Maddon's getting excited about his starting rotation.
Byline: Gordon Wittenmyer Chicago Sun-Times
MESA, Ariz. -- Two days into pitchers' workouts at spring training -- including a first, "really clean" day in the bullpen for newcomer Yu Darvish -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon is starting to get visions of the best starting rotation he has had in Chicago.
"It's a very talented group," he said about the five-man crew of Darvish, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood. "We've had good ones, and I think this one-through-five has a chance to exceed what's happened over the last three years."
That's an especially high bar considering those three playoff seasons
were built largely on a three-year run by the rotation that included a major-league best 3.44 ERA, a Cy Young season by Jake Arrieta (2015) and an ERA title by Hendricks (2016).
Darvish and Chatwood are new to this year's group, and Quintana is back for his first full season with the Cubs after being acquired at the all-star break in a trade with the White Sox.
Maddon's optimism for his rotation is partially rooted in a potentially deep bullpen that includes newcomers Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek and the return of lefty free agent Brian Duensing.
With more experience, a strong left-right balance and the return to the bullpen of swingman Mike Montgomery after the Darvish signing, Maddon said he expects to be able to have more options for controlling workloads.
Maddon said he plans to carry eight relievers on a 13-man staff.
"It's hard to imagine less than 13, there's so many great candidates," he said. "And if you look at the position players, there's so much versatility. Why put another guy on the bench that you'd be looking for at-bats almost?"
They like Contreras better:
After starting catcher Willson Contreras caught Yu Darvish in his bullpen session Thursday, manager Joe Maddon quickly dispelled any possible lingering speculation about Darvish's one-time personal catcher Chris Gimenez being signed to catch Darvish.
"That's been a contrived conversation," Maddon said. "Of course 'Jimmy' might catch him, but Willson's our guy. Willson's our catcher. It's never been our plan to match (Darvish) up exclusively with 'Jimmy.' "
Besides, Darvish said Tuesday, "I like Contreras better."
* This report was produced in partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times. For related coverage, check chicago.suntimes.com.