The current makeup of the Cubs’ bullpen is a far cry from what it was before the July 30 trade deadline. Gone are the days of knowing the last three innings of close games would be in the hands of Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel.
For the last month, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has been working to figure out how best to employ all of the new faces.
That has meant spending time learning different pitchers’ routines, seeing how they respond to such things as pitching on back-to-back days and deciding which matchups are likely to work best.
In short, Hottovy said it’s finding out “what makes them the best version of themselves.”
For instance, some guys can handle pitching on back-to-back days and actually look better the second time around. Hottovy pointed to Rowan Wick as an example. Wick pitched Thursday and Friday against the Pirates. He blew a save opportunity Thursday, then retired the side to earn his second save of the season the next day. Wick pitched two innings (37 pitches) for the save in the 11-8 victory Sunday against the Pirates.
“I think he gets better as he pitches at times,” Hottovy said.
There’s also figuring out which situations will work best for different pitchers. Hottovy said that’s why they get one pitcher up in the bullpen based on how an inning is going, then potentially sit him back down for someone else.
“A lot of times where the lineup ends, where the inning ends, we may like a guy to come in and finish the inning, but then it actually lines up as a really good pocket for somebody else,’’ Hottovy said. ‘‘We’re trying to manage that as we are trying to get to know guys.’’
As the Cubs move through the season’s last month, then start thinking about who belongs in the 2022 bullpen, Hottovy and company are focusing on trying to find the best pockets to use their relievers, then gradually trusting them in more high-leverage spots.
“Obviously, as guys start pitching more and start gaining success and having good stretches, you start to trust those guys in some big moments,” Hottovy said.
The Cubs’ bullpen has been very successful lately. Entering the game Sunday, it had a combined 0.35 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 innings in the previous five games.
The Cubs got 23 saves from Kimbrel before he was traded, but since then, they’ve looked to several other pitchers to pick up the final inning.
Wick is the only other pitcher with more than one save, and nine other relievers have one. Hottovy said that’s intentional. Rather than trying to hand the closer role to someone new, he wants to see who else might be closer material.
“Until you put guys in those situations and have multiple guys that you’re running out there and getting in those situations, you don’t really know how they’re going to react,” Hottovy said.
Codi Heuer came from the White Sox with high praise from Liam Hendriks, who believes Heuer will be the Cubs’ closer one day. But for now, Hottovy wants to keep his options open.
“We have guys in the bullpen who have the makeup and stuff to be closers,” Hottovy said. “The big thing for me is to continue to give them those opportunities.”
REDS AT CUBS
Monday: Sonny Gray (7-6, 3.89 ERA) vs. Justin Steele (3-2, 3.48), 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Tuesday: Wade Miley (11-5, 2.97) vs. Adrian Sampson (0-1, 1.59), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Wednesday: Vladimir Gutierrez (9-6, 4.17) vs. Alec Mills (6-6, 4.25), 6:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.