Cubs

Oduro not out for revenge, just a win vs. Dynamo

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Oduro not out for revenge, just a win vs. Dynamo

Dominic Oduro and Calen Carr were the principals in what turned out a huge trade a year ago. On Sunday theyll be rivals when Oduros Fire hosts Carrs Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park.

At the beginning of last season Oduro was an under-achieving striker for the Dynamo and Carr, injury-riddled in his five seasons with the Fire, was trying to recover from a concussion. So, the teams swapped players and -- in one of those rare quirks of fate -- both teams benefitted greatly from the deal.

Oduro had a breakthrough season, scoring 12 goals to become the first Fire player since Damani Ralph in 2004 to tally in double figures. He went on to become a finalist for Major League Soccers comeback Player of the Year, an award that went to Los Angeles David Beckham.

Carr eventually recovered from his concussion, playing in nine regular season games for Houston and starting four of them. He also started all four playoff games as the Dynamo reached the MLS Cup final before losing to Beckhams Galaxy. Carr had two goals in his 11 games for the Dynamo last season, the second a game-winner in postseason play.

Sundays match will hardly be the Oduro vs. Carr show, however. The Fire (1-1-1) and the Dynamo (2-1-0) are happy to be playing again, even though neither team will be at full strength. The Fire hasnt played since a 2-0 loss at Colorado on April 1. The Dynamo has been off since March 23, a 2-0 loss at Seattle. Houstons schedule called for seven road games to open the season.

The Fire will be without veteran central defender Cory Gibbs, who is out 4-6 months after undergoing knee surgery last week, and right back Dan Gargan (sprained toe) is listed as questionable. The Dynamo will line up without three starting midfielders. Colin Clark and Adam Moffat will serve suspensions and Brad Davis has a calf strain.

Sean Johnson is projected to make his first start of the season in goal for the Fire. He was held out of the first three games after lengthy training stints with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 squad. Coach Frank Klopas gave Johnson game action in two reserve team matches (both losses) and a friendly against the University of Louisville (a 1-0 win) during the long break from MLS action. Italian rookie Paolo Tornaghi was in goal for the first three MLS games.

Carrs role with the Dynamo is uncertain. He underwent meniscus surgery in the offseason and hasnt made a start yet, though he saw 36 minutes of action in two appearances off the bench.

Oduro, though, is more than ready to go. He carried his strong season in 2011 into a fast start in 2012 and claims the trauma of the trade is in the past.

"It was devastating when the trade happened," said Oduro, "but it turned out a positive for me. I was a little surprised when it happened. It wasnt a slap in the face, but it turned out a blessing in disguise. Its in the past, and I dont think about it any longer."

The Dynamo got good without Oduro, but the Fire finished strong, too.

"(Houston) went to the finals. Obviously they played their hearts out," said Oduro. "But Im more concerned with the Chicago Fire. Whats important is that we get three points at home. Im not thinking about it being against my old team. I cant dwell on that."

Neither team could get three points at home when they met last year. Both matches ended 1-1, with Oduro getting the tying goal in the second meeting. Like last season, the Fire is 1-1-1 after three games with a loss the most recent result. After that start last year the Fire went 11 games without a win, but did finish on a 7-2-1 run to just miss the playoffs.

This time the Fire had a 1-1 draw at Montreal and a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia before the loss at Colorado.

"We had everybody back from last year," said Oduro, assessing whats happened so far. "The first game was difficult, playing a new team with their home crowd. In our home game we played well. At Colorado we could have done better, but every day is still a work in progress for us. We cant be perfect all the time. Weve got to stay disciplined, stay focused throughout the game."

On a personal level, Oduro hopes to keep scoring to impress a new coach for Ghanas national team. Both he and fellow striker Patrick Nyarko hope to make that team after getting callups by the former coach, who was recently fired.

"At the end of the day my performance here will show if Im fit (for selection)," he said. "If I do my job here, the rest will be up to the (Ghana soccer) association. We know MLS is really young and getting there. They know about us, obviously, since they did call us up to the national team."

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

MESA, Ariz. — Ben Zobrist has long been known for his versatility on the field. But it might take a new kind of versatility to get through what’s facing him for the 2018 season, being versatile when it comes to simply being on the field.

