Bears

Cubs keeping their eyes on Wood, Marmol, bullpen help

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Cubs keeping their eyes on Wood, Marmol, bullpen help

GOODYEAR, Ariz. The Cubs bullpen is built around Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol, and right now its hard to imagine endgame situations without them.

Wood hasnt been in a game since March 18, and manager Dale Sveum doesnt expect to see the veteran reliever pitch before Thursday. Marmol will throw Monday against the San Diego Padres, his first real test since leaving a game last week with a cramp in his right hand (an MRI revealed no significant nerve injury).

Sveum has made reference to back issues, but said Sunday that it was somewhat pre-planned for Wood to get a rest as camp wound down.

It locked up on him awhile ago, (but) the back had nothing to do with it, Sveum said. Were just easing him back into the season since he had pitched already. Nothing spectacular (with) the back is going on.

Theres just no reason for any extra workload.

Does Wood have any other physical problems besides his back?

Not that I know of, Sveum said. Nothings going on there.

Sveum said he didnt think that Wood had thrown a side session in around a week. Wood has appeared in four Cactus League games, and is expected to get a few more innings before Opening Day.

Sveum has compared the situation to a starter reaching 85 pitches and then dialing back the intensity. This could be a way to preserve a 34-year-old reliever.

No matter what, the front office figures to be monitoring the market for bullpen help. When the Cubs reported to camp five weeks ago, they had already identified their eight position players, and had clear ideas about their rotation.

But the middle of the bullpen figures to be young andor inexperienced. Potential setup man Rafael Dolis is 24 years old and has pitched in only one big-league game. Lendy Castillo a Rule 5 pickconverted infielder whos never pitched above A-ball is in the mix. Its a need that could be addressed outside the organization.

You never know, Sveum said. Obviously, this is the time of spring training where people become available on waivers or (are) released because of numbers problems and they can still pitch. Yeah, theres an opportunity within the next two weeks.

Theres an above-average chance you might pick somebody up. Whether he sticks with us or not, thats another story.

Sveum repeated that nothings etched in stone when he was asked about Chris Volstad being the fourth starter, but the sense is that Randy Wells could profile well as a reliever.

Rodrigo Lopez, who could be a good veteran swingman, continued his strong spring by limiting the Cleveland Indians to two runs in 4.1 innings during Sundays 6-2 win at Goodyear Ballpark.

Andy Sonnanstine has already declined his outright to Triple-A Iowa and asked for his release, becoming a free agent. Lopez doesnt want to consider any possibility other than Wrigley Field.

My mind is in Chicago, Lopez said. This is not over yet. I wont think about that yet. Thats why I came here, asking for the opportunity to make the team and I feel like Ive been doing enough to make (it) and well see what happens.

The last two years Ive been in the same situation. Nobody says anything until the last moment.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?