Brett Anderson looks like obvious fifth starter in Cubs rotation

Brett Anderson looks like obvious fifth starter in Cubs rotation

MESA, Ariz. – It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect Brett Anderson to be on call in the bullpen. Getting loose and warmed up in a hurry is a difficult ask for a guy who's already undergone two surgical procedures on his lower back and working with no sense of routine as a reliever. 

That's why the Cubs project Anderson as their fifth starter over Mike Montgomery, a low-maintenance lefty who has real experience as a swingman and the type of easy-going personality that would accept whatever the bosses ultimately decide.  

"It would be more difficult, there's no question," manager Joe Maddon said Monday. "I can't deny that. If you look at the makeup of the player, the pitchers themselves, it's pretty obvious that the one guy is more suited to start and the other guy is more of a hybrid, absolutely.

"We wanted to give it a fair look all camp – and we've been doing that. We're getting close to having to make that final decision."     

Another obvious variable is health, given that Anderson's a Tommy John survivor who's been on the disabled list nine times since 2010. His workload can't escalate from three starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year to 200 innings with the defending World Series champs.

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But with less than two weeks until Opening Night, the Cubs aren't planning on a six-man rotation.  

"At least from the beginning, we'll pick one guy to be a starter, the other guy to be a bullpen guy," Maddon said. "We should be proactive, if possible, with when we want to interject the sixth guy, so that we're able to stretch him out in time. If you get too far away from spring training, then that guy is going to lose those innings."

While the Cubs remain intrigued with Montgomery's upside and potential to be a mainstay in the 2018 rotation and beyond, Anderson has made 115 starts in his big-league career and shown that he could thrive as a groundball pitcher working with the best defense in baseball behind him.   

"They are equal," Maddon said. "They're really good. Anderson's had more history. You've heard what I said about Montgomery – I really think this guy is capable of 10 to 15 wins if he's given an opportunity. And I like Anderson possibly being a No. 2 (starter). It's a really nice problem to have.

"Once we make up our mind, you're going to see each guy settle into their role."

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”