If there is a Cubs season this summer, the more things change, the more some will stay the same.
Change? No spitting, don’t hug or deliver high fives, wear a mask and keep an especially safe and social distance from umpires – no matter what you think of a call.
“I think we’ve got the right type of group to deal with this,” Cubs manager David Ross said Monday of a veteran team with a 10-man core that won the 2016 World Series. “What we’re asking the players to do is extremely difficult. I don’t want to make light of how hard this environment is going to be for these guys.”
Dealing with the anxieties and new rules will be a matter of adjusting on the fly, Ross said, like every other team.
But much of what Ross has planned in his much delayed first season as a manager will be far more familiar and far less of an adjustment to players.
Maybe the most important one is that the Cubs plan to stick with their rotation as planned in March, and might even be ahead of some teams in preparation as they open their summer training camp Friday.
“We’ve got guys that have stayed in shape, pitchers that are above three innings of [simulated] games, so we’ve got some guys that are ready to throw and get off the mound,” Ross said. “We’ll start those mini-intrasquad games as soon as we can.”
Among the pitchers in more advanced shape, he said, are the three who were in the conversation for the Opening Day start when camp opened: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and presumptive choice Yu Darvish.
If they stay healthy, don’t expect to see some of the more dramatic alternate rotation plans some other teams have suggested, such as sixth starters or openers.
“We haven’t talked about that,” Ross said. “I think it’ll be unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the chute. That may be a little bit of a challenge. … But right now we’re just going to stick with our five-man rotation and continue to move forward.”
When spring training was shut down in March, all five starters were healthy and had looked good through most of camp to that point, including José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.
Ross said Monday, he thinks it’ll be more important that swingman Alec Mills is ready to provide two or three effective innings at a time once the season opens, and the staff has told some of the other bullpen candidates to be prepared to get stretched for multiple innings as well.
“That will be vitally important,” Ross said.
He also said “the hitters have stayed in pretty good shape” and plans to jump quickly into live batting practice and intrasquad games once camp opens.
And speaking of things that won’t change: As expected, Ross said he plans to stick with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo as his 1-2 hitters no matter what kind of nuanced options having a designated hitter for the 60-game season might provide.
Teams will be allowed a maximum of three exhibition games against an outside opponent, and with the Cubs and White Sox expected to announce a schedule for three “spring” games just ahead of July 23-24 openers.