Expanded rosters give Cubs’ new-look pitching staff a boost

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed to give teams two extra roster spots and remove the 13-pitcher limit for April.

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Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman makes his second spring training start of 2022, at Sloan Park.

Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman makes his second spring training start of 2022, at Sloan Park.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs finally know how many roster spots they can count on to open the season. 

Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed to give teams two extra roster spots and remove the 13-pitcher limit for April. The agreement reportedly is pending the approval of the club owners and comes amid injury concerns because of the condensed spring-training schedule. 

“It’s going to be nice for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Wednesday. “I think it was a smart move in this unique spring training.”

Ross confirmed that the Cubs’ two extra spots likely would go to pitchers, “but it’s not just how things will shake out performance-wise. There’s big-picture stuff that we look at, as well.”

The Cubs have brought in nine free-agent pitchers to big-league camp since the lockout ended two weeks ago, so the expansion of rosters to 28 players to begin the season is especially welcome news. 

The new faces keep rolling in. The club made reliever Mychal Givens’ signing (one-year contract with a mutual 2023 option) official, designating infielder Sergio Alcantara for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. 

“Luckily, we’re bringing in some really good veteran guys that know themselves,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said, “so we trust them to that extent.” 

Late next week, the Cubs will have a better sense of how built up their pitchers will be for Opening Day. That information will help them decide how many multi-inning relievers they’ll carry compared to one-inning arms. 

No matter the balance, the new roster flexibility takes some pressure off starters such as Wade Miley to rush the ramp-up process. Miley, on a “veteran program,” was hesitant to start building up too early with the beginning of spring training in question. 

“I should already have faced hitters, and I haven’t,” he said earlier this week. “So that’s going to be a whole different kind of soreness when you ramp up and get into that. But hopefully I can do that here in the next week.”

There are ways to give Miley extra time. The Cubs have a day off between their first and second series of the season, which gives them the option of having Miley stay in Arizona for an extra start, then make his 2022 debut in Pittsburgh at the back end of the rotation. 

The Cubs also have the multi-inning pitcher depth to piggyback starts at the beginning of the year.

“There can easily be some ways to use the first two weeks of the season as a competitive window, but also a window to continue to ramp guys up with pitch counts and things like that,” Hottovy said. “So [roster expansion] really does change the whole landscape of how you view Opening Day, for sure, and what you want to do with the roster.”

The Cubs’ top two pitchers are on pace to build up to five innings by the end of spring training. Kyle Hendricks threw about 40 pitches against the Mariners on Tuesday, then threw more in the bullpen to get his total up to 50.

Right-hander Marcus Stroman threw close to 50 pitches in two-plus innings Wednesday against the Athletics. And getting up for three innings was an important part of his progression. 

“The second I feel that Wrigley crowd on April 8, man, it’s going to be on,” he said. 

Ross hasn’t announced his Opening Day (April 7) starter, and Stroman wasn’t breaking the news. He added that Hendricks should get the ball on Opening Day for the rest of his Cubs career.

“Hendricks is the guy,” Stroman said. “He’s been doing this for a long time. I’ll pitch Day 5 — I really don’t care when I pitch. . . . I’ve never been prideful on that. I truly believe Hendricks should be the Opening Day [starter] just because of his career, how unbelievable he’s been in the playoffs. His résumé speaks for itself.” 

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