Cubs

Knock on wood: Trevor Cahill has resurrected his career with Cubs

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Knock on wood: Trevor Cahill has resurrected his career with Cubs

When Joe Maddon needed to call on a reliever to pitch the eighth inning of a tense, must-win postseason game in St. Louis, how many people expected Trevor Cahill to be the guy?

Maddon's bullpen is constantly changing, but even still, it was a bit shocking to see Cahill - a guy who wasn't even with the big-league Cubs until Aug. 31 - called upon in such a crucial moment of Game 2 against the Cardinals, a game the Cubs absolutely had to have after dropping the NLDS opener the night before.

But to anybody following the Cubs closely over the last six weeks, it shouldn't have come as a surprise.

[RELATED - Kyle Schwarber has become larger than life during Cubs postseason run]

Since joining the Cubs, Cahill has been good. Like, really good.

He carved out a role as a high-leverage arm out of the bullpen with 11 dominant appearances to close out the regular season after he got called up just before the Sept. 1 roster expansion.

Including the playoffs, Cahill has a 2.34 ERA and 0.86 WHIP while striking out 28 batters in 19.2 innings.

Miguel Montero spent three years catching Cahill with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2012-14 and he said this is the best he's ever seen the big right-hander.

"Bottom line right here, he's throwing a lot of strikes," Montero said before Cahill picked up a win in the NLDS-clinching Game 4 Tuesday. "In Arizona, he was really wild. He was spiking fastballs, he as probably getting ahead really quick on the hitters and then he just ended up walking them.

"Right now, he's been doing a great job for us, knock on wood. He was a pretty good acquisition by the organization in late August. I was really happy when we signed him. I actually remember texting somebody in the front office saying, 'Hey, that was a great sign.'

"Sure enough, he's been looking, and like I say - knock on wood again - hopefully he stays good."

[RELATED - Chemistry matters for Cubs team taking the playoffs by storm]

Cahill was 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and earned a trip to the All-Star Game and ranked ninth in the American League Cy Young race as a 22-year-old with the Oakland A's in 2010. But his transformation into a valuable high-leverage arm has been quite striking from the pitcher he's been recently, even earlier this season.

Cahill lost his role in the Diamondbacks rotation last year and wound up with a 3-12 record, 5.61 ERA and 1.608 WHIP.

This season, he had a 7.52 ERA in 15 games with the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and was outright released by the team in late June. He signed with the Cubs as a free agent Aug. 18 and the rest is history.

"It just says a lot about [Cubs president Theo Epstein] and them for signing me," Cahill said. "I was in a place where I didn't think anybody wanted me. I was pitching batting practice in Triple-A.

"Apparently, they saw something in me. [Theo's] like, we want you to go to Triple-A and see what you can do out of the bullpen. I went there and fortunately, pitched well.

"They called me up and I didn't know what capacity they'd use me in. But I was just like, 'I'm gonna be ready all the time.' Fortunately, I've pitched well enough. I still don't know what capacity they're gonna use me in, but I'm just ready to go from the first inning to the ninth."

Cahill said he was at the point where he was seriously wondering whether he had a future in baseball at age 27 and with an All-Star nod on his resume.

But it all worked out and now he's one of Maddon's most trusted relievers, in part, because the Cubs let him be himself.

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

If that sounds familiar, it should, because it's the same story Jake Arrieta went through after struggling with the Baltimore Orioles and then finding Cy Young-level success with this Cubs pitching infrastructure.

"He was probably, mentally-wise, he lost it a little bit," Montero said. "He probably didn't have anybody helping him, behind him, and then he came here and as soon as he came here, I sat down with him and said, 'You know what, I heard you were changing your delivery in Arizona in Spring Training, I heard they changed your arm angle and whatnot, blah, blah, blah.

"I want you to be you. Just go out there and throw the ball. Just be you and don't worry about the rest. I mean, he's been impressive, man. He's probably been as good as I've ever seen him."

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.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."