Cubs

Cubs: Starlin Castro the odd man out of Joe Maddon's lineup

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Cubs: Starlin Castro the odd man out of Joe Maddon's lineup

Joe Maddon and the Cubs are going for it.

There's no more grace period with regards to development, no more preaching patience with guys who are underperforming.

Maddon proved that again Friday by filling out a lineup against the San Francisco Giants with Addison Russell at shortstop, Chris Coghlan at second base, Kyle Schwarber in left field and Starlin Castro on the bench.

[RELATED - Joe Maddon manages like Cubs are already in playoffs]

The Cubs activated Miguel Montero from the disabled list Friday, meaning he and veteran David Ross are healthy enough to handle a large portion of the catching duties. Which means Maddon needs to find somewhere for Schwarber to play to get his bat in the lineup on a daily basis.

"Schwarber is obviously swinging the bat really well and so is [Coghlan]," Maddon said. "Just trying to be creative keeping the bats in the lineup right now. I told Starlin: It's not a day off. I want him to understand that up front.

"It's something that's going to be considered daily. I did not give him any promises regarding how he's going to be utilized other than just to stay ready off the bench. I didn't want to give him any kind of false promises whatsoever.

"He can be playing tomorrow. I'm not sure yet. I want to see how it plays today, but I wanted to be up front with him and let him know it's not a day off."

Again, this isn't Starlin Castro getting benched, necessarily. Maddon and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein drove that point home before Friday's game at Wrigley Field. They both acknowledged that this particular lineup is for Friday's game and everything will be evaluated on a daily basis moving forward.

Maddon also made sure to explain that this move isn't just because of Castro's rough season (.236 AVG, .575 OPS), but more a testament to just how good Schwarber and Coghlan have been at the plate.

"Schwarber is the impetus regarding this maneuver right now," Maddon said. "More than Starlin. We have to include Kyle right now. Then the next guy you have to include is [Coghlan]. You've got to based on their performance and our lack of offense."

[MORE: Kris Bryant trying to see big picture in the middle of mental grind]

As if to prove Maddon's point, Schwarber doubled into the gap in left-center in the first inning Friday and Coghlan immediately drove him home with a single through the infield.

That being said, Maddon admitted if Castro was playing up to his usual standards (career .278 AVG, .716 OPS), he probably wouldn't have been the one forced out of the lineup.

"I've defended this guy. I really like Starlin a lot. I think his work has been great," Maddon said. "He's done some really good things for us, even recently.

"But we're presented with a new set of circumstances based on personnel and you can't look away. None of this is punitive by any means. It's just trying to help us win today's game."

This unconventional move comes in the middle of what may be the Cubs' biggest series since 2009, with a four-game set against the Giants, the team they're currently battling for the second National League wild card spot.

Maddon wasted no time in yanking starting pitcher Jason Hammel from Thursday's series opener, replacing the veteran with nobody out in the fifth inning despite the fact Hammel had only given up two runs.

Maddon has the pedigree to make bold moves, as a two-time American League manager of the year who kept the small-market Tampa Bay Rays in contention season after season.

Epstein said Maddon does speak with the front office before making big moves, but that the celebrity manager also has freedom to go with the flow and "feel" of a game in progress.

"It's that time of year, no doubt about it," Epstein said. "The position that we're in, the manager has to have the unfettered ability to put the team on the field every single game, every single inning that he thinks puts the club in the best position to win.

"...This isn't a permanent thing or anything like that. It's just a recognition of where we are in the standings, how many good options I think we have with the players we have returning now and it's a nod to Joe's ability to push the right buttons to put the best lineup on the field on any given night."

Even with Montero back, Maddon said he does still want to fit in time for Schwarber at catcher. But he said there's no talk of moving Castro around the diamond right now.

Maddon talked with Castro before Friday's game and liked the way the 25-year-old shortstop handled the news.

"Very professional," Maddon said. "He listened, understood, he was not upset. I'm sure he's disappointed, but he was very professional about the whole thing."

Is Maddon concerned about losing Castro emotionally?

"There's always that concern and that's why you have to be two things - careful and honest," Maddon said. "You can't be cavalier about making moves like this and when you do, you have to be up front with the guy you're doing it with.

"You don't paint any kind of obscure picture that he has to read between the lines. You be very up front about it. He's a man. He can deal with it. We'll be better for it. He's going to be better for it, too.

"So yes, you're always concerned about the emotional component, but at the end of the day, it's about the Cubs winning."

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.”