A conversation with Brothers made Ross a ‘better’ manager originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Two conversations with Cubs manager David Ross bookended a comeback offseason for Cubs reliever Rex Brothers.
The second placed him on the Opening Day roster, where he’d become one of Ross’ most used relievers to start the season. The first left an imprint on Ross and, he said, made him “better as a manager.”
Brothers’ turnaround from last year to this has been sharp. The left-hander has a 3.00 ERA through 14 outings. On Friday, he recorded his first save since 2013, giving him the second-longest time between saves for any Cubs pitcher in history.
Compare Brothers’ 2021 to last season, his third straight year of playing three or fewer major-league games. The 33-year-old veteran hadn’t claimed regular MLB playing time since his 2014 season with the Rockies.
“I got into some bad habits and bad patterns when my health wasn't where I needed it to be,” Brothers said Saturday. “And it just has taken a while to iron those things out and then trust in the work that I put in.”
From the beginning of last season, Ross’ first year as manager, his players applauded his affable but direct approach. Still, when Ross told Brothers last year that the Cubs were sending him down to the alternate training site, their conversation altered the way the manager thought about “how to talk to players.”
The two sat in Brothers’ hotel room, and the left-hander told Ross a story about his rookie year. When he’d start getting behind in counts and putting runners on base, first baseman Todd Helton would get Brothers’ attention, give him a stern look and say, “Let’s go.”
“I always seemed to respond pretty well to that,” Brothers said. “So, I just told Rossy, ‘Let me know when you need more out of me.’”
If Ross saw Brothers “slacking,” he should straight up say, “I need you to pick it up here,” or “Be better.”
Brothers continued: “Throughout my life, I feel like I respond better that way.”
Ross said it was a good lesson for him.
“What stood out to me most in that conversation,” Ross said, “was sometimes guys just need a kick in the rear end, (to be) pushed a little bit harder, and can handle a little bit more honesty than maybe give them credit for.”
When Brothers became a free agent this offseason, he knew immediately that he wanted to return to the Cubs.
“Because I knew people believed in me,” Brothers said, “and I just respect the heck out of these guys and the whole organization.”
He focused in the offseason on using the ground and his legs more effectively, continuing to reverse old bad habits.
Late in spring training this year, Ross pulled Brothers aside after a strong outing and asked how he felt. Brother’s business-like answer: Great. Ross asked if he’d started looking for a place in Chicago.
“Well, you might want to start looking.”
Brothers’ face lit up. “Really?”
Really. He was breaking camp on the Opening Day roster.