Drew Smyly to Pen as Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad Join Rotation

This news is a little stale because I didn’t want to pay $19 for wifi on my flight to Phoenix, but posterity dictated I address it just the same. Craig Counsell announced on Thursday that Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad would begin the season in the rotation and that Drew Smyly would come out of the bullpen. The Wicks news isn’t a surprise at all, though many felt Smyly had the inside track on the final spot.

In the end, it may have been a matter of not wanting four lefties in the rotation after Justin Steele, Shōta Imanaga, and Wicks. There’s also the fact that Smyly’s stuff has played up in shorter outings and he’s been a little inconsistent this spring while working to incorporate his new splitter.

Assad is essentially a placeholder for Jameson Taillon, who is expected to open the season on the IL as he ramps up again following back spasms. He was already being brought along slowly due to a mechanical tweak and calf cramps, so he will likely head into the regular season having made no Cactus League starts. Even with a few sim games under his belt, he’ll need more time to stretch out.

You never want to see injuries force a team to use its pitching depth before the season even gets underway, but the bright side is that the rotation features three purely homegrown pitchers.

“We obviously had a dry spell in that regard,” Jed Hoyer told reporters. “We had to make some changes. I think both scouting and player development have done a really nice job with that, of making those adjustments. You have to have that in today’s game.

“It’s hard to rely on the free-agent market for enough pitching. It’s really expensive and it’s usually older [players]. Hopefully, we have some young arms that can help us.”

The Cubs still have plenty of options to eat innings, with Smyly and possibly Hayden Wesneski occupying bullpen roles. Assad will slot into either long relief or will remain stretched out in Iowa’s rotation once Jameson Taillon returns, then it’s only a matter of time before Cade Horton kicks down the door to the majors.

With all awareness that TINSTAAPP, I fully believe Horton will come up and make a big splash this summer. That could elevate the rotation from simply decent to a force to be reckoned with, but let’s worry about crossing that bridge if and when we come to it.

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