Shota Imanaga already showing he's the swing-and-miss arm the Cubs have lacked

He'll need to avoid the long ball, but the new Chicago left-hander has racked up the punchouts in early Cactus League starts.

2024 Chicago Cubs Spring Training
2024 Chicago Cubs Spring Training / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages
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The results haven't been great for Shota Imanaga in his first two spring training starts. In 5 1/3 innings of work, he's allowed five earned runs on seven hits - two of which left the yard. Of course, being a flyball pitcher, that was the big question surrounding him coming over from the NPB: could he keep the ball in the yard against MLB hitters?

The jury is still out. We're not here to declare a guy a bust after a pair of early spring training tune-ups. But something that's really stood out is his ability to pile up the strikeouts. He's got 10 in those 5 1/3 innings, averaging nearly 18 per nine in those two Cactus League appearances.

It's been some time since the Chicago Cubs had a true swing-and-miss presence in the starting rotation. Yu Darvish was the last Cubs starter to average more than 10 strikeouts per nine - and he was traded to the San Diego Padres as a pre-cursor to Jed Hoyer's 2021 sell-off after finishing runner-up in NL Cy Young voting in the shortened 2020 campaign.

Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga is a guy capable of piling up strikeouts

Imanaga could be the next, though. With guys like Justin Steele, Jordan Wicks and Kyle Hendricks playing roles in the rotation, there are a lot of profiles built around limiting hard contact and keeping the ball on the ground. Imanaga could provide a wildly different approach and plan of attack against opposing hitters, which could, in turn, benefit these other guys.

His track record speaks for itself. Imanaga led all NPB pitchers - including the Dodgers' prized offseason signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto - in strikeouts. And the early indications from Arizona suggest we can expect more of the same from him in the years to come as a member of the Cubs rotation.

Heck, who knows. Maybe he can even become the team's first 200-strikeout pitcher since Darvish, as well.

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