Strop, Cishek Aim To Be Rocks For Cubs Again

The Cubs bullpen had the second-best ERA in MLB in 2018.

Eli Hershkovich
January 31, 2019 - 3:59 pm

(670 The Score) Amid a stagnant MLB free agency market, the Cubs have made just one notable addition to their bullpen, signing righty reliever Brad Brach to a one-year deal.

While the Cubs still have their eyes on fortifying their bullpen, this much remains clear: They'll once again be counting heavily on mainstays Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek in 2019. And as the season approaches, those two are ready to be rocks once again. 

The Cubs bullpen had a 3.35 ERA in 2018, the second-best mark in MLB. That came with closer Brandon Morrow making just 35 appearances because of elbow/triceps injuries and was in large part the result of the quality work of Strop (2.26 ERA in 60 appearances) and Cishek (2.18 ERA in 80 appearances).

In the aftermath of that success, the 33-year-old Strop and the 32-year-old Cishek  nonetheless set out to find ways to enhance their performance in 2019. In Strop's case, he has lost roughly 10 pounds -- with more on the way, he said -- with the goal of relieving pressure on his left hamstring, which he injured while running out an inning-ending double play in September. The ailment caused him to mess the remainder of the regular season.

Strop has etched himself into the Cubs' record books, amassing the most holds in franchise history among other achievements, but he’s prepared for his role to shift if need be. Morrow is expected is miss the first month of the season after undergoing elbow surgery in November, and Strop is a leading candidate to handle the ninth-inning duties in his absence. Strop converted 13 of 17 save chances in 2018.

"That’s Brandon’s role," Strop said. "Whenever he’s healthy, our bullpen is way better. But I’m paying attention to that (closer role when he’s out)."

Cishek's focus this offseason has revolved around a mechanical adjustment. A submarine hurler, he logged a career-high 70 1/3 innings last season but saw his two-seam fastball regress as the campaign went along. He used his fastball 62.3 percent of the time, per FanGraphs.

He's seeking to make his fastball sharper.

"It got leaky in the middle (of the plate)," Cishek said. "I got some weak contact at the beginning of the season, and at the end, those pitches, I didn’t get away. I want to make sure I’m focusing more on driving the ball through the target."

He’s not preparing for an innings limit in the ensuing season, though, crediting new Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for understanding his side-arm form and aiding his attempted improvement -- to keep him from wearing down.

New Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is a former submarine pitcher himself, and he mentioned to Cishek that during his time in the big leagues in 2011 and 2012, he would observe Cishek's outings on occasion. It’s a routine familiar to Cishek as well.

"I’ll watch (the Braves’) Darren O’Day and (Astros’) Joe Smith, how they go about attacking hitters," Cishek said. "We (sidearm pitchers) all kinda go about it the same way."

For the Cubs bullpen to replicate its own success, it hinges on Strop and Cishek continuing their usual steady work.

Eli Hershkovich is a producer for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @EliHershkovich.