Cubs

Peyton Manning set to return to game action

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Peyton Manning set to return to game action

From Comcast SportsNet

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are treating their visit to Chicago on Thursday night just like any other preseason opener.

Only, it isn't.

This marks the four-time MVP's first game of any sort since Jan. 30, 2011, when he went 2-for-5 for 12 yards and an interception in the AFC's 55-41 loss to the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

"I think he's anxious to get in there, just like all of our starters," coach John Fox said Tuesday.

Anybody who wants to see Manning's first game in 18 months had better tune in early because he won't have much more than a cameo appearance at Soldier Field.

"Well, we don't get into how much we're going to do but we'll approach it much like any first preseason games," Fox said. "Our first unit will go the first quarter -- about -- and the seconds will go the second and third quarters, and the third will finish out the fourth quarter."

That's fine with Manning.

"We'd like to get a drive or two going," Manning said. "I've always said you love to get a bit of everything in the preseason if you can. You love to get some short-yardage work, some third-down conversions, you'd love to get some red zone, goal line. In all four games, if you can get all the situations that we work on out here, that would be ideal.

"So, however long we play, or whatever Coach Fox wants to do, we're good with. We just need to play well when we're out there."

Manning missed all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that weakened his throwing arm and led to his tearful release from the Indianapolis Colts that set off the biggest free agent frenzy in NFL history. He landed in Denver and hasn't looked back.

Throughout offseason workouts, minicamp and training camp with the Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32), Manning has had plenty of zip on his passes and he's been as accurate and cerebral as ever.

Even Tuesday, when he had his share of incompletions against an ever-improving, first-string defense, Manning was sharp in his decisions.

"I wouldn't say that," Manning retorted when asked if it was a frustrating day at practice. "Every day, you're trying to get better. Certainly, there's always some things you can improve on."

Although his fused neck is actually stronger than it was pre-surgery, the next big mile marker in Manning's comeback is bouncing back from that first big hit.

Manning said he has no doubt he is ready to absorb it, although the Broncos aren't exactly eager to get that blast behind them.

"Well, you never want to see your guy the one being hit regardless of position," Fox said. "But it's all part of the game. I think he's definitely preparing himself, and we'll see how it goes Thursday night."

Manning has spent the last five months learning his new teammates and working on timing with his new targets, but he is eager to see who steps up in the preseason.

"The lights have not been on yet," Manning said. "We've had practices, we had the scrimmage Saturday, which was a game-like atmosphere, but going against a different opponent on Thursday" will provide a better gauge.

"So it's serious business out there on Thursday. There's jobs being competed for, there's jobs that people are trying to keep. That's where all of us have something to play for," he added. "Sure, you want to win the game, but everybody's competing, trying to do their jobs well."

Notes: DT Ty Warren didn't finish practice because of a stomach problem. ... Several of DT Ben Garland's defensive teammates gave him two replacement silver sabers he received upon graduating from the Air Force Academy, along with a Falcons football helmet. The originals were lost in the wildfire that destroyed his grandparents' home in Colorado Springs this summer. ... RB Knowshon Moreno made a big blunder when he ran out of bounds during a two-minute drill in which Denver's offense was trying to protect a late lead. "That's why you practice it," Fox said. "I'd rather that happen now in a practice situation vs. in a game when it counts." ... With Manning the marquee attraction, the Broncos have drawn 74,209 fans to camp. With five public practices remaining, they could double their old record of 45,124 set last year.

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. 

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.