SURPRISE, Ariz. — Manager David Ross had a few versions prepared for delivering the news to reliever Ethan Roberts that he had made the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career
If Roberts had a bad outing, Ross was going to tell him on the mound as he took him out of the game: “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you sucked today; the good news is you’re on the team.”
Ross didn’t get to use that one.
“This is like three different flavors of icing on top of my cake right now,” Roberts said after throwing a scoreless inning Monday and learning he was breaking camp with the Cubs.
Ross has delivered a lot of news the last few days. The Cubs’ Opening Day roster was “pretty much set” as of Tuesday morning, Ross said. The Cubs announced two rounds of cuts this week but aren’t expected to release their final roster before Thursday.
“The worst part of this job are all the tough conversations I have to have,” Ross said. “And when you get to do something like that for a young man that comes in and has a great camp . . . it’s really cool.”
Ross declined to say whether reliever Mychal Givens (soreness) would begin the season on the injured list, saying he still needed to talk to the trainers. But Givens’ status is one piece of the roster puzzle.
The Cubs could decide to go with 14 pitchers, especially considering their late additions’ quick ramp-ups, and 14 position players. In that configuration, the Cubs could carry all six outfielders on the spring-training roster. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons likely will start the season on the IL, leaving a spot open for first baseman/outfielder Alfonso Rivas.
The Cubs haven’t announced their full bullpen, but they did add veteran right-hander Jesse Chavez to the 40-man roster over the weekend after signing him early in spring training.
“Every Opening Day means a lot, whether it’s your first or fifth or 10th,” Chavez said.
Scott Effross and Roberts are among the relievers who made the Opening Day roster for the first time.
“It’s just something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time,” Roberts said.
And he means it.
Off Main Street in Roberts’ hometown, there’s a monument honoring bluegrass musician Lester Flatt, who was born just north of the town. On the back, there’s an inscription: “Sparta, Tennessee, home of Lester Flatt.”
When Roberts was 12, he told his dad, “That’s going to say ‘Home of Ethan Roberts’ one day.”
On Monday, the final play of Roberts’ last spring outing complicated Ross’ delivery of the good news. Roberts, who didn’t allow a run in five spring outings, knocked down a comebacker with his pitching hand and tossed the ball to first base for the final out.
He sensed the “weird” looks when he got back to the dugout. Ross double-checked that Roberts’ hand was OK. Ross asked Roberts if he could still shake his hand. Roberts grasped it, assuring Ross that he was fine.
“Good, you just made the team,” Ross said.
Roberts, sitting on the dugout bench, was basking in the moment.
“This is, of course for everybody, but it’s just life-changing for me,” Roberts said later. “This is insane. Just at a loss for words.”