Cubs

Mooney: Leadoff questions start with DeWitt

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Mooney: Leadoff questions start with DeWitt

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 9:13 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Cowboy boots next to his locker, a crossword puzzle in his hand, Blake DeWitt doesnt act like hes owed anything. The Cubs second baseman separated his offseason into two categories: working out and bowhunting.

Especially for a former first-round pick, DeWitt is quiet and low-key and serious about his craft. Those qualities were probably noticed by front-office assistant Greg Maddux, who played with DeWitt in Los Angeles and recommended him in the Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot deal last summer.

Though only 25, this will be DeWitts eighth professional season 2010 was the first time he spent all year on the major-league level. And he continues to make adjustments.

DeWitt talked extensively with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and decided to eliminate the toe-tap mechanism from his swing, which he used throughout his rise in the Dodgers organization.

DeWitt, who grew up Missouri and enjoyed moving back to the Midwest, does not view this as a make-or-break year in his career. As a rookie in 2008, he hit .264 with nine homers and 52 RBI in 117 games for a division champion. He just wants to get back to the playoffs.

I dont necessarily set any personal goals right now, he said. I want to win the World Series and thats it. I concentrate (on) the right things and the personal stuff will fall into place.

The Cubs still dont know exactly what they have in DeWitt its only been 184 at-bats but they see youth and potential, someone who should hit to all fields and with more power.

Manager Mike Quade thinks DeWitt can grow into being the leadoff hitter, though Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome figure to be in the rotation.

It would be a huge challenge for him, Quade said, but theres probably a whole bunch of guys that have a chance (if) we have to mix and match. You always say stuff and then someone asserts himself and takes the job. And then my decisions easy.

(But) you cant lose sight of the fact that if (Fukudomes) in the lineup, (hes) the guy that fits the best of this whole group to me.

Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years.

DeWitt, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time next year, could stabilize the position. Or, six weeks from Opening Day, at least represent some possible upside in a lineup filled with players over 30.
Defending Soriano

Alfonso Soriano, who turned 35 last month, is at an age where hes no longer a threat to steal bases, and his days as a leadoff hitter are over. The Cubs hope he can still hit enough home runs to make up for his defensive lapses.

Its too early for Quade to say whether he will pull Soriano from the outfield late in close games. It will likely depend on the situation.

Look, hes not running the way he (once) did, and its a thought, Quade said Thursday. But of all the decisions Ive got right now, thats way far off in the distance. I want him to come in here expecting to play nine innings every day and to get better and continue to work and be as good as he can defensively.

Stay healthy (and) when it comes time to play ballgames and stuff, well figure out all that. Ive got other issues that are way ahead of that.

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

Why Joe Maddon sees Anthony Rizzo coming out of his slump

Why Joe Maddon sees Anthony Rizzo coming out of his slump

CLEVELAND — It goes down as two line drives in the scorebook.

Anthony Rizzo has been mired in a season-long slump (OK, that's a little dramatic given it's still not even May yet and he missed more than a week with a back injury), but he may be showing signs of getting out of it thanks to a couple of weak groundballs.

Rizzo finished Tuesday's 10-3 win over the Indians with two hits in his final two at-bats, though one hit barely made it past the pitcher's mound and the other barely made it to the outfield grass.

In fact, Rizzo's exit velocities on both balls combined was 109.2 mph, or 8 mph less than Kyle Schwarber's 117 mph homer in the second inning Tuesday.

So how can a 35.5 mph jam-shot with a hit probability of 8 percent get a player like Rizzo going?

It's all about the hands.

"When I was a hitting coach, I swear, if one of my better hitters got jammed his first at-bat, I went up to him and I said, 'I promise that's at least two line drives tonight,'" Joe Maddon relayed before Wednesday's game.

"My explanation of getting jammed is that you make a mistake with your bottom hand. Your bottom hand gets too far out, you expose the weak part of the bat to the ball, thus you get jammed. That's not a bad way to go. 

"But if you're always coming open too soon, exposing the fatter part of the bat to that particular pitch, eventually they're going to go further away. So anything you hit well is gonna be a foul ball more than likely or rolled over. So this is a better method to go — staying inside the ball, getting the head of the bat there."

Maddon pointed to how Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and how they made/make a living based off keeping their hands inside a ball and driving it to center or the other way.

That's what Maddon wants to see from not just Rizzo, but all the Cubs hitters. It's what the manager has been preaching all season, especially the last week or so, as the Cubs have seen better offensive results.

The Cubs entered play Wednesday winners of four of their last five games while the offense has cruised to a .342 average and 9 runs/game in that span. 

However, they've been doing a lot of that while Rizzo still doesn't look like Rizzo. 

He went on the disabled list with a .107 batting average and though he raised it 67 points in the six games since returning from injury, it was with only a modest .240 average in the last week with zero extra-base hits. Rizzo has just one extra-base hit on the season — a homer in the very first game of the season on March 29.

For a guy that's been remarkably consistent in his career, you can bet on Rizzo's numbers normalizing in the long run, which would be a big boost to a Cubs team currently without Kris Bryant.

And maybe it really will be a ball off the fists that traveled roughly 75 feet that gets Rizzo in a groove.

Cubs are still without Kris Bryant, but insist there's no need to worry

Cubs are still without Kris Bryant, but insist there's no need to worry

CLEVELAND — The Cubs will play a second straight game without Kris Bryant, but that doesn't mean fans should start panicking.

Bryant hasn't played since getting hit in the head in the top of the first inning in Sunday's game with a 96 mph fastball.

Bryant has been cleared by doctors in Colorado and Cleveland and will meet with the Cubs team doctor Thursday in Chicago. 

The Cubs kept their MVP third baseman out of the lineup Tuesday to give him an extra day of rest, initially hoping he'd be back Wednesday before deciding Tuesday night they should give him another day.

"He's not bad, he's fine," Joe Maddon said. "It's just one of those things. He's been seeing the doctors. There's nothing awful. It's just a matter of getting him ready to play.

"I'm not hearing anything bad. Not at all. I really anticipate good soon. If anything went the other way, I think we'd be surprised."

Head injuries are very tricky and sometimes symptoms can show up days after the initial trauma. That doesn't appear to be the case here with Bryant, but the Cubs also don't want him to rush back until he's ready physically, mentally and emotionally.

The key word there is "trauma," because it was a traumatic experience for Bryant and something he'll have to come to terms with mentally before he can step back in that batter's box.

"Sometimes that's necessary," Maddon said. "Again, he got hit, I didn't. I'm listening to him right now. So whatever he says, I'm very amenable to right now. 

"I could sense [Tuesday] he wasn't quite ready. ... I don't anticipate any long delay."

The Cubs started Tommy La Stella for a second straight game Wednesday in Bryant's place. La Stella played third base Tuesday and was originally slotted for the same spot Wednesday before a last-minute change moved him to second with Javy Baez playing the hot corner.