Cubs: Tommy Hunter keeps rolling and brings the 99 mph heat


Cubs: Tommy Hunter keeps rolling and brings the 99 mph heat

MILWAUKEE — Tommy Hunter could feel the adrenaline surging for his Cubs debut in front of Saturday night’s sellout crowd at Miller Park. His first two warm-up pitches flew toward the backstop.

Hunter calmed down and still hit 99 mph while closing out the Milwaukee Brewers, needing only three pitches to get the final two outs and pick up the save in a 4-2 victory.

The day after getting traded from the Baltimore Orioles in a deadline deal, Hunter explained his keep-it-simple approach to pitching: “When you get the ball, throw it as hard as you can.”

[MORE: Cubs will feel the energy from a playoff push]

Once the Cubs added another weapon to their bullpen, several guys who played with Hunter before gave the scouting report. Jake Arrieta called him a big teddy bear. Jason Hammel predicted the media would love him. Pedro Strop…

“Pedey probably said I was crazy as s---,” Hunter said. “Well, I was a crazy son of a b---- when I was in Texas in my early days. I definitely had some of those (moments) and got it all out, though, for the most (part).”

Hunter had been a first-round pick for the Rangers in 2007, spending time in the Texas rotation before getting traded to Baltimore, where he emerged as a key piece for Buck Showalter’s bullpen while the Orioles matured into a playoff team.

“Pedey was there in my prime,” Hunter said. “And then I got married, a kid-on-the-way type of deal. He was there through the golden years, I guess you could say.”

[RELATED: Miguel Montero’s future becoming unclear as Schwarber sticks with Cubs]

Hunter got rolling when a reporter asked to explain a photo on his Twitter timeline. He’s giving the thumbs-up sign near a dude wearing a “KEEP CALM WE GOT TOMMY HUNTER” T-shirt.

“I hate to say it, but his daughter is pretty attractive,” Hunter said. “I was like the team goat, because we were trying to hook the daughter up with our bullpen catcher, so I worked for like a year to try to do that.

“Every day, during stretch, in the fifth inning, I’d go over there and try to talk to her and see how interested she was in (him). The dad started talking about hunting one day. And then when he started doing that, I’d start going over there just to listen to some of the dad’s stories.

“Season-ticket holders, hot daughter and our bullpen coach who’s single.

“Now you guys know the real story.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans

This must be why Hunter is so popular inside the clubhouse, coming across as completely comfortable in his own skin, able to relate to all different types of people.

But Hunter turned serious when he talked about growing up in Indianapolis, where his mother has been battling kidney cancer, undergoing radiation and recovering from a recent surgical procedure.   

“Three hours away, man, it’s going to be really cool,” Hunter said. “She’s going to be coming up. I’m pretty excited about that. It’s a good chance right here for me to be close — and have a chance to win.”

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


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.”