The development of the Cubs’ young pitching staff may be a key factor in getting the franchise back into the position of competing with the Cardinals and the Reds for a NL Central division title in 2011.
Projecting the Cubs’ rotation and their bullpen is not an easy matter with 45 games left to play in this failed Chicago season.
Ryan Dempster can be counted on to fill one of the top rotation spots next year. After that, it’s a crapshoot.
Left-handed setup man John Grabow had an ineffective and injury-plagued season before being placed on the disabled list on June 29 with a knee injury that will keep him sidelined the rest of the year.
Fireballing right-hander Andrew Cashner needs a dominating second or third pitch to go with his 98 mph fastball.
Others like third-generation pitcher Casey Coleman are learning their trade right now at the big-league level.
“The difference in the major leagues and Triple-A is if you fall behind 2-0 [in the count] in the minors, sometimes you can just flip a pitch up there off-speed. There it’s considered a good pitch, because the hitter will most likely get himself out. Up here, you do that, they either lay off of it or crush it. [In] the major leagues you have to make a good pitch every pitch.
“Heck, I saw [Albert] Pujols the other night hammer a 3-0 pitch, so there’s no safe count. You have to make a pitch in every count here.”
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild has the dubious distinction of not only guiding his veteran pitchers, but now teaching the youngsters how to pitch at this level.
“It’s not having unhittable pitches. It’s about consistently making good pitches at this level,” Rothschild said. “Pitchers are smart when they have two or three pitches they can command for strikes. Pitchers are really stupid when all they have is a fastball that they can throw for a strike but not locate in the strike zone. That makes all of us look pretty dumb.
“Most big-league hitters hit the fastball pretty well, so as a pitcher you have to be able to counter that.”
Rothschild, who has been the Cubs pitching coach since 2002, doesn’t worry about his job status, but he is aware that the development of the team’s young pitchers will have a direct impact on his resume for the future.
“It’s a part of what I do,” Rothschild said. “My job as a coach is to teach, and to try to make guys better, whether it’s with an eye on the future, or an eye on winning that game, that day. I always approach the job like I’m going to do the job the best I can, each and every day.
“Whatever’s going to happen after that I can’t control. But I can control what I do with each guy I work with every day.”