Cubs

Where does Justin Grimm fit in Cubs bullpen?

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Where does Justin Grimm fit in Cubs bullpen?

MESA, Ariz. — It's still early in spring training (Cactus League games haven't even started yet), but it's already a given Justin Grimm will be a part of the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen if healthy.

The question is: In what role?

Joe Maddon isn't one to adopt or announce specific roles for pitchers in his bullpens, but when asked Monday, the Cubs manager offered up another year of the 27-year-old right-hander filling in as the team's "mid-innings closer" again while acknowledging there is room for that role to expand.

"Yeah, I do," Maddon said. "He could keep growing. This guy's got the kind of stuff that finishes games. I think as he pitches more consistently, as he gets older, you'll see more.

"He's got great stuff. He's got a great attitude. He's a great teammate. He's all of the above. As he gets more comfortable mentally just handling the latter part of the game, he'll be able to do it.

"Going into this year, I'd be happy if he was able to fulfill the same role he did last year."

[RELATED: Cubs set pitching rotation for beginning of Cactus League schedule]

Grimm, however, sees things a little differently. He wants the ball in the late innings in high-pressure situations.

"I've talked to Joe about it. He knows I value myself more than that middle relief connotation they put on it," Grimm said. "I think we're on the same page with that — me and Joe are.

"I'm just here to help this team get to what we want to do. I gotta put my personal things to the side for the team."

Grimm dropped the standard company line in Cubs camp, as everybody works toward pulling the rope in the same direction.

[RELATED: Maddon continues to do 'whatever it takes' to bring Cubs together with crazy Leap Day celebration]

But it still represents a shift in thinking for Grimm, who mentioned each of the last two years that he still envisions himself a starter in the big leagues, but now has taken to the relieving role.

"I truly think I'm getting better with it," Grimm said. "Learning day-to-day, what it takes to stay strong, stay fresh.

"It's just getting that mindset. I think I'm continuing to grow with it."

Grimm has found success as a reliever since coming to the Cubs from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza back in July 2013.

In 2014, he led the Cubs in appearances, putting up a 3.78 ERA in 73 games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Last year, he got a late start to the season with a forearm injury, but still wound up with 15 holds, three saves and a 1.99 ERA in 62 games.

Grimm also struck out 67 batters in 49.2 innings, ranking ninth in Major League Baseball in K/9 (12.1) among pitchers with at least 40 innings — right up there with some of the top closers in the game like Aroldis Chapman (15.7 K/9), Andrew Miller (14.6), Kenley Jansen (13.8) and Craig Kimbrel (13.2).

This year, regardless of role, Grimm just wants to keep the momentum rolling. He feels comfortable in all his pitches, but knows he needs to use his fastball, too.

"I just wanna build off last year," Grimm said. "It was a great year, but I always expect more out of myself. I'd like to tone down the walks.

"I have the kind of stuff where I'm able to attack the zone and pitch within the zone. I'm just realizing that I have to be on the attack more. I'm at my best when I'm going right after guys."

Is this catch by Reed Johnson the best of the last decade?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Is this catch by Reed Johnson the best of the last decade?

Ten years ago today, Reed Johnson had one of the best catches in a Cubs uniform.

On April 26, 2008, the Cubs outfielder made a spectacular diving catch off of Nationals' Felipe Lopez's liner to center field. Johnson had to run to his right in what felt like a mile to track down. He then dove for it on the warning track going head first into the wall. Remember this?

How he caught it? Not sure. And how he didn't get hurt? Don't know that either.

But a lot of members on the Cubs at the time raved about the catch (Len Kasper's call was also phenomenal), and joked that they're happy it didn't happen on W. Addison St.

"At Wrigley Field they might have had to call a timeout to find his head in the vines," manager Lou Piniella said after that game.

There have been some outstanding catches since that catch in 2008. Jason Heyward's diving grab in San Francisco, Javier Baez's catch against the Miami Marlins where he dove into the crowd, Anthony Rizzo's tarp catches. There are a handful of them. 

But where does this one rank?

How often do the Cubs think about Game 7?

How often do the Cubs think about Game 7?

CLEVELAND — Diehard Cubs fans probably think about that epic Game 7 every day, right?

It was — arguably — the greatest baseball game ever played given the stakes (a winner-take-all to end one of the two biggest championship droughts in the sport) and all the wild moments.

The highlights still have the power to give Cubs fans chills 18 months later:

But how often do the guys who took part in that game think about those moments?

This week, as the Cubs split a series with the Cleveland Indians and walked the same steps and sat in the same seats and put their stuff in the same lockers as they did almost exactly a year-and-a-half ago, the nostalgia was undeniable.

The first thing Addison Russell noticed was how he was at the same locker (many Cubs were) as the World Series and the visiting locker room carpet was redone.

He also admitted it felt surreal, almost like a dream.

Kyle Schwarber made that Hollywood-style comeback to be able to DH for the four World Series games at Progressive Field, but he doesn't think about his journey back from a devastating knee injury.

No, he preferred to focus on the Cubs' comeback from down 3-1 in the series.

"I like to think about the World Series," Schwarber said. "I really don't think about all that other stuff. I just think about the games that we played. Pretty much all the resiliency and everything right there that we had and how we faced adversity.

"I don't think anyone here doesn't think about it, because I always think about it all the time. It's that moment that we all live for and it's an addicting feeling and we want to get there again, so we just gotta take it a step at a time."

On the other side of the coin, Cubs manager Joe Maddon insists he doesn't spend time looking in the past.

"Not unless I'm asked about it," Maddon said. "I think I'm really good about turning pages and not even realizing it. I often talk about present tense and I think I'm pretty good about it. Unless it's brought up, I don't go there."

Admittedly, a lot has changed for these Cubs since then.

With World Series MVP Ben Zobrist currently on the disabled list, only 13 of the 25 active Cubs were also active in Game 7.

And given this 11-10 team has "World Series or bust" expectations on the 2018 campaign, there's work to be done and not much time to focus on the past.

Take David Bote — a 2012 Cubs draft pick who was just called up to make his MLB debut last weekend — who watched the road to end a 108-year title drought from afar, but is now in the midst of a bid at a new iteration of Even Year Magic.

"The organization does a great job of being all together and we're in one spot [in spring training], so you get to see and experience it with them," Bote said. "Here, what we're talking about is today and how we can win today. We don't really talk about what happened in the past in '16."