Cubs

Carlos Pena will fight through the pain

Carlos Pena will fight through the pain

Thursday, April 14, 2011
Posted: April 13, 9:22 p.m. Updated: 12:04 a.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Carlos Pena has been wearing a kind of cast inside his glove. That way his right thumb doesnt snap all the way back. He just feels the vibrations.

The thumb bothers Pena when hes buttoning his dress shirt, so you can imagine how it feels when he stops a bullet throw at first base. He isnt about to play without the guard, but still feels like hes getting closer to healing.

Theres always a risk-reward (for) every single time a balls thrown at you, Pena said. I thought we were on the right track there for a couple days: Boom! A ball hits me again and Im like: Here we go, two steps back.

This is something that the Cubs are going to have to monitor because as manager Mike Quade said the Gold Glove first baseman will take a pounding over there. The Cubs know how long these issues can last.

Derrek Lee injured his thumb on Opening Day 2010 and it lingered long enough that it required offseason surgery. Lee never really let on how much it hurt, but his offensive numbers across the board dropped one year after being one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.

Aramis Ramirez looked lost at the plate before he went on the disabled list last June with a left thumb contusion and by July was still hitting under .200 for the season.

Pena who is relentlessly optimistic and strongly believes in the power of positive thinking does not see it like that. But it has to be part of the reason why he is hitting .185 with zero home runs and 10 strikeouts in 27 at-bats.

He wants to play and makes no excuses, Quade said. I love that.

Pena landed awkwardly and bent his thumb back while making a defensive play on April 4. Given almost all of Wednesday night off, and with no game Thursday, hell essentially get a 48-hour window to rest, which he thinks will help.

Pena will turn 33 next month and is working on a one-year deal. He is the big free agent in a new city but insists that he doesnt feel the weight of having to go out there and prove himself.

Pressure? Pena said, repeating part of a reporters question. Thats not the word. Its the desire.

Its impossible to watch the Cubs regularly and not notice how many teammates Pena talks to in the clubhouse, or how often he goes over to the mound to grab the rosin bag and give his pitcher a moment to breathe and calm down.

Even when hes struggling, he comes to play, Quade said. He likes to play and he understands the importance of every aspect of the game.

When a guy doesnt get off to a great start, some of the rest of his game goes south because his minds not there. This guy understands (how to) compartmentalize.

The Cubs can live with the strikeouts. Pena did that 163 times in 2009 and still finished tied for the American League lead with 39 homers after missing the final 25 games of the season with two broken fingers.

Pena is someone whos admitted that he has a tendency to think too much. But he isnt down on his first nine games. Hes not obsessed with the outcome yet, just focused on how he feels at the plate and figuring out why that was a good at-bat, or a bad one.

Pena sprinted for a base hit Tuesday night on a ball that was hit right into the teeth of the defensive shift. He will play through the pain, but believes he will really only be at full strength when hes focused on the moment.

(Sometimes) we get caught up in the emotion, Pena said. When you bring all that (baggage) with you on your back, youre not 100 percent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.