MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Maddon plans to limit starters' workloads

Cubs manager wants rotation at full strength for October

Maddon plans to limit starters' workloads

MESA, Ariz. -- There was a long line of fans waiting to get into the Cubs' team store before Sunday's World Series rematch with the Indians.

It's likely to be there every time the Cubs play at Sloan Park, thanks in part to manager Joe Maddon's careful handling of his starting rotation last season.

Maddon opened the door for criticism with his quick hook of starters and his heavy reliance on closer Aroldis Chapman in the World Series. But by limiting the workload of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey during the regular season, he gave the Cubs a huge edge against the Indians, who had only two of their top four starters at full strength.

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Think of the matchups as the Cubs dug themselves out of their 3-1 hole: Lester vs. Trevor Bauer in Game 5, with Bauer working on three days' rest; Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin in Game 6, with Tomlin working on three days' rest; and Hendricks vs. Corey Kluber in Game 7, with Kluber working on short rest for the second consecutive time.

"I felt good about the pitching the whole time, I did,'' Maddon said before Sunday's Spring Training game, a 1-1 tie. "Cleveland, [I've give a] lot of respect to that group also. They had a nice team. They were a lot like us. They played it hard, played it right.''

With Carlos Carrasco sidelined with a broken bone in his right hand and Danny Salazar limited to bullpen work because of a strained flexor muscle, the Indians weren't able to match up with the Cubs' rotation.

Salazar worked two strong innings Sunday. He would have loved to have been able to take his turn last October, but he isn't dwelling on it.

"What happened already happened,'' Salazar said. "You saw what we did last year, even though at the end of the year, there were a few guys hurt.''

Baseball is always a game of attrition. Even the strongest pitchers can drag in October.

After watching Arrieta hit the wall after shutting out Pittsburgh in the National League Wild Card Game in 2015, Maddon handled his pitching staff throughout last season with October in mind. It paid off in a huge way, with the Cubs delivering a 2.60 ERA in the 17 postseason games.

Arrieta hungry for more success

Maddon was able to limit the workload on his starting pitchers because the Cardinals and Pirates weren't pushing the Cubs. Chicago took a 10-game lead on June 6 and never led by less than 6 1/2 games afterward, clinching the NL Central on Sept. 16 with 15 games left to play.

Maddon went to a de facto six-man rotation in August, giving Mike Montgomery five starts before moving him back to the bullpen to prepare for his postseason role. Arrieta passed on a chance to pitch in the All-Star Game, and maybe even to start, as Maddon gave him a 10-day break to get refreshed for the second half.

With the Cubs pushing throughout 2015 to wind up with the second NL Wild Card spot, Arrieta, Lester and Hendricks combined to make 48 of their 97 starts on four days' rest, the minimum standard.

Arrieta, who wound up working 248 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason in 2015, resisted Maddon's attempts to give him extra rest down the stretch. He was in the midst of arguably the greatest second half in history (12-1, 0.75) and wanted to stay in rhythm. But Arrieta wasn't sharp in his postseason starts against the Cardinals and Mets, and Maddon vowed not to let that happen again in '16. He succeeded, and the Cubs have the World Series rings to prove it.

"A big part of that [limited usage] was how we finished the season,'' Maddon said. "That's why we were able to do that. Also [we popped] a sixth guy in there every now and then. Whenever you do it, it's never popular [with the regular starters], but it should pay a dividend by the end of the season.''

Lester was the only Cubs pitcher to get over 200 innings in 2016, and he didn't get there until his last start.

Outlook: Lester, SP, CHC

Maddon is likely to again spread the workload around. He talked Saturday about using Brett Anderson and Montgomery in a six-man rotation at times, using both of the lefties as swingmen. Maddon has also liked the glimpses he's gotten in camp of recent acquisitions Eddie Butler and Alec Mills, who could figure into the mix along the way.

"It's not just the physical component, but mentally,'' Maddon said about the benefits of a limited workload. "When the mind is rested, man, everything else has a better chance of working.''

Those lines at the Cubs' team store are daily proof.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.