Cubs’ pitching ‘jigsaw’ unfinished as Wade Miley, Mychal Givens throw first live BPs

Lefty reliever Daniel Norris and right-hander Robert Gsellman both made their Cubs spring-training debuts against the Royals on Sunday.

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Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is working with pitchers at varying degrees of readiness a week and a half before opening day.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is working with pitchers at varying degrees of readiness a week and a half before opening day. File photo.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. — Asked about the Cubs’ pitching puzzle a week and a half from Opening Day, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy ran with the metaphor.

“It’s like those jigsaw puzzles, every Christmas you break [them] out there’s pieces missing, you’re trying to find them on the floor,” Hottovy said. “It’s going to come together. To say each piece is going to fit perfectly in the puzzle is still to be determined.”

The Cubs may not have placed any more pieces on Sunday, but they did get a closer look at several of them.

Left-handed reliever Daniel Norris and right-hander Robert Gsellman both made their Cubs spring-training debuts against the Royals. Norris threw two hitless innings. Gsellman, a non-roster invitee, allowed six runs in one-third of an inning.

Starter Wade Miley and reliever Mychal Givens threw their first live batting-practice sessions of the spring, each logging a simulated inning.

“Just trying to get my feet wet,” Givens said, “and trying to be able to make pitches and get the ball spinning out of my hand really well. So today was really good to get out there.”

Cubs reliever David Robertson is scheduled to face hitters Tuesday for the first time this spring. He left camp for the birth of his son, Everett, but is expected to return Monday.

The puzzle is especially complicated this year because of the condensed spring-training schedule and the number of pitchers the Cubs signed midway through camp. Givens, for example, arrived Wednesday.

“Sometimes if we take a team approach where ‘we want this, this and this,’ then you end up rushing the guy too fast, or you’re trying to ask a guy to do more than he probably should,” Hottovy said. “So what I’m really focused on is what each individual guy is doing right now, how he’s feeling and how he’s recovering. And then once we get to the start of the season, we’ll be able to have a better understanding of what we want to do to piece it together.”

Each starter’s readiness affects the timing of his start and if he’ll need to piggyback. That, in turn, affects how many multi-inning relievers the Cubs will need on the roster, which affects how many one-inning relievers they’ll carry.

The Cubs have picked up the pieces from the floor, but they haven’t finished the puzzle’s border — or any section — quite yet.

Miley is one of the central pieces. His next step is to throw two innings of live batting practice. If all goes well, he’ll be ready for game action.

“I’m excited with how that went,” Miley said after his live session. “A lot closer than I thought it would be when I got done with that, so stuff’s playing where I want it to. . . . It’s a step in the right direction.”

Cubs manager David Ross hasn’t announced a rotation order. But if Miley stays on a five-day schedule, he’s lined up with a pair of off days, one right before the opener and the other in-between the Cubs’ first two series.

That off day gives the Cubs flexibility in how they utilize their pitching staff. Hottovy confirmed that the team could leave a pitcher or two in Arizona to keep building up and facing hitters before getting into regular-season action.

“We have to look at this in sections,” Hottovy said. “The first section is that first four-game series, and then we technically don’t need a fifth starter until Game 9 of the season. So taking all those things into consideration.

“But there’s also ways where, because we have that off day, maybe we could throw some piggybacks in there, guys could be at lower volume and throw three innings and still be in a decent spot to schedule all that out.”

With Miley, for example, the Cubs could have him make a short start right after the off day. The more likely scenario, though, seems to be skipping his turn in the rotation the first time around and having him rejoin the team the second time through. That would give him two more starts in Arizona to ramp up.

Move one other piece, however, and that scenario may no longer fit. The rotation is just one section of the puzzle.

On the opposite side is the back end of the bullpen, which could include some combination of Rowan Wick, Chris Martin, Givens and Robertson. Only two of those pitchers have pitched in a game this spring.

Even the shape of those pieces isn’t clear.

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