MESA, Ariz. – During new Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman’s bullpen session Saturday, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy turned around to see a couple minor leaguers standing off to the side.
“I’m his biggest fan,” pitcher Aneuris Rosario told him.
“Come watch,” Hottovy said.
Stroman’s first bullpen drew an audience of players and media members at the Cubs’ spring training facility on Saturday. His new teammate Yan Gomes caught him. Both signed with the Cubs in December, on the eve of the Major League Baseball lockout.
“Before that, I tried to talk the tough game about, ‘Oh if it’s not there, I’ll wait,'” Gomes said “… Things got settled, so guys are starting to sign, but I’m not sure I would have handled it very well.”
For Gomes and Stroman, getting deals done pre-lockout gave them the option to report to camp as soon as the lockout ended. Both came to the Sloan Park complex Friday and Saturday, before Sunday’s official report date.
Stroman threw 37 pitches on Saturday, but he said he’s been throwing 50-plus pitch bullpens leading up to the start of spring training.
“My arm’s ready to go,” he said.
Stroman estimates that with four starts in this condensed spring training, he can build up to five or six innings before opening day.
“The athleticism is insane, just how well he moves and how in tune he is with his body in everything he does,” Hottovy said. “So, really fun first bullpen and interaction there. Obviously really excited about bringing him on board and getting to see what we can do in the next couple years.”
Hottovy said he texted Stoman when the Cubs signed him, before the lockout cut off communication between coaches and their players. But the Cubs executed the deal so close to the collective bargaining agreement deadline, and Stroman got on a flight so soon after his signing, that they didn’t get to talk.
“Fun to finally get to see guys in person after watching so much video over the winter,” Hottovy said with a chuckle.
That started on Friday, for both Hottovy and Gomes, when right-hander Kyle Hendricks threw a bullpen on Friday. Gomes has faced both Hendricks and Stroman as a hitter, but it’s different working with them.
“Really, the baseball stuff for me is the last thing because we’ve gotten to see guys from the other side,” Gomes said. “So, it’s really just trying to get to know the guy personally, see what clicks for him and really learning how to talk.”
The early stages of that process played out during Stroman’s bullpen Saturday. On the first pitch, Stroman let Gomes know what to expect from his four-seam fastball – coming in at his catcher’s mask – and positioned him a little further on the edge of the plate.
Their get-to-know-you time will be condensed this spring. But they’ve already gotten several firsts out of the way before official workouts begin Monday.
“First block of the year, baby!” Gomes said after dropping in front of a pitch in the dirt.
He pounded his chest protector with a smile: “First block of the year.”
Heuer facing ‘bump in the road’
Even though Hottovy knew Codi Heuer wouldn’t be pitching for the Cubs this season, after undergoing Tommy John surgery last Monday, the 25-year-old reliever was one of the first players Hottovy texted when MLB lifted the lockout.
“I told him, ‘Look, this is a bump in the road,'” Hottovy said. “He’s going to be a huge part of what we want to do here in the future, and he knows that. And then just reassuring [him] that a lot of us have been through it. There’s a lot of people that he can lean on through this process.”
Hottovy himself underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008, years before his major-league debut.