Cubs

Grabow feels strong enough to make a difference

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Grabow feels strong enough to make a difference

Thursday, March 17, 2011Posted: 7:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX John Grabow will make 4.8 million this year, or essentially as much as Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol combined. The Cubs need him to be the bridge to the back end of their bullpen.

The blueprint was drawn up so that Wood and Sean Marshall will be protecting leads and Marmol wont go weeks between save opportunities. The strength of this team wont matter if the Cubs are trailing 5-2 and losing the middle innings.

Grabow earned that two-year deal because he was so durable and effective, two traits he did not show last season. He tried to pitch through the pain in his left knee and live up to his contract but couldnt.

The Cubs werent overly concerned about Grabows sore left shoulder, but they had to be encouraged after seeing him on the mound Thursday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The 32-year-old reliever hadnt pitched in a game since the Cactus League opener on Feb. 27.

As Grabow walked back to the dugout after working a scoreless seventh inning, manager Mike Quade got up from his chair to give him a high-five. Grabow feeling good about his knee, shoulder and arm strength was the biggest takeaway from a 6-5 loss to the Oakland As.

The more the merrier, Quade said. We can talk about Marsh, Marm and Woody all day long. (But) we know its going to take a lot more than those guys. You (need) options (when) you go through a tough stretch where you have to pound on those guys two, three days in a row.

Grabow has appeared in 443 games since the start of the 2004 season, which ranks second-most among all left-handers in baseball. But he didnt even make it to the 2010 All-Star break, eventually shut down last summer with an MCL tear and a 7.36 ERA.

Through that experience Grabow learned that sometimes you need to back off, which is what he did recently after feeling tightness in his left shoulder.

The added intensity and the added reps maybe my body just wasnt ready for it, Grabow said. Three or four years ago, I just might have kept on going and made things worse. Now I kind of listen to my body and learn from mistakes in the past. Everythings worked out so far.

The Cubs think Grabow only needs about six more innings to be ready by Opening Day. After spending almost his entire professional life with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he feels added urgency.

Its going to be a great bullpen, and Id love to be a part of it, Grabow said. My whole career this is probably the best chance Ive got to go to the playoffs. So Im going to take advantage of that.

The difference between the Cubs being contenders or playing in front of empty seats at Wrigley Field will hinge in part on Grabow and their remodeled bullpen.

Id love to see him get back to when he was at his best, Quade said. I believe with his knee healthy (and) his shoulder strong, thats what well see.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.”