‘Best version of himself’: Cubs add reliever Brendon Little as substitute player at Toronto

TORONTO – Lefty Brendon Little tinkers. Sometimes too much. But when a stress reaction in his elbow last November wiped out most of his Arizona Fall League season and offseason, he came into the spring without time to waste.

“That’s been good to be able to take a step back and just really focus in,” he said Monday.

This weekend, Little had the conversation he had been working for. Triple-A Iowa pitching coach Ron Villone called Little into manager Marty Pevey’s office and handed him a sheet of paper that listed “The do’s and don’ts of a first-time big-leaguer.”

On Monday, the Cubs selected Little as a substitute player for the series in Toronto. They placed two players, pitchers Justin Steele and Adrian Sampson, on the restricted list for the trip.

The Cubs will get a second replacement player slot Tuesday, for the rest of the series. Teams cannot substitute a player for a starting pitcher on the restricted list for three days after his last outing of at least four innings. Right-hander Jeremiah Estrada is with the team in Toronto as a member of the taxi squad.

Little is the latest pitcher to be called up as the Cubs examine their pitching depth with an eye on next season. Assad, who held the Blue Jays scoreless through five innings in the Cubs’ 5-4 extra-innings lossMonday, was another.

With that start and his debut last week against the Cardinals, Assad became the first MLB pitcher in the modern era to log scoreless starts against team 10-plus games over .500 in his first two career appearances, according to Stats Perform.

“When that depth starts competing now with guys that are homegrown, that’s when you know the health of your organization on the pitching side is strong,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “And it’s fun.”

Little, who the Cubs selected No. 27 overall in the 2017 draft, marveled at how much he’s evolved as a pitcher throughout his time in the organization.

“It’s tough changing your identity as a pitcher,” he said. “It’s hard going through injuries, going to rehab. The biggest thing is just kind of like the mental drag. You see everyone else going out there, having fun, succeeding and everything. So, obviously you want to get out there. But the biggest thing has just been finding my strength.”

Once a pitcher who relied on his four-seam fastball up in the zone, Little now throws mostly sinkers. To pair with it, he has a breaking ball that Hottovy compared to Steele’s.

“What we’ve seen is a guy who learned what his best version of himself is,” Hottovy said. “He knows the two pitches that make him successful.”

In a way, Little’s elbow injury last fall helped him get there. He said he couldn’t start throwing again until January. He decided to focus on just two pitches.

“It was just a little too much noise drawing focus away from the pitches that played really well to both hitters, both sides of the plate,” he said.

Little has been on a roll the past couple months, posting a 1.06 ERA since July 4.

“Getting real swing-and-miss in the zone,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Somebody we get kind of a free look at. … You can tell he’s worked on his game, worked on his body, looks like he’s in a really good place.”

Little arrived at the Rogers Centre early Monday, put on a pair of headphones and sat in the bullpen.

“I walked out the gate a couple of times, looked around then so I don’t have to when I’m going in the game,” he said. “Just tried to stay focused.”

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.