Chicago Sun-Times


Versatile Cishek willing to fill any bullpen role

- MADELINE KENNEY | @madkenney

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Righthande­r Steve Cishek rather would be the Cubs’ workhorse than their knight in shining armor. That’s not to say, however, that he’s against the idea of coming in and closing out the ninth inning.

Cishek, 32, is coming off a strong season. He was 4-3 with four saves and a 2.18 ERA in a career-high 70⅓ innings spanning 80 appearance­s in 2018. And Cishek, who also led Cubs relievers with 78 strikeouts, sees no reason he can’t do it again.

‘‘I enjoy the workload,’’ he said Friday. ‘‘I enjoy being out there because position players are out there every single day and, as a competitor, you want to be out there, too. As long as I’m feeling good and the ball is coming out of my hand good, I was happy they kept throwing me out there.’’

Though he pitched in nearly every other game last season, Cishek said the Cubs managed him well.

‘‘I got more days where they told me I was down for sure than ever in my career last year,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s good to know those things because then, mentally, I can take a day off. I work myself up so much to make sure I’m ready, have a mental focus and am ready to go in the game that having a mental day is nice.’’

Manager Joe Maddon wants to use Cishek similarly this season. To that end, Cishek focused on getting his body in shape to handle the workload. He spent countless hours in the weight room, focusing on his lower-body and shoulder strength.

It appears the Cubs will start the season with a bruised and battered bullpen. Closer Brandon Morrow (elbow) is expected to be out until May, and Pedro Strop (hamstring) might miss Opening Day.

Who will be the Cubs’ closer at the start of the season?

‘‘I won’t declare anyone a closer,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Once Morrow is back, he will be the closer. But until we get to that point, I like the idea of using guys in higherleve­rage moments that suit their abilities better. So I don’t want to run away from a moment because I classified a guy a ninth-inning pitcher.’’

Cishek, who was a closer with the Marlins and Mariners, said he’d be open to the idea of being a routine closer again.

‘‘I know I’m capable of it,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been in both situations where now I don’t really care. Whatever the coaching staff feels like. Where I can benefit the team best, that’s where I want to be.

‘‘So whether it’s coming in in the fourth inning and pitching an inning or two or closing out a game or bridging a gap in any way, as long as you help a team win, I’m good with that.’’

NOTE: Infielder Daniel Descalso said his ailing shoulder is feeling better, though a timeline for his return remains unclear.

Descalso, who hasn’t played since last Saturday, hurt his shoulder going for a ball near the thirdbase line last week. He tried to reach for the ball but lost his balance and landed on his shoulder.

‘‘I don’t think it’s something to be too worried about,’’ he said.

Cubs president Theo Epstein said it’s too early to say whether Descalso will be healthy for Opening Day.

‘‘We’ll have to see how he bounces back the next couple of days,’’ Epstein said.

 ?? DUANE BURLESON/GETTY IMAGES ?? Reliever Steve Cishek had an impressive 2.18 ERA in a career-high 70„ innings last season and says he enjoyed the workload he received.
DUANE BURLESON/GETTY IMAGES Reliever Steve Cishek had an impressive 2.18 ERA in a career-high 70„ innings last season and says he enjoyed the workload he received.
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