How oft-used Steve Cishek plans to avoid a late-season fade in Cubs bullpen


If you pick any random Cubs game on the schedule to watch, there's roughly a 50 percent chance you'll see Steve Cishek pitch.

Cishek is the veteran, rubber-armed reliever out of the Cubs bullpen who appeared in nearly half the team's games last year (80) and is on track to approach that number again this season (76).

The 33-year-old with the side-arm delivery only made 40 appearances in the Cubs' first 90 games, but he got the call in eight of the first 11 games coming out of the All-Star Break, pitching twice in each of the four series.

The four-day midseason break helped, as do the off-days each of the last two weeks, but it's "go time" for the Cubs right now as they mount a push toward the playoffs. That means Cishek is going to throw as much as he can take given how important he is to the Cubs bullpen and how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him.

It's easy to see why Cishek is so trusted — a 2.53 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9 holds, 7 saves and scoreless outings in 40 of his 48 appearances.

The 33-year-old finished 2018 with fantastic overall numbers — 2.18 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 4 saves, 10.0 K/9 — but he did start to fade down the stretch, posting a 4.76 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over the final five weeks.

This year, he's hoping to avoid a similar downturn.

"I tried to combat that in the offseason, really," Cishek said. "I pushed myself pretty hard in the offseason with legs and shoulders big time. The place I train at pushes it, just so I could carry the load during the season without having to break down.

"But last year was a little bit different. Obviously it's the most appearances I've ever had, but for the most part, I was able to pitch every other day because I was able to keep my pitch count low. And then I had days of recovery they gave off for me, made sure I got my soft-tissue work in and I was well-rested sleep-wise. 

"I felt OK. September, maybe I was feeling it a little bit, but honestly, I didn't feel that bad."

Cishek is in his second season in Chicago now and that means another year of rapport with manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy (who wasn't the pitching coach last season, but worked closely with all the pitchers as the run prevention coordinator).

So as Cishek works to stay fresh down the stretch for the Cubs as one of their most pivotal bullpen arms, he's constantly talking to Maddon and Hottovy.

"[I told them], 'I like and guys like to know when you have that day off 'cause we're so routine-oriented that if I can have a full day of not going through my routine and mentally going through all my checklists and just kinda go out there, play catch and have a mental day off, that goes a long way,'" Cishek said. "They've been really good about communicating that this year, like, 'Hey, you're down a day.' 

"Even, for instance, [last] week — 'you're gonna be off today and the off-day. Have yourself a little day.' It's kinda nice to not have that mental checklist to go through every day."

How has that dialogue changed from a season ago?

"Last year, they were pretty good communicating that," Cishek said. "There were some times where it'd be kinda like a game-time decision, so I already went through my whole routine and stuff. And that's fine, I'm just saying it's helpful — just a little extra help [to know earlier]. 

"Last year, the communication was great. I felt pretty good. I was honest with them and to be honest, you're not gonna feel great everyday as it is anyways. If they need you, I'm the type of guy — you're paying me a lot of money, I want to be out there for the team, for the boys, for the organization. That's just kinda how I think through stuff."

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