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Opening Day or not, Dempster needs fast start with Cubs

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Opening Day or not, Dempster needs fast start with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. Its not that the Cubs werent working hard before, Ryan Dempster said, before making an observation that pretty much sums up the entire organization.

Theres extra motivation any time you have new bosses, Dempster said. You want to make a good first impression. I think its only human nature, so I know a lot of guys have been pushing themselves to do the best they can.

Dempster is two months shy of his 35th birthday and will make 14 million in the final year of his contract. President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer want to build this team around young players under club control.

Dempster who threw two innings and gave up one run in Mondays 8-7 loss to the Oakland As at HoHoKam Stadium doesnt want to look into the future.

All of those pieces fall into place if you just go out there and do your job, Dempster said. The easiest thing for me to do is just focus on my job, and thats preparing in between starts and every fifth day to go out there and do the best job I can of being mentally and physically prepared to pitch.

Dempster could be getting the ball on April 5 at Wrigley Field against the Washington Nationals. Matt Garza would be the other logical candidate to start Opening Day.

Manager Dale Sveum said a decision will come within the next week, and acknowledged the symbolism behind it: Yeah, that all goes into it, theres no question about it. Who had the better year, the matchups, the leadership, whos been here the longest (and) the longevity of a career.

That could favor an established veteran like Dempster, who drew the assignment last year and put up a 9.58 ERA in his first six starts, part of a month he said hes already forgotten.

(Dempster said) he had an unbelievable spring training last year where he had unbelievable command of his fastball, Sveum said. That might have got him in a little bit of trouble because he mentioned he wasnt using his secondary pitches maybe as much. He was so caught up in having great fastball command, he didnt really work on his offspeed stuff in spring training last year.

Dempster was a little more evasive: Thats a really strong possibility. I never really thought of that. Ive been working on everything this spring. My offspeed stuff is already ahead of where it was last year.

Dempster managed to rebound and finished at 10-14 with a 4.80 ERA. He accounted for 21 quality starts and more than 200 innings. His run support (3.90 average) was the lowest on the staff. There were also times where it seemed obvious he was left in one or two batters too long.

There are all kinds of ways you can make stats look how you want them to look and use excuses, Sveum said. The bottom line is he knows hes better than he showed last year and I think hes on a mission to prove that.

Coming off a down season and heading into a contract year and with new management charting every pitch it shouldnt be hard to find motivation.

Theres a bright future on the horizon, Dempster said, but theres also a bright future right now. There are a lot of good players in here. We got to go out there on the field and be about it, not just talk about it.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: