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Cubs spring notes: Will Miley be ready for the regular season?

Ryan Herrera Avatar
March 22, 2022

MESA, Ariz. — “How much time we got left?” Wade Miley joked on Monday.

You’ve got less than three weeks until Opening Day, Wade.

“I need to step on it a little bit,” he said with a laugh.

Miley has had a slow start to spring, one that’s seen him throw only a few bullpens and not make an appearance in a Cactus League game so far. That’s sort of by design, and even though he was joking with reporters about needing to really get going in camp, he also knows he doesn’t have a ton of time left in spring training.

“I just want to make sure that I’m ready before I just try to rush into it, because it ain’t good for nobody,” he said.

Miley threw a bullpen Monday morning, tossing about 30 pitches in a row while his pitching coaches looked on. He said that he felt tired after 20, but he still pushed himself to get at least close to 30, even though that’s a rare number for a starter to throw in a row without getting a break.

He also spun some breaking balls for the first time in what he said had been a while, and the bullpens for right now are about getting those repetitions and locating his pitches.

As far as where he goes from here, Miley said he’ll take two days off before getting back on the mound for a bullpen. In that session, he said he’ll probably throw 20-25 pitches, take a rest, and then get back on the mound for another round against some simulated hitters — even though he knows they won’t get the job done as much as real hitters in the box would.

“The reason you need to face hitters is, like, my hardest pitch in there was probably 78 miles an hour. And I’m trying to throw it hard,” Miley said. “I need that hitter. I need that adrenaline to really get going and get after it, so that my body can feel that soreness. That’s going to be the hard part, that’s going to be the delay, because I should already have faced hitters, and I haven’t. That’s going to be a whole different kind of soreness, when you ramp up and get into that. But hopefully I can do that here in the next week and start that progression.”

So it’s still a slower progression, but for a 35-year-old pitcher trying to get ramped up in a shortened spring training, that’s the ideal progression for the Cubs’ coaching staff.

“We’re just trying to evaluate each bullpen that he gets and make the best decision possible, I think, for him and for us just in general,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said on Sunday. “Really just trying to give him that runway he needs. We understand, the beginning of the season is going to be unique, and we also don’t want to rush if we feel like there’s something we can lose. I think the biggest thing is, we want to make sure that he’s ready to go, that we hit that point, that he’s the best version of himself. We don’t want to compromise anything in that way.”

Although he’s still not getting into game action, Miley is confident he’ll be ready to go when the season starts. He knows he won’t be starting on Opening Day, but he said he should be able to pitch at some point during the Cubs’ four-game home series against the Brewers.

Whether he can reach five innings at that point or is still a bit more limited remains to be seen, but having gone through plenty of spring trainings in the past, Miley isn’t concerned that he’s going a little slower out of the gate.

“We’re not that far off,” he said. “I can ramp up pretty quick.”

Davis leaves game after HBP

There was never a realistic shot for Brennen Davis to make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, but there were certainly fans who were dreaming it, weren’t there? After Monday’s scare, though, that isn’t going to happen, and we can probably pull back on the idea a first-half call up, too.

During the bottom of the second against the Reds, Davis took a pitch from Cincinnati’s Graham Ashcraft off the inside of his right knee and fell to the ground in pain. The 22-year-old stayed down on the ground, grabbing at the knee as manager David Ross and a trainer ran out to check on him.

Davis, the top prospect in the Cubs’ system, felt good enough to stay in the game, but he didn’t last for long. When Sergio Alcántara grounded out two batters later, Davis favored the knee as he ran to second base, and Ross then pulled him from the game. He’ll be monitored moving forward, but for now, the Cubs have said Davis is day to day with a right knee contusion.

That close monitoring is why Davis’ major league debut coming any time soon just doesn’t feel realistic. Chicago will likely limit Davis’ workload in the coming days to make sure the injury isn’t anything more than what the training staff found initially. With less than three weeks to go before the start of the regular season, any ramping down for Davis right now brings any chance at making the Opening Day roster to basically zero percent.

That’s probably for the best, anyway. Just read what president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said about Davis on March 14:

“He’s got a super bright future. He also has a lot fewer minor league at-bats than people probably might imagine, so continuing to grow in the minor leagues is the focus. His day is going to come, and it’s gonna be really exciting. You talk to him, you look at him, you watch him. It’s fun to watch guys take off like that. I think he’s got a world of talent, and I’m excited.”

Davis had just 56 at-bats with Triple-A Iowa last season, and because of the lost 2020 minor league season, he’s got 584 overall since being drafted in 2018. He’s the club’s top prospect, a player they hope to be the long-term foundation of championship-caliber teams. Regardless of how good he says he feels Tuesday morning, the Cubs are going to be extra cautious with Davis’ knee injury.

Chicago wants Davis to be the future, so it’s probably best that they take things even slower with him moving forward.

Madrigal leads off in Cubs debut

Nick Madrigal made his spring debut on Monday, and actually, his debut in a Cubs uniform.

He was acquired by the Cubs on July 30 but spent the rest of the season recovering from a proximal tear of his right hamstring, not appearing in a game for the two months after his trade from the South Side to the North Side. But since he’s the presumed starting second baseman for Chicago in 2022, getting him into spring games is going to be a huge benefit as Ross figures out exactly how he wants to construct his lineups.

On Monday, that was as the Cubs’ lead-off man. When Ross was asked before the game if putting Madrigal at that spot in the order meant he could see him at the spot during the season, Ross said it was more about getting him in and out of the game quickly.

“I just wanted to give him some at-bats and get him on the field, to be honest with you,” Ross said. “I’ll play with the lineup a lot, move guys around. I like to put him on top. He’ll probably get a couple of at-bats and get him off his legs, just kind of easing him back in. I wanted his spot to come up as quick as possible so I could get him off his feet.”

*Side note: This answer birthed maybe my favorite error from my speak-to-text transcription service.*

As far as the regular season goes, though, maybe Ross should commit to Madrigal leading off.

Despite his 0-for-2 performance against the Reds, Madrigal is a career .317 hitter with a .358 on-base percentage. Baseball Savant shows that he doesn’t strike out much (7.4 percent strikeout rate) or even really swing-and-miss a lot (6.5 percent whiff rate), and according to FanGraphs, his 91.8 percent contact rate was the best among players with 100 at-bats since the start of 2020 (hat tip to Marquee’s Tony Andracki for helping me figure that out).

Just based on his profile, Ross could do a lot worse than having Madrigal set the table for the rest of the lineup.

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