Cubs

Moving to second base, Cubs won't force the issue with Castro

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Moving to second base, Cubs won't force the issue with Castro

Chicago sports fans know plenty about position battles.

Joe Maddon didn't exactly have a "Rex is our quarterback" type moment Tuesday, but he did commit to Addison Russell as the team's shortstop while Starlin Castro worked out at second base.

Maddon said even when Castro and Russell are in the lineup at the same time, Castro will be at second and Russell will stay at short.

[RELATED - Anthony Rizzo thinks Starlin Castro will be fine]

Castro took some ground balls at second base Tuesday afternoon and then again during batting practice.

"I'm eager to see Starlin at second base," Maddon said. "... I'm curious to see it. He's done it, he's very excited about it, he likes it. You're gonna see it. I don't know exactly when, but you're gonna see it."

Since he was moved to the bench over the weekend, Castro has sat out three straight games while Maddon has inserted Jonathan Herrera in at second as a defensive replacement for Chris Coghlan.

But, that's also been by design as Maddon wanted to make sure Castro got some work at second base and felt comfortable there, while also keeping his bat on the bench for a potential key pinch-hitting opportunity late in games.

"I'd really like to get him in there, but I don't want to force it," Maddon said. "I want to make sure that it's organic and that it's appropriate.

"Playing Jonny over him in these games is not a slight to Starlin. It's strategical in the sense that if the game went the other way again - which they all could have - that his bat was available to us."

Maddon is currently working with a four-man bench, meaning his options are limited.

[MORE - Cubs evolving under Joe Maddon's 'mad scientist' method]

Tommy La Stella - who was part of the mix at second base and third base to begin the season before an oblique injury derailed his season - came off the disabled list Tuesday, but was immediately optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

Javy Baez is still playing well in the minors (.904 OPS), but he doesn't factor into Maddon's equation at the moment.

Maddon wouldn't even commit to leaving the 21-year-old Russell at shortstop no matter what happens.

"I don't know that. He's the shortstop right now; I'll concede that," Maddon said. "He's the shortstop of the future, absolutely. You gotta get Javy here and playing and being successful to really even consider that.

"... Addy's looking like the guy everybody thought he was gonna be. Javy's still getting his way back here. And Starlin, we're trying to get him back on his feet.

"After the game the other day, after we won, [Castro] came up to me and wanted me to know what a great series it was and how happy he was. Not in a phony way. He was very genuine and I thought that was pretty solid on his part."

Maddon said Castro will get the start at second base against left-handed pitchers (while left-handed-hitting Coghlan would likely slide to the bench), but also said the 25-year-old may see some time at third base, too, even though he hasn't worked out there yet.

In his big-league career, Castro has only played shortstop, logging 838 games there. In the minors, he played 27 games at second base and seven at third base, but none at either position since he was an 18-year-old in 2008 in rookie ball.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

Castro is all for moving anywhere as long as his name finds its way into the lineup.

"I don't mind it. I just want to play," he said. "No matter where they have to put me, I just want to play and be in the lineup. Doesn't matter if it's at second or at short."

Castro said he feels comfortable at second base and he reinforced the team-first mindset he's shown during his time with the Cubs.

For the first time since he got to Chicago in 2010, Castro is playing on a contender and he's loving it.

"Whatever can help the team win," he said. "We don't think about 'me,' we think about 'us.' It's about the team now."

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.”