The Cubs have just one lefty in the bullpen. Will this dictate Jose Quintana’s role?
This week, rosters shrank across the league from 30 to 28 players. This change will remain in effect for the rest of the 2020 season, rather than contracting down to 26 guys as was originally planned. The two guys on the chopping block for the Cubs? Left-handers Rex Brothers and Justin Steele.
Brothers struggled a great deal in a pair of outings. In 2 1/3 frames of work, the southpaw walked three, allowed a pair of hits (both of which left the yard). All the works out to a ghastly 11.57 ERA/13.71 FIP. He punched out five batters, but the wildness and long-ball tendencies cost him a shot at being a go-to option in David Ross’ mind.
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Meanwhile, Steele, who joined the team from South Bend last week, will turn around and head right back to the team’s alternate training site. The lefty never appeared in a game for Chicago, and it seems likely he’ll be back at some point this season.
This means the Cubs now have just one southpaw left in the bullpen in Kyle Ryan. Now, the veteran was a horse for Joe Maddon last year, but he’s battled some velocity issues early on this season (his four-seamer is down nearly 2 MPH) – and having him as your only left-handed option is far from ideal.
Ryan’s hard-hit rate, barrel percentage and average exit velocity are all up year-over-year. In 2019, Ryan ranked in the top three percent of the league when it comes to barrel percentage – so seeing him get hit so hard is certainly troubling.
It stands to reason, then, that despite Tyler Chatwood’s rough outing against Kansas City, the right-hander will remain in the rotation. After all, it’s not like he was erratic and walking guys left and right. He got hit – and that happens. Given the team’s lack of A) reliable bullpen arms and B) left-handed options, there can be no doubt: Jose Quintana becomes your long man when he returns.
Now, that’s a move Quintana probably won’t like. He’s set to hit free agency at year’s end – and working as a swingman, rather than a starter could be detrimental to his earning potential. But at the end of the day, the Cubs don’t have time to stretch him out as much as you’d like and they need someone they can count on in the bullpen if they want to stay on top of the division.
The southpaw threw a simulated game Thursday in South Bend, tossing 35 pitches over two frames. He’ll throw again Saturday at Wrigley Field – which should allow Ross and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy to get eyes on him and chart aa path forward.
As much as Quintana will want to be in the rotation, Ross needs to have a tough conversation. Alec Mills has done more than enough to keep his spot and, even with Thursday’s clunker, Chatwood still boasts a respectable 2.4 BB/9 – which has always been his big detractor.
One lefty won’t play for long. It’s either Q to the bullpen or Theo Epstein better have something up his sleeve to help shore that group up.