Cubs

Cubs slug their way to a sweep of Reds in Cincinnati

Cubs slug their way to a sweep of Reds in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — Anthony Rizzo saw the ball ricochet across the outfield and kicked his legs into high gear, deciding he was going to try to touch `em all. His sides were aching by the time he slid safely into home plate.

Rizzo legged out his first inside-the-park homer on Wednesday - a fitting final touch to a series full of unusual moments - and the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-2 for a three-game sweep that put them back on solid footing after a rough stretch.

"They were on top of it, man, after a long one last night," Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks said.

The Cubs went 1-6 last week, hurt by an injury-depleted lineup and a balky bullpen. With thousands of Cubs fans in the stands at Great American Ball Park for each game, they pulled off an invigorating sweep.

The NL Central leaders won the opener 11-8 as Kris Bryant became the first major leaguer with three homers and two doubles in a game. They won 7-2 in 15 innings Tuesday night in a game that featured Javier Baez's grand slam and three relievers playing left field alternately.

Manager Joe Maddon went with a lot of his young backups after the long night. They piled up a dozen hits and made impressive plays all over the field.

"A bunch of babies played in that game today," Maddon said. "They were inexperienced, they were young, and they came out and played hard and played well."

There was more wackiness, too.

Rizzo drove in three runs in the first inning off left-hander Cody Reed (0-2) with the Cubs' first inside-the-park homer since 2011, when Tony Campana circled the bases against Cincinnati. Left fielder Adam Duvall cut in front of center fielder Billy Hamilton but couldn't get to the ball, which deflected off Hamilton's cheek.

Rizzo couldn't remember the last time he circled the bases that way.

"Maybe Little League?" he said. "Nothing like that. I'll take it."

Hamilton left the game to get tested for a concussion. He missed a week earlier this month after suffering a concussion when he slid into third base and got hit in the head.

"We both called for it at the same time," Duvall said. "I thought we were going to collide. I didn't take my eye off the ball, but I might've flinched a little bit. It hit him pretty good. It ended up rolling pretty far."

Hendricks (6-6) gave up Duvall's 22nd homer and went 6 2/3 innings, throwing 117 pitches to rest a bullpen worn out from pitching and playing the outfield. He also drove in a run with a squeeze bunt.

Hendricks didn't get to play the outfield, though - not this time, anyway.

"The way things are going, you never know," he said.

Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr. had solo shots for the Cubs, who hit 10 homers during the series. Baez had three more hits on Wednesday. Rizzo's homer gave him a 10-game hitting streak during which he's gone 17 for 36.

The Cubs have the major leagues' best record at 51-26. They're 9-1 against the Reds this season and have won 12 of their last 13 against their NL Central rival.

The Cubs' 27 runs in the series matched their second-highest total of the season for a three-game stretch.

They also turned in more good defensive plays. Right fielder Ben Zobrist threw out Joey Votto at the plate as he tried to score from second on Jay Bruce's single in the third.

SLAMMED

Research into Baez's 15th-inning slam found that it was the latest by inning in Cubs history. Also, it was only the third in baseball history to happen in the 15th inning or later. New York's Tino Martinez hit one in the 15th in 1996, and Boston's Clyde Vollmer hit one in the 16th inning in 1951, according to STATS information provided by the team. The Cubs hadn't scored five runs so late in a game since 1927.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Maddon gave LHP Travis Wood the day off after he played left field and pitched in relief Tuesday night.

Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips was in the lineup despite getting hit in the ribs and taking a foul off his left ankle Tuesday night. He had a single in four at-bats.

UP NEXT

Cubs: RHP John Lackey (7-4, 3.29 ERA) opens a four-game series at New York against the Mets. He's coming off his worst outing of the season, when he allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings of a loss at Miami last Saturday.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (3-6, 3.83) opens a four-game series at Washington. He has lost his last two starts, giving up seven earned runs in 11 2/3 innings. The Reds don't play at home again until July 15.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”