Zobrist was among several notable Cubs hitters who had a rough go of things at the plate in the follow-up campaign to 2016’s World Series run. He dealt with injuries, including a particularly bothersome one to his wrist, and finished with a career-worst .232/.318/.375 slash line.

And so, with younger guys like Javy Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. forcing their way into Joe Maddon’s lineup, it’s a perfectly valid question to ask: Has the 36-year-old Zobrist — just 15 months removed from being named the World Series MVP — been relegated to part-time status for this championship-contending club?

Obviously that remains to be seen. Joe Maddon has a way of mixing and matching players so often that it makes it seem like this team has at least 12 different “starting” position players. But Zobrist, ever the picture of versatility, seems ready for whatever is coming his way.

“I’m prepared for that, if that’s what it comes to. I told him, whatever they need me to do,” Zobrist said Sunday, asked if he’d be OK with being in a platoon situation. “You’ll see me at some different positions. As far as at-bats, though, I’ve got to be healthy. That was the biggest thing last year that kept me from getting at-bats and being productive. So if I can be healthy, I think I can play the way that I’m capable of, and the discussion then at that point will be, ‘How much can you play before we push you too far?’

“We’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench on our team at times. But no one ever rusts because you know how Joe uses everybody. You’re still going to play. Even if you don’t start, you’re probably going to play later in the game. It’s just part of the National League and the way Joe Maddon manages.”

It’s no secret, of course, that when Zobrist is on, he’s the kind of player you want in the lineup as much as possible. It was just two seasons ago that he posted a .386 on-base percentage, banged out 31 doubles, smacked 18 home runs and was a starter for the team that won the World Series.

But he also admitted that last year’s injury fights were extremely tough: “Last year was one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever had as a player.” Zobrist said that while he’s feeling good and ready to go in 2018, with his recent physical ailments and his advancing age, he’s in a different stage in his career.

“At this point in my career, I’m not going to play 158 games or whatever. I’m going to have to manage and figure out how to play great for 130,” he said. “And I think that would be a good thing to shoot for, if I was healthy, is playing 130 games of nine innings would be great. And then you’re talking about postseason, too, when you add the games on top of that, and well, you need to play for the team in the postseason, you’ve got to be ready for that, too.

“From my standpoint, from their standpoint, it’s about managing, managing my performance and my physical body and making sure I can do all that at the highest level, keep it at the highest level I can.”

Maddon’s managerial style means that Zobrist, even if he’s not technically a part of the everyday starting eight, will still get the opportunity to hit on a regular basis, get a chance to play on a regular basis. Baez figures to be locked in as the team’s No. 1 second baseman, but he’ll need days off. Maddon mentioned Sunday that Zobrist, along with Happ, have been practicing at first base in an effort to be able to spell Anthony Rizzo. It’s the crowded outfield where Zobrist could potentially see the most time. He’ll be a piece of that tricky daily puzzle along with Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and the aforementioned Almora and Happ.

Unsurprisingly, in the end that versatility, combined with how Zobrist has recovered physically and whether he can get back to how he’s produced in the past, will determine how much he will play, according to the guy writing out the lineups.

“I think he’s going to dictate that to us based on how he feels,” Maddon said. “Listen, you’re always better off when Ben Zobrist is in your lineup. He’s a little bit older than he had been, obviously, like we all are. I’ve got to be mindful of that, but he’s in great shape. Let’s just see what it looks like. Go out there and play, and we’ll try to figure it out as the season begins to unwind because who knows, he might have an epiphany and turn back the clock a little bit, he looks that good. I want to keep an open mind.

“I want to make sure that he understands we’re going to need him to play a variety of different positions. He’s ready to do it, he’s eager, he’s really ready. He was not pleased with his year last year, took time to reflect upon it and now he’s really been refreshed. So I think you’re going to see the best form of Ben Zobrist right now.”

Two years ago, Zobrist played a big enough role to go to the All-Star Game and get named the MVP of the World Series. In the present, that role might be much, much smaller. But Zobrist said he’s OK with anything, admitting it’s about the number of rings on the fingers and not the number of days in the starting lineup.

“I’m 36 as a player, so I’m just trying to win championships at this point. It’s not really about what I’m trying to accomplish as an individual,” Zobrist said. “Everybody wants to have great seasons, but I’ve told (Maddon), ‘Wherever you need me, I’m ready.’ Just going to prepare to fill the spots that need to be filled and be a great complement to what’s going on.”

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.