Cubs

Cubs' fifth-starter spot still shaky, but Joe Maddon is all-in on Dan Haren

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Cubs' fifth-starter spot still shaky, but Joe Maddon is all-in on Dan Haren

The Cubs haven’t been able to solve the No. 5 spot in their rotation all season, and Dan Haren has yet to prove that he’s the answer.

The team’s main trade-deadline acquisition, Haren has brought a lot of things the Cubs like to the team. But he hasn’t yet brought success on the mound.

Saturday was Haren’s fourth outing since joining the Cubs, and he lasted just 4 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits, striking out three. His biggest mistake was a two-run homer off the bat of Nick Swisher, one of the many longballs that went out to left field on a day when the wind was blowing from right to left, something that aided the Cubs' comeback effort in their 9-7 win.

“I felt pretty good actually,” Haren said after the game. “I made a bad pitch to Swisher, threw some curveballs and cutters and stuff and tried to sneak a fastball by him, but he hit it pretty good out there.”

[MORE CUBS: Another day, another comeback win for the #WeAreGood Cubs]

After giving up 13 earned runs in just 19 1/3 innings, his ERA in those four starts is a not-so-great 6.05.

But Haren’s unattractive numbers haven’t dampened how his manager feels about him.

Joe Maddon remains committed to Haren in the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and he really likes what Haren’s been doing, feeling the veteran can be a late-season contributor to a team making a playoff push.

“I like Danny a lot,” Maddon said. “I really believe he’s going to be a big help to us down the stretch. He’s such a professional. I mean that, sincerely, I like this fella. You’ve got to love his attitude and how he goes about his business.

“It wasn’t the right setup for him today, their lineup, the way their lineup played and the way the ballpark played. It made it more difficult. But I have a lot of respect for this guy. You look at his numbers and what he’s done, and there’s definitely a lot left in the tank. So we’ll run him right back out there.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

That’s a positive, of course, for Haren, though he’d undoubtedly like to reward his manager’s confidence by turning in some better outings.

“Obviously I’d like to do better, be out there longer and stuff like that,” Haren said. “But when it comes down to it, whenever you’ve got 40 or 50 games left, it’s just about winning games. I think everybody just has to put wanting to do good for themselves behind them and just go out and do the best they can for the team. That’s what it’s about at this point of the year.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”