Chicago Cubs: Debut under his belt, Tyler Chatwood moves forward

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

After tossing a scoreless frame on Monday, Chicago Cubs right-hander can take a deep breath and move forward toward Opening Day with confidence.

Looking at the box score of the Chicago Cubs’ 9-9 tie against the Seattle Mariners, you’d never think Tyler Chatwood tossed a scoreless inning. But that’s exactly what the right-hander did, getting off on the right foot with his new club on Monday afternoon.

Despite each team scoring nine runs, the respective starters pitched relatively well. His counterpart, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, left the game in the second after taking a Victor Caratini line drive off his throwing forearm. He is listed as day-to-day and X-rays came back negative. Regardless, if he misses significant time this spring, the M’s long-shot playoff odds will suffer a huge blow.

For his part, Chatwood was solid. Seattle leadoff man Dee Gordon led off the game by reaching on an Addison Russell throwing error. The next batter, Austin Romine, bunted the first pitch he saw back to the mound. Chatwood turned and fired to Anthony Rizzo for the first out of the inning.

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The Mariners’ number-three hitter, Cameron Perkins, jumped on the first pitch he saw, lining it into the outfield for a single, allowing Gordon to move to third on the play. But Chatwood stayed calm and induced an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Junior Lake to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.

Pounding the zone – hard

It’s far too small a sample size to draw serious conclusions from – but every pitch that the four Mariners hitters put in play caught a lot of plate. Now, there’s a very good chance the right-hander went into his spring debut just looking to pound the zone – but pitch location will be a huge factor for the hurler as the spring and season progresses.

Chatwood marked the first big signing of the winter in Major League Baseball – at least for pitchers – when he inked a three-year, $39 million deal early in the offseason. Slated to be the Cubs’ number five starter, he could easily become the steal of the offseason if he pitches to his potential.

Calling Coors Field home never did a pitcher favors – and the numbers back that up for Chatwood, as well. With a road ERA in the low-3.00 range and an elite spin rate on his pitches, the right-hander likely represents a tremendous upgrade over the departing John Lackey – whose age seemed to catch up with him in 2017.

Rising velocity, above-average ground ball rate

My co-editor here at Cubbies Crib gave Chatwood some love recently – pointing out a dramatic increase in his average fastball velocity since his Tommy John surgery, as well as his ability to induce ground balls. (A skill that was on display with his inning-ending double play ball Monday afternoon).

"Part of the allure for the Cubs was his groundball rate. Of the 200 starters who allowed 200 batted balls, Chatwood was 11th at just below 55 percent. He might have the ability to get it up to the hitter quick, but it’s his curveball and GB% that the Cubs were most interested in."

It’s just one start, yes. I understand that. But I’m all about a guy with plus-stuff pounding the zone hard in his spring debut. He gets to see how his stuff is reacting and what he’s working with. Not to mention he lets his defense work behind him.

Next: Defensive consistency is key for Baez this season

With a young core that ranks as above-average defensively, this pairing could leave Cubs fans in awe every five days. Throw strikes. Induce weak contact. Let the defense go to work.

I like how that sounds.