Cubs need Jose Quintana in the bullpen, not the starting rotation

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The quality depth in the Chicago Cubs’ rotation was a question mark headed into the 2020 season, and Jose Quintana’s thumb injury seemed to paint a grim picture.

The Chicago Cubs’ Jose Quintana was penciled in as one of the back-end starters, with Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills seemingly fighting for the last spot in the rotation. But Quintana’s dishwashing injury put him on the shelf, and suddenly both Chatwood and Mills were crucial members of the Cubs’ staff.

The veteran left-hander left the door open for Chatwood and Mills to make an impression, and they have done just that.

More from Cubbies Crib

Chatwood has looked excellent through his first two starts, and he tied his career-high with 11 strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday. He is dominating, especially with the cutter and curveball, and while the fly ball rate is a slight concern, Chatwood looks sharper with his stuff and command.

For his part, Mills’ change of pace is keeping hitters off balance. The 28-year-old has just seven strikeouts in 13 innings of work. He also ranks in the 99th percentile in average exit velocity against (79.8 mph), per Baseball Savant.

Mills touches 90 mph with the hard stuff, but he can also surprise hitters by throwing a loopy, 66 mph curveball. The right-hander has a ground ball rate well over 55 percent, and a 13.9 percent weak contact mark bodes well for Mills’ ability to be useful for the long haul.

Needless to say, Chatwood and Mills have been impressive. Suddenly, Quintana is on the outside looking in when it comes to regaining his rotation spot.

Quintana is nearing a return. He threw another bullpen on Monday and is due for a simulated game on Thursday.

If all goes well, Quintana should rejoin the Cubs’ roster for the weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals. But when he returns, Quintana should be coming out of the bullpen.

There are multiple reasons to deploy Quintana as a reliever. We have already established Chatwood and Mills are displaying good stuff and eating innings for a rotation that suddenly looks more well rounded.

But this reason might be more critical: the Cubs do not have a single reliable left-hander in the bullpen.

Brad Wieck is still on the injured list. Kyle Ryan might again regain his 2019 form, though he is getting hit hard and failing to generate whiffs. Meanwhile, Rex Brothers has given up a pair of homers in just 2 1/3 innings of work.

Chicago figures to give Justin Steele a shot, but the 25-year-old has not thrown a single pitch in the bigs, and should not be called upon in high-leverage situations.

Quintana can provide some more stability and level-headedness, either in the middle innings or late-game situations.

No, Quintana does not have a lot of experience as a reliever, outside of an appearance in Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS. Still, the 31-year-old would seem to be a better option as a guy who–traditionally–command the ball in the strike zone and mix speeds.

Next. Cubs, Cardinals having very different 2020 seasons. dark

The Cubs’ starting rotation is shoving. Meanwhile, David Ross still needs more dependable arms in the ‘pen. It only makes sense Quintana returns as a reliever.

At the very least, the Cubs can allow Quintana to gauge his comfort and ease his way back before deciding whether they want to make him a starter once again.