Maddie Lee

How Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks strengthened his case to start Opening Day

How Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks strengthened his case to start Opening Day

The Cubs haven’t yet announced their Opening Day starter, but Kyle Hendricks made a strong case for himself Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage was the closest the Cubs have had come to a real game all Summer Camp. An MLB umpiring crew joined the team on the field. The Cubs played eight innings, two more than they’d reached before. And Hendricks was dominant.

The right-hander threw over six scoreless innings. With the flexibility of an intrasquad setting, Kyle Schwarber’s fly out to right was the third, but not the final, out of the sixth.  News rippled through the field that they were staying out for one more batter.

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Hendricks had thrown 66 pitches – a number the Cubs could work with on opening day – but even an extra batter didn’t mar his outing. Jason Heyward grounded out to first base.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has put extra emphasis on in-game recovery during this three-week Summer camp.

“Obviously we want to get the pitch count ramped up,” Hottovy said this week, “but getting those up and downs too is equally important to see how your body recovers in between innings and how you feel.”

In that area, Hendricks has progressed further than any other Cubs pitcher.

Yu Darvish started for the opposite team Tuesday and is the other obvious candidate to start on Opening Day. But Darvish threw less than four innings and gave up a home run to Willson Contreras—it was the catcher’s third homer of Summer Camp. Darvish also walked two batters, including leadoff hitter Kris