Cubs

How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3

How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3

He expected to be excitable and was early in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday afternoon. But Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana also managed to surprise himself in the process.

Even though a raucous Wrigley Field crowd provided him with more emotions than he’d ever experienced, Quintana’s pregame preparation and an abundance of first-pitch strikes helped calm him down.

The combination was more than enough to get Quintana going. Once he did, the 2016 All-Star pitcher found another gear and managed to exceed the perhaps unfair hype created by the midseason blockbuster trade that brought him to the Cubs from the White Sox in mid-July. Quintana allowed an unearned run and two hits in 5 2/3 innings and the Cubs rallied for a critical 2-1 victory over the Washington Nationals to take a 2-1 series lead.

“I was surprised at me being in control because sometimes we try to do too much,” Quintana said. “That happens. That’s part of baseball. But I enjoyed that time and we did a good pregame and all my stuff was good.”

Quintana has experienced a number of big moments throughout his career from the All-Star Game to the World Baseball Classic to last month’s pennant race.

But the left-hander had never faced the kind of test that only October baseball provides. Even he wondered before Sunday’s workout if he’d be amped up when he stepped on the mound.

As expected, he was.

Quintana said the reception from the Wrigley crowd was different than anything he’d experienced and was nervous. But aside from one pitch, manager Joe Maddon didn’t see much different in Quintana’s demeanor.

“He overboogied on the third pitch, that elevated fastball to (Trea) Turner,” Maddon said. “Otherwise he really controlled his emotions.”

Just as they planned, Quintana was aggressive against a powerful Nationals lineup and littered the zone with strikes. He threw nine strikes in 13 first-inning pitches, including all three first pitches, and induced three weak grounders. In all, Quintana threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 22 hitters.

[MORE: 5 biggest keys to Cubs' thrilling Game 3 win]

And that was all he needed to keep pace with Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

“When he’s throwing strikes, it’s tough to get on him,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “Any time you hit those spots and he’s throwing strikes and mixing it up as well as he was, getting some swings and misses, you know he’s on.”

Not only did Quintana hit his spots, he had great stuff with 14 swings and misses among his 96 pitches, including six with his curveball. That led to seven strikeouts and only walk.

The combination of stuff, hitting spots and thorough trust of the gameplan provided Quintana with enough to navigate the Washington lineup with little trouble.

“He has a lot of conviction in what he’s doing,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. “You can see it in his eyes. He prepared himself before the game, a few days before the game. That’s a good thing for us.”

“He was amazing. We did everything he wanted. He was cool, had a good pace. He slowed it down a lot. That was a huge key for us.”

Contreras said Quintana was in such a rhythm that he didn’t want to bother him on the bench because Quintana was so dialed into the game. About the only thing that did bother Quintana was a pair of third-inning errors that jeopardized the scoreless contest. With two outs, a Zobrist error extended a rally, putting runners on the corners. Quintana missed on the next two pitches to Anthony Rendon, but got him to fly out to deep right-center.

Quintana only got stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the fifth. He threw a curve in the dirt to get Harper swinging to start the sixth. Rendon grounded out weakly and Quintana would have gotten through six if Kyle Schwarber didn’t drop Daniel Murphy’s lazy fly to left, one of four Cubs errors.

Though Quintana didn’t get a chance to strand Murphy on third, he was more than pleased with how he handled the moment.

“I think in the past sometimes I’ve been a little quick in the stretch,” Quintana said. “I just tried to be relaxed and just hit my spots. That’s all I tried to do and that worked good.”

“Honestly, I was a bit nervous in the first inning. I was (off) a couple pitches. After that, I tried to be focused.”

“It was amazing.”

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

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USA TODAY

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

The Cubs finalized their minor league staffs for 2018 on Thursday, making changes at numerous staff positions.

The organization has retained managers Marty Pevey (Triple-A Iowa), Mark Johnson (Double-A Tennessee), and Buddy Bailey (Single-A Myrtle Beach) and Jimmy Gonzalez (Single-A South Bend). New to the organization is former Philadelphia Phillies' catcher Steven Lerud. Lerud, 33, will manage Single-A Eugene in 2018.

Eugene also added Jacob Rogers to its staff as assistant hitting coach. Rogers, 28, played in the Cubs organization from 2012-2016. Also new to the organization is Paul McAnulty, who is the new assistant hitting coach for South Bend. McAnulty, 36, played in parts of four seasons with the Padres from 2005-2008 and with the Angels in 2010. He recently served as a coach in the Angels' system in 2016.

Those with new roles for 2018 include Chris Valaika, who is now an assistant coach with Triple-A Iowa. Valaika, 32, began his coaching career last season with rookie league Mesa after playing ten seasons professionally. The former utility player hit .231 in 44 games with the Cubs in 2014.

Like Valaika, former Cubs' farmhand Ben Carhart has a new role with the organization for 2018. Carhart, 27, is now an assistant coach with South Bend after serving as a rehab coach with Mesa last season. From 2012-2016, he hit .270 in 372 minor league games, all in the Cubs' organization.

The Cubs also announced their minor league coordinators for 2018. Holdovers include Darnell McDonald and John Baker. McDonald played for the Cubs in 2013 and will return for his fourth season as the organization's mental skills coordinator. Baker, who played for the Cubs in 2014, will return for his second season as a mental skills coordinator.

Jeremy Farrell returns to the organization for a third season, although 2018 will be his first as the Cubs' minor league infield coordinator. Farrell played in the White Sox farm system from 2013-2015 and is the son of former Red Sox and Blue Jays' manager John Farrell.

Here is a complete list of the organization's major league training staff and minor league managers and staff for 2018: