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A few more thoughts about Tyler Chatwood, relief pitcher

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Let’s look at who he’s actually faced.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Chatwood has been two very different pitchers this spring. As a starter, he’s been essentially the same guy he was in 2018: bouts of wildness and being hit hard when he did get pitches into the zone. As a reliever, he’s been virtually untouched. The results, as I posted in the recap to Saturday’s game:

Chatwood the starter: two games, 3⅓ innings, four hits, four walks, one hit batter, two strikeouts, six runs (four earned), one HR, 10.80 ERA
Chatwood the reliever: three games, 7⅔ innings, six hits, no walks, five strikeouts, no runs, 0.00 ERA

Small sample size caveats apply, of course.

One thing that’s been mentioned when discussing Chatwood’s very good relief outings this spring is: “Well, he must have been facing minor leaguers, right?”

I have scorecards from all three of Chatwood’s relief appearances, so let’s take a deeper dive into them and see who he actually did face in those games.

Friday, March 1, vs. Diamondbacks

Chatwood entered the game to begin the third inning. In that inning, he allowed singles to Alex Avila and Carson Kelly. After that he got Socrates Brito to fly to left, Ketel Marte on a ground ball to second and Eduardo Escobar on a ground ball to first. In the fourth, he struck out David Peralta and Wilmer Flores and got Jake Lamb on a ground ball to first. In the fifth, Nick Ahmed hit a fly to right, Avila singled, Kelly flied to right and Brito struck out.

All of those players have big-league experience and I believe all of them will be on the D-backs Opening Day roster.

Here are Chatwood’s strikeouts of Peralta and Flores:

Wednesday, March 6, vs. Royals

Chatwood threw the last three innings of this game. He allowed three singles and struck out one. Of the other eight outs, seven were on ground balls, the other on a fly to left.

The only player in the Royals starting lineup that day faced by Chatwood was Bubba Starling, a non-roster invitee. He also faced five other Royals NRIs: Erick Mejia, Humberto Arteaga, Sebastian Rivero, Nicky Lopez and Elier Hernandez as well as three guys who are on the Royals’ 40-man roster: Ryan O’Hearn, Brett Phillips and Kelvin Gutierrez. Only a couple of those players have big-league experience, though none of them meet the usual definition of “minor leaguer in a major-league spring game.”

Saturday, March 16, vs. Diamondbacks

Chatwood entered this game with one out in the fourth inning and runners on first and third, the only time among these three games where he didn’t enter in a “clean inning.”

He retired all five batters he faced. Kelby Tomlinson and Juniel Querecuto flied to right to end the fourth, and in the fifth he struck out Steven Souza Jr., got Ildemaro Vargas to ground to short and retired Ketel Marte on an unusual line drive play, a ball that glanced off Kris Bryant’s glove and was caught before it hit the ground by Javier Baez.

Tomlinson, Marte and Souza have significant big-league experience and Vargas and Querecuto have played in the majors, though only briefly.

In short, Chatwood has faced 27 hitters in relief outings this spring and walked none of them. He’s allowed six hits, and of the 23 outs he’s recorded (two double plays account for the difference), five are by strikeout, 12 by ground ball, five on outfield fly balls and one on that weird line drive play. The majority of these plate appearances were made by batters with big-league experience.

I’ll grant you that three spring training outings are, as noted, a small sample size. But the important thing here, to me, appears to be that Chatwood is throwing strikes. As far as I can tell he ran a three-ball count on a hitter only once among those 27 batters.

It’s a virtual certainty that Chatwood will be in the Opening Day bullpen. The Cubs aren’t going to simply let him go and eat the $25 million remaining on his contract. I suppose it’s possible they could engineer a trade before Opening Day; scouts have been watching him throw and undoubtedly, they’ve seen the same things I have. But if Chatwood can retire hitters in relief as he’s done during these spring games, he can have value. He’s throwing 95 miles per hour and has great stuff. I’m not the only one noting this, either:

Chatwood, pitching in relief of Kyle Hendricks, stranded two runners by inducing flyouts to end the fourth inning and pitched a perfect fifth against the Diamondbacks.

“We’re all pulling for him,” Hendricks said after Chatwood threw 11 of 16 pitches for strikes. “He’s looked very good all spring, unreal. His stuff is really good. As long as he’s around the plate, his stuff is electric. And he’s been doing that all spring.”

Hendricks is right. Perhaps Tyler Chatwood is just the guy the Cubs need to bolster their bullpen as we enter the 2019 season.