'Determined' Chatwood Carves Out Key Role For Cubs

After a disastrous 2018, Tyler Chatwood has become a reliable reliever.

Bruce Levine
May 27, 2019 - 4:25 pm
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(670 The Score) Cubs reliever Tyler Chatwood on Saturday recording his first save since coming to Chicago was a notable moment that showcased his hard work back from a nightmare 2018.

After signing a three-year, $38-million contract prior to the 2018 season, Chatwood lost his rotation spot late last July amid a trying season in which he posted a 5.30 ERA and led the big leagues in walks issued. Chatwood could never solve his woes in 2018, but he went back to his roots to find a new delivery in the offseason, which has led to redemption in 2019.

Chatwood has turned into a reliable piece in an injury-plagued Cubs bullpen, posting a 2.76 ERA in 14 appearances.

"I have always taken pride in my mental skills approach," Chatwood said. "I didn't vary too much when things went bad last season. I knew something was wrong, but I feel I never broke mentally. I kept working in the season, so the offseason was an extension for my search." 

"I don't think the scrutiny affected me too much, to be honest with you. I knew something was wrong. The frustrating thing was I didn't know what it was at the time. I did not know how to fix it. Every time I pitched, I tried harder and just put extra pressure on myself. I feel that it never broke me, that was the good part."

Specifically, Chatwood made progress in correcting his mechanics by tweaking the movement of his hands in his delivery. Video of Chatwood having success earlier in his career helped identify and inform Chatwood in that quest. His walks-per-nine-innings rate has fallen from 8.2 in 2018 to 5.5 this season.

"My hand was traveling toward third base in my delivery," Chatwood said. "There was a lot of hard work I put into changing it. I learned to be more efficient with my arm swing and get on top in my release. I went back to straight fundamentals. The people I worked with just got me to use a more simplified release. Just by playing catch with the guys at the university I was working at, they noticed my hands were off before I threw. It took a good month-and-a-half to feel good with my hands and be efficient with my arm movement. Once I found that, it became a night-and-day change."

As pronounced as Chatwood's struggles were, his teammates backed him throughout the season. Left-hander Jon Lester and Jason Heyward were two veterans whom Chatwood talked with often. After signing a $155-million deal ahead of the 2015 season, Lester had a poor first month with the Cubs. Heyward endured even worse after inking a team-record $184-million contract, struggling for the entirety of 2016. 

"Luckily, I was able to talk to those guys about that subject," Chatwood said. "I could bounce things off of Jon. I would sit and talk with Jason too. At the end of the day, you realize it's not a lack of effort. The important thing is I knew I did not lose my stuff. That helped me understand I would eventually get it back after I ironed out some kinks."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had high praise for Chatwood's mental toughness.

"He deserves a lot of credit," Epstein said on the McNeil & Parkins Show last Thursday. "He's the one who deserves the credit, not us. Instead of crawling into a hole and pouting about the way last year went, he went home determined to fix it. He did a ton of work on his own, connected early with (pitching coach) Tommy Hottovy and made some pretty fundamental adjustments with elements of his mechanics and approach. He's been really good."

Off the field, Chatwood and his wife welcomed their first child in 2018. Chatwood admitted that made for an odd balance from a personal standpoint, as he was thrilled with the addition to the family but also upset by his own professional struggles.

"The whole thing was very hard," Chatwood said. "The hardest thing was not taking the frustration home with me. I had a newborn son and a bad year baseball-wise. It was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life. I tried to not make it a burden on my wife dealing with our newborn. I gave a lot of fake smiles at the time. Looking back now, I am so lucky to see that is the best part of my life. I am now just enjoying life and having fun."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.