By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs have tweaked their rotation order again, resetting it to what they opened the season with.
Jon Lester will pitch Friday at Cincinnati, with Jake Arrieta getting pushed back one day to Saturday. Lester will be pitching on regular rest with the Cubs having an off day Thursday.
The two were flipped for matchups awaiting in an upcoming nine-game road trip, with the off day providing the needed flexibility. After a three-game set in Cincinnati this weekend, Chicago travels to Pittsburgh and Boston for three games apiece.
Manager Joe Maddon will thus have his rotation lined up for a tough stretch from April 28 to May 31 in which the Cubs will play 32 games in 34 days. Lester was Chicago’s starter on Opening Day, but Arrieta moved ahead of him in the rotation on the season’s first full weekend so the Cubs could get the lefty Lester a matchup against the lefty-heavy Dodgers.
“We just wanted to get it back to where it had been,” Maddon said. “The off days have permitted it. We have so many off days early on. We did it originally, and it worked out pretty well when we did the Jake-Jon thing early. The teams we put them up against, we felt better about. Moving it forward, another off day permits it again. There could be changes again with rain days. For right now, you are trying to make your best guesses.”
If the rotation stays in order after this change, Lester will pitch April 26 against the Pirates. He’d then miss throwing in his team’s three-game series from April 28-30 at Boston, which is his former team.
Lester is 0-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP this season. Arrieta is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.
Impending roster move
A Cubs roster move is coming this weekend, with the return of infielder Tommy La Stella from the bereavement list. The Cubs want to keep eight relievers in the bullpen after opening the season with seven. That would change the dynamic of Maddon’s position-player rotation.
It would appear that La Stella and outfielder Matt Szczur would be the primary targets for getting bumped off the 25-man roster. La Stella still has minor league options left, but the problem with sending him down is that Maddon would be without a left-handed bat off the bench when Chicago faces a right-handed pitcher and starts Miguel Montero at catcher.
As for Szczur, Maddon has six other outfield options even without him — Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay, Albert Almora, Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant if needed. Szczur is out of options, so he’d have to go to waivers, where he’d likely be picked up by one of the other 29 teams. The Cubs would receive zero compensation if that were to happen.
“It is a tough decision,” Maddon said. “It is really difficult. You are trying to weigh the potentialities of possibly losing a player you would like to keep. Or you exercise the rules that are in place, optioning a guy out and keeping the other guy. You go back to what your organization concepts and philosophies are. You look and see how you want to treat this moment. We have had a lot of internal discussions about this. They have been very candid among Theo (Epstein), Jed (Hoyer) and me. I have thought about it both ways. We had a really straight-up discussion. During that discussion, things were said that altered my thinking.”
A trip to the disabled list for another player would be the only other alternative to keeping both La Stella and Szczur on the club come Friday.
Schwarber feeling more comfortable at lead-off
Now 14 games into his role as the Cubs’ lead-off hitter, Schwarber is seeing 4.52 pitches per at-bat, the third-most in the National League among qualified hitters. He has a .379 on-base percentage in the early going.
“I had to get back to being myself and using the whole field,” Schwarber said. “I need to make sure I take my walks when I need to. At the same time, I need to drive pitches I need to drive. This is a part of the process for me as a leadoff hitter.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.