Cubs

Steve Cishek ready to play multiple roles for Cubs, including recruiter

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USA TODAY

Steve Cishek ready to play multiple roles for Cubs, including recruiter

Steve Cishek hasn't yet thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform, but he has no problem playing recruiter for his new team, including even trying to bring John Lackey back. 

Though that's mostly for his own personal gain.

When he had to choose a new jersey number, Cishek couldn't select No. 23 (Ryne Sandberg) or 31 (Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux) since they're retired and many of the other numbers in the 20s and 30s were taken up. So the veteran reliever wound up choosing No. 41 and found out Thursday it was actually Lackey's number the last two years.

"Maybe if he re-signs in Chicago, I can get something good from him for the number," Cishek joked Thursday at the Cubs Caravan Service Day at Kilmer Elementary School on Chicago's far north side.

Towering over a plethora of grade school kids, Cishek finally had his "Welcome to Chicago" moment while walking in front of Sandberg and Clark the Cub.

The 31-year-old right-handed submariner signed with the Cubs on the last day of the MLB Winter Meetings in mid-December, thus ensuring he would not be a casualty of this historically slow offseason.

Cishek isn't keeping his recruiting pitches to just Lackey, however. After playing with Alex Cobb the last few months of the 2017 with the Rays, Cishek has reached out to the free agent starter to see how things have been going on the open market.

Cobb has been linked to the Cubs since before the offseason even officially started and those talks only increased when Cobb's former pitching coach Jim Hickey joined Joe Maddon's staff.

"He's worked so hard just to get to this point in his career, you might as well enjoy it," Cishek said. "He's enjoying it, I think. It's just moving a little slower than we all thought.

"It'd be nice to see him in a Cubs uniform. He's a tremendous teammate, a good friend and obviously a tremendous competitor and someone you want on your team."

That may be as far as Cishek's recruiting prowess goes, but it didn't take him much convincing to join the Cubs and he figures to be a big part of the pitching plan the next two seasons.

Cishek loved the idea of pitching for a contender and a historic franchise like the Cubs. But he also was drawn to all the day games that will allow him to see his family for breakfast and dinner most gamedays.

Cishek - who has 121 career saves - knows he's joining a bullpen that has several arms in the closer mix and Brandon Morrow penciled in as the ninth-inning option as of right now.

He hasn't spoken to the Cubs about a specific role in the bullpen and will be ready for whatever comes his way.

"I genuinely want to do whatever it takes to help the team win," Cishek said. "I signed here to win ballgames. If they want me coming in the fifth inning to get out of a jam - or the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth inning - it doesn't matter to me. I'm comfortable in any situation."

Like Cobb, Cishek is also familiar with Hickey and loves the pitching coach's dry sense of humor and old-school style. 

In 26 games under Hickey's tutelage in Tampa Bay to close out last season, Cishek posted a sparkling 1.09 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, striking out 26 batters in 24.2 innings. He credited a big part of that success to Hickey's style of conveying a scouting report that sets pitchers up for success without overwhelming them with information.

Cishek is about to enter his ninth big-league season and has spent his entire career coming out of the bullpen. He's already made more than $21 million in his time in baseball and while his two-year, $13 million pact with the Cubs isn't the type of money a lot of back-end bullpen options have received on the open market recently, Cishek couldn't pass up on an opportunity to join the Cubs and be a part of something special.

He also knows relievers have never been as important as they are today.

"A lot of position players will argue that we're like the kickers of baseball," Cishek said, "but kickers have a pretty big responsibility in football. A lot of times, the game's on the line for them. I'll take that parallel.

"We're expected to go out there and put a zero up on the board and if we do, no one really notices. When things don't go well, everyone notices. 

"So it makes the job pretty tough... But yeah, that's the way the game's gone now - gotta lock down the last three innings."

The only think Cishek isn't ready for is having his dance moves - which he admitted are seriously lacking - blasted out to the public via the video board and Cubs Twitter. 

But he's got plenty of time to come up with some dance moves before the Cubs' first game at Wrigley Field April 9.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.