How Joe Maddon plans to deploy Wade Davis as Cubs push toward playoffs


How Joe Maddon plans to deploy Wade Davis as Cubs push toward playoffs

PITTSBURGH – The delicate business relationship between the Cubs and Aroldis Chapman involved the superstar closer’s off-the-field baggage; rocky introduction to Chicago; language barrier; personal assistant becoming an intermediary with the coaching staff; looming free agency; and a preference to pitch one clean inning at a time.

It worked out in the end, with Chapman getting a championship ring and a record-setting, five-year, $86 million deal with the New York Yankees – after throwing 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series.

But where manager Joe Maddon once viewed Chapman’s 100-mph fastball as a shiny new toy, the manager has been more cautious with Wade Davis, the All-Star closer who has gone 29-for-29 in save chances so far in a Cubs uniform/during his free-agent season.

Don’t look for Maddon to push the accelerator now and start using Davis for four-out saves, even as the Cubs begin a stretch on Friday at Wrigley Field where they will play the Milwaukee Brewers or St. Louis Cardinals 14 times in 19 games and can end the National League Central race.

“I’m still not ready to do that yet,” Maddon said before Thursday’s 8-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “If we get to that point, I would talk to him about it. I can’t tell you that he’s a bad candidate (for it). It’s just based on (how) normally guys that are able to do that are more pitch-efficient.

“Four outs costing you 30, 35 pitches – sometimes you run into trouble in that 30th to 35th pitch. Even at 25-plus, I’m always up against it about bad things happening for a short relief pitcher.

“So, listen, I would not run away from it. But I don’t think it’s time yet. And if we were going to do it, I would talk to him about it in advance.”

Would the Davis rules change in October?

“I don’t want to assume anything until I talk to him,” Maddon said.

Maybe the Cubs have learned from their miscommunications with Chapman and the World Series fallout. Theo Epstein’s front office purposely built a bigger and better bullpen after a championship team played into early November. Maddon has also known Davis since he came up as a starter with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Davis – who’s 4-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 23 career postseason appearances – worked multiple innings six times during the playoffs as the Kansas City Royals won back-to-back American League pennants in 2014 and 2015.

“I’ve always gotten stronger later in the year and deeper into the season,” said Davis, who notched the final out in the 2015 World Series. “So hopefully that trend keeps going.”

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.