it would allow Steele a spot. It also would reward Mills, who has pitched well since taking on a starter role full-time; he has a 3.55 ERA since June 15.

“These guys, they’re all on board. I think the veterans understand,” Ross said. “They’ve been around long enough, they understand the situation we’re in, and a couple extra days for them to work on things or a couple of days off is not going to hurt the body or the mind to take breaks and root guys on and help teach.”

When Thompson is ready to start, the Cubs likely will have a decision to make on one of their veterans. Thompson is a few weeks behind Steele and should be good to go toward the end of the month.

“They’ve been good, the young arms that we have, a couple of pieces we’ve gotten in trades and guys that have been in the system,” starter Jake Arrieta said. “They’re looking forward to showcasing their stuff and showing they have the ability to stay at this level, and it’s been nice to see.”