Cubs

Cubs: Miguel Montero breaks it down after loss to Diamondbacks

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Cubs: Miguel Montero breaks it down after loss to Diamondbacks

PHOENIX – Miguel Montero stood at his locker inside Chase Field’s visiting clubhouse late Friday night and broke it down for reporters.

The Cubs had just lost a 5-4 game to the Arizona Diamondbacks that lasted 13 innings but pivoted in the 10th, with closer Hector Rondon one strike away from ending it when Paul Goldschmidt blasted the game-tying, two-run homer.

“It was not really a good pitch,” Montero said afterward. “Especially (with) Goldy, you really have to make pitches. He’s a good hitter, a professional hitter, so you can’t let that guy beat you like that with a fastball middle-middle.

“Other than that, I would say the pitch before is the one that got us in trouble, the double (by) A.J. Pollock. I mean, you got him with two strikes and then you throw a breaking ball. It’s got to be a better pitch than that.

“It was middle-middle, too. (Pollock) just protected himself and he just threw the bat out there and he hit the ball down the line.”

[MORE: Scott Boras sees all that young talent coming together for Cubs]

Montero didn’t know English when he signed with the Diamondbacks as a teenager out of Venezuela. But by the end of his rookie-ball season in Missoula, Montana, he had picked up enough of the language to become a translator for teammates.

That didn’t mean Montero understood everything in 2002. But he wasn’t afraid of asking questions or making mistakes or somebody laughing at him. He’s also just naturally talkative.

As manager Joe Maddon said: “He’s not afraid to voice his opinion.”

So while Montero probably had a few ideas about the three-catcher experiment, he made sure to talk with Welington Castillo after this week’s trade with the Seattle Mariners and say good luck.

“Obviously, it was tough,” Montero said. “I tried to handle it as best as possible. I’m trying to be the best teammate as possible around here. But at the same time, as a player, you want to be (in your rhythm).

“You try to be as professional as you can. And when you’re in there, you’re trying to help them win, regardless. Right now, you got to adapt again.”

[MORE: Joe Maddon doesn’t see Neil Ramirez return on the horizon]

David Ross is still Jon Lester’s personal catcher. So when the Diamondbacks awkwardly flashed a “Welcome Back” message on Chase Field’s video board during Friday’s game, Montero had just finished catching warm-up pitches from Lester in between innings.

If Montero could write out the lineup, he would probably want to be in there 162 times this year. Baseball allowed him to have a dream house in nearby Paradise Valley, so he believes you should respect the game and play hard all the time.

Montero, who will turn 32 this summer, earned two All-Star selections with the Diamondbacks and became the only major-league catcher to account for 1,000-plus innings in each of the last four seasons.

The Cubs hope some extra rest will help prevent Montero from feeling the same second-half fade as last season (.596 .OPS, or 164 points lower than what he put up before the All-Star break).

“He’s not 21 years old anymore,” Maddon said. “(Don’t) run him into the ground, he’s going to play a lot better.”

Montero is hitting .280 with four homers and 15 RBI through 34 games. He’s getting on base around 40 percent of the time and putting up an .852 OPS.

“This is baseball,” Montero said. “It comes and goes sometimes. I’ve been feeling pretty good hitting-wise. There’s going to be that period of time where you’re going to stink.

“You just got to go through that and try to get out of it as soon as possible. But it’s part of the game. You have ups and downs.” 

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Rondon is going through that now after his third blown save. The Cubs absorbed the three years and $40 million left on Montero’s contract because they wanted his presence.

Montero had already approached Rondon on Wednesday night at Petco Park, going to the mound to talk to the closer after he gave up a leadoff single in the ninth inning of an eventual 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

“What I’ve been seeing is when he gets runners on, the game speeds up (and gets) too fast for him,” Montero said. “So that’s what I was telling him: Hey, you know what, that’s when you got to slow the game down. That’s when you got to step out of the box, step off the mound and take your breather.

“Slow everything down. Because (his) heart rate – he was just flying right there. (He) really doesn’t want to let that run score. He just tries to do too much. And that’s when I say: Back it off. Try to make a good pitch rather than a nasty pitch.

“After the game, I told him: You need to slow yourself down, because when you don’t have anybody on base, you can see the quality of the pitches. When you got runners on base, you start flying open, you start missing – by far – the strike zone. So that’s when you got to slow down and just concentrate on making good, quality pitches.”   

The Cubs hope the message sinks in this time.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.