Cubs’ growing pitching staff keeping Kyle Hendricks on his toes

MESA, Ariz. – A media scrum grew in front of David Robertson’s locker Thursday morning. Robert Gsellman appeared in the clubhouse. The Cubs made Chris Martin’s one-year deal official. All around were signs that the Cubs’ pitching staff was taking shape.

As reports and rumors continued to pop up Thursday during the Cubs’ first spring training contests, a pair of seven-inning split squad games against the White Sox, it was also clear that there was plenty for the Cubs to still figure out.

“I feel like I’ve met everybody, and then I show up the next day and there’s somebody new,” said Kyle Hendricks, who threw two innings against the White Sox on Thursday. “But it’s a good thing. It’s awesome, man. We’re getting some really good arms.”

With a focus on pitching depth, the Cubs front office was securing contract agreements with pitchers faster than the paperwork could keep up.

To recap, since the MLB lockout ended, the Cubs have worked toward filling out their pitching staff by:

-Signing Robertson to a one-year deal

-Signing Chris Martin to a one-year deal

-Signing Jesse Chavez to a minor-league contract with a spring training invitation

-Re-signing Adrian Sampson to a to a minor-league contract with a spring training invitation

-Agreeing to a one-year deal with Steven Brault

-Agreeing to a major-league deal with Daniel Norris, ESPN reported

-Agreeing to a minor-league deal (non-roster invite) with Gsellman

-Agreeing to a one-year deal with Mychal Givens, ESPN reported

“They were very convincing,” Robertson said. “Jed [Hoyer, president of baseball operations] did his job, and he got me to come here… He just kept throwing a better offer at me every time, saying, ‘Let’s just get this done.'”

Injuries, too, have altered the Cubs’ plans. Right-hander Adbert Alzolay, who was expected to compete for a rotation spot, will start the season on the injured list with a lat strain. Since the lockout ended, the Cubs have also placed relievers Codi Heuer (Tommy John surgery) and Brad Wieck (elbow strain) on the 60-day IL.

Few roles are defined this early in spring training, especially while the Cubs are still working to put their newest pitching additions on the roster.

For now, Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, Wade Miley and Alec Mills are penciled into the starting rotation, not necessarily in that order. Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson are expected to compete for the final spot in the rotation. Brault, when his deal becomes official, is another starting option.

On the other end, the Cubs plan to use Robertson, who has 137 career saves, in late innings. Givens also has served as a closer.

“I’m excited,” said Cubs reliever Jonathan Holder. “I love seeing these guys come in like D-Rob and Chris Martin. It’s an opportunity for me to learn from them and grow from them because they’ve got a whole lot of experience.”

Holder could count as another addition. He first signed with the Cubs in December 2020 but missed last season with a shoulder strain and a series of setbacks. The Cubs re-signed Holder to a minor-league contract before the lockout. On Tuesday Holder, a non-roster spring training invitee, confirmed he’s healthy.

Then, there are the pitchers who were a part of last year’s team. The Cubs’ 4-3 seven-inning loss to the White Sox at Sloan Park included a couple relievers who could vie for increased roles. Right-handers Cory Abbott and Scott Effross each gave up a run in an inning apiece.

Between familiar faces and new ones, the Cubs’ pitching picture is getting clearer. And who knows who’s going to show up in the clubhouse tomorrow.

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