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Levine: Cubs Taking Cautious Approach With Top Pitchers Early In Spring Training

By Bruce Levine--

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- Trying to protect a pitching staff that went deep into the 2015 playoffs, Cubs manager Joe Maddon sai Monday that his top-of-the-rotation starters won't get any Cactus League action until the second week of spring training games.

At the behest of his organization and pitching coach Chris Bosio, Maddon will slow play right-hander Jake Arrieta, left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Johny Lackey early on. This method will be in place to let those pitching arms come back from the big workload of last season.

Including the playoffs, Arrieta tossed a career-high 248 2/3 innings in 2015, which was 92 more than he'd ever tossed. Lester pitched 219 innings, while Lackey -- then with the Cardinals -- logged 228 1/3 innings between the regular season and postseason.

Throughout several decades in the game, Maddon has learne to be careful with the amount of stress his pitchers take on early in spring training. He expects the Arrieta-Lester-Lackey trio to ramp up sometime around March 7-9.

"All of them will be piggy-backed (pitch on same days)," Maddon said. "Really its up to (Bosio). He walks in and tells us what is going on. I really don't worry about that right now. When it comes to spring training, I don't even look at it. (Our pitching coaches) are outstanding in what they do. They just go do it. Go do your job. In the morning, we meet. I might ask them something in advance if it's something pertinent to me."

The Cubs have evaluated the bounce-back ability of pitchers of past years who have who deep postseason runs, a tactic most teams have done for the last 15 years. Because spring training is considered too long by most baseball people, backing off of pitchers has become common during exhibition play.

There's an open competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the Cubs' rotation, though Maddon acknowledged incumbents Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks have the inside track. Adam Warren (acquired from the Yankees in the Starlin Castro trade), Clayton Richard, Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill will also figure into the mix as underdogs and be stretched out as starters this spring.

"You are right -- the incumbents coming back into camp have some advantage," Maddon said. "That is all probably true. The best way I can describe it is to keep an open mind. I always talk about this also -- that you can't allow yourself to be deceived by spring training performances. However, a lot of these guys we are talking about have proven track records.

"What Adam Warren did with the Yankees last year was very impressive. He was impressive as a starter and reliever. Some of them have thrown over 200 innings. All these guys, we will try to stretch out have that track record. Let it play out. The incumbents have an advantage, but I am really going to keep an open mind going into camp."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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