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Chicago Cubs

Cubs notes: Joe Maddon sees Justin Wilson as bullpen linchpin

Cubs reliever Justin Wilson pitches during the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals on Oct. 11, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Cubs reliever Justin Wilson pitches during the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals on Oct. 11, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

MESA, Ariz. – During the previous two seasons, Cubs manager Joe Maddon often would refer to veteran pitcher John Lackey as the “linchpin” of the starting rotation. 

Lackey wasn’t the ace, but Maddon looked at him as a force nevertheless.

Maddon could be using that same “linchpin” terminology this season about his bullpen with left-hander Justin Wilson. Wilson had a good session of live batting practice Thursday, impressing Maddon. 

The Cubs expected big things from Wilson last year when they obtained him in a trade with the Detroit Tigers at the July 31 deadline. 

But it didn’t pan out. Wilson had a 5.09 ERA and a 2.09 WHIP with the Cubs in 23 games. He appeared only once in the postseason (division series against Washington), and was left off the roster for the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. 

“Very capable, man,” Maddon said. “I don’t know how close you guys were (to live batting practice), but you can see how that ball jumps at home plate. Listen, I really give him a lot of credit for the way things had gone last year with us. He has come here with a fresh slate, the right way. And he’s out there so focused on the moment.

“He can be [the linchpin] because he can do anything out there. He can get out a lefty, get out a righty, close the game, set a game up. He’s durable. All this stuff. I’m really interested to watch him play. I think he’s going to have a great year.”

Roster all set? Cactus League play begins Friday for the Cubs, when they play away against the Milwaukee Brewers. Few, if any, big names are likely to play. The 25-man roster looks almost set at this point, barring injury. 

“The biggest thing about job battles, I would think the contributing factor to alter things would be injury during camp, which we don’t want,” Maddon said. “Otherwise, you guys can probably pretty much write it down, what you’re seeing, and be pretty accurate. I cannot deny that. Oftentimes when you’re a pretty good ballclub, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training. I think what we’ve done, what the boys (front office) have done is they’ve built a niche cache in case things were to happen.”

Not ready to say it: As good as Jon Lester has looked in the early going of spring training, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to say he’ll be the Opening Day starting pitcher. 

The Cubs could go with Lester, Kyle Hendricks or Yu Darvish. But Maddon isn’t ready to commit. 

“Not yet,” Maddon said. “Even if he were to be the No. 1 guy, I have to talk to everybody and let them know where they’re going to be before we announce a No. 1 guy.”

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