Cubs

All systems go for Kerry Wood

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All systems go for Kerry Wood

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. All that matters is Kerry Wood being ready for Opening Day.

Thats how the Cubs have framed this spring, while insisting theres nothing wrong. Wood went 11 days between games last month, and will finish with five innings in the Cactus League. If that doesnt sound like much, well, it doesnt concern a guy with more than 13 years of service time in the big leagues.

Thats a number I feel good, my body feels ready to go, Wood said, counting all the work hes done on the side. Ive been off the mound enough.

Manager Dale Sveum joked about Woods pitch count before Mondays 8-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Field at Talking Stick. The 34-year-old reliever had faced one batter in each of his last two appearances.

Well try to get him to 11, Sveum said. Maybe if he has to finish a batter, we might get him to 12.

Wood threw exactly 11 pitches in the fifth inning, striking out Willie Bloomquist looking before getting Aaron Hill and Justin Upton to ground out. He feels like his fastball and cutter are just about there after seven appearances this spring.

Wood hasnt spoken directly with Sveum about how much he wants to pitch this year or what his body can handle, but the Cubs plan to manage it more carefully.

The only thing I did tell (Sveum) is if something comes up where I cant go, Ill personally come in and talk to you, Wood said. I think I did it one time with (Mike) Quade last year where I said I might need a day today. I think theyre conscious of the up-and-downs (warming up) during the course of a game. So I dont think well be I wont say panic button I dont think hell get as many up-and-downs as we had last year.

The Cubs knew coming in that their bullpen would be a huge question mark after trading away Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner and slotting Jeff Samardzija in the rotation. They need Wood to be healthy, though he doesnt have a number of appearances in mind: The only time I ever think about it is when you guys (in the media) bring it up.

Wood appeared in 55 games last season even after missing three weeks with a blister problem and being shut down in September with a knee injury that required minor surgery. If the blisters are kept under control, he thinks 60-plus appearances wouldnt be unrealistic.

Woods workload appears to be a minor blip on the radar. Camp will end Tuesday, and it has been without almost any incidents, distractions or controversy.

Yeah, its funny, work must be getting in the way of that, Wood said. I still feel like I get there pretty early and Im one of the last guys there. These guys get here early (and) start working. I know (hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo) kept them after games a few times (too). So we havent had a lot of time for messing around.

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

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USA TODAY

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Joe Maddon's 2018 coaching staff came into focus Tuesday, with the Cubs officially announcing three moves.

The Cubs made Jim Hickey the team's pitching coach, making official what has been assumed for a while, that Maddon's former pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays would take over for Chris Bosio on the North Side.

Additionally, Brandon Hyde was moved from his role as the team's first base coach to become Maddon's bench coach, taking over for Dave Martinez, who is the new manager of the Washington Nationals.

And the Cubs announced that Will Venable will be the new first base coach after he was recently named a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Hickey, a Chicago native, spent the past 11 seasons as the Rays' pitching coach, presiding over a litany of young arms during and after Maddon's tenure as the manager there, including James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb. Hickey was the pitching coach for a pair of World Series teams: the 2005 Houston Astros and the 2008 Rays.

Hickey's relationship with Cobb could be of particular interest this offseason, as the free-agent pitcher could be a target for the Cubs' front office.

Hyde has served as the Cubs' bench coach before, filling the role on Rick Renteria's staff in 2014. He spent the past three seasons as Maddon's first base coach, part of a staff that appeared in three straight National League Championship Series and won the 2016 World Series.

Venable spent nine seasons in the major leagues, wrapping up his playing career in 2016 after playing for the San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to these moves to lock in Maddon's coaching staff, the Cubs also announced the addition of Jim Benedict as a special assistant. Benedict was most recently the vice president of pitching development for the Miami Marlins and has also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

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USA TODAY

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

The Bulls will be keeping a close eye on the best young talent the loaded 2018 NBA Draft will have to offer. But they likely won't be seeing much of Missouri's Michael Porter Jr.

The school announced Tuesday that their freshman forward, the top recruit in the country, will miss the remainder of his freshman season.

Porter played all of 100 minutes for the Tigers, amassing 2 pioints and 2 rebounds in the Tigers' win over Iowa State.

The injury isn't to say Porter won't declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, or that it will affect his stock at all. He's still considered a legitimate franchise player and certainly someone all teams drafting in the top 5 will have their eye on.

But there will be competition. Players like Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba make up what could be one of the best draft classes in recent memory.

For now the Bulls will have to wait until the spring or summer to see Porter Jr. work out, while doing due diligence on the rest of the class.