Cubs notes: Bullpen competition crowded, longtime team doctor retiring

For reliever Michael Rucker, building off his 2022 season literally began with a building project.

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Cubs reliever Michael Rucker pitches against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field last season.

Cubs reliever Michael Rucker had a literal rebuilding project during the offseason.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. — Reliever Michael Ruckers offseason program included building a mini-gym in his garage. He only had an 8-by-12-foot section of the garage to work with, so he had to be efficient.

‘‘I’m really excited with how it turned out,’’ he told the Sun-Times, flipping through the picture on his phone.

A big focus for Rucker this offseason was gaining strength to be available for more back-to-backs — or whenever manager David Ross calls his name. Rucker, who is entering his third big-league season, debuted in 2021 and began to establish himself in a middle-relief role last season.

‘‘Coming into this year, for a lot of us young guys, it’s not a done deal making the team out of camp,’’ Rucker said when he was asked about his goals this season. ‘‘So continuing to establish myself and say that I’m a part of this team and I can contribute and I want to help this team win. I’m going to do all I can to do that.’’

The Cubs brought in veterans Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer to supplement an otherwise-young bullpen.

The relievers left in the second half of last season were thrust into higher-leverage roles after the Cubs traded their back-end arms at the deadline, but they still managed a 4.21 ERA in the last two months, which ranked among the top six in the National League. But with 17 pitchers in camp on non-roster deals, there’s a lot of competition for limited Opening Day roster spots.

‘‘It helps having flexibility in everybody,’’ Fulmer said. ‘‘Anybody can go out and pitch the ninth; anybody can go out and pitch the sixth and seventh. It doesn’t matter, as long as we all root for each other, we do good and stay together as a unit.’’

For Rucker, building off last season literally began with a building project.

He laid down plywood as the platform base, then installed mats on the sides — cutting through the three-quarter-inch-thick rubber with an X-ACTO knife — and maple in the middle. He assembled a power rack and bench to sit on top. In all, from ordering the supplies to putting in the final touches, he was done in two months.

Happy trails, Doc Adams

The Cubs announced longtime team doctor and medical director Stephen Adams is retiring.

Adams — or ‘‘Doc Adams,’’ as he often is called — has been affiliated with the Cubs since the 1980s, when he covered the first-aid station at Wrigley Field. He has been their chief physician and medical director since 2000.

He’ll remain tied to the Cubs even in retirement, serving as a special adviser to the president and general manager.

‘‘Dr. Adams has had such a positive impact not only on the Chicago Cubs but also on the sport’s medical policies and guidelines,’’ president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said in a statement released by the team. ‘‘His service, empathy and dedication to our organization and the game has benefitted countless players, uniformed personnel and front office associates. We thank Dr. Adams for his many years of caring for our team, staff and families.’’

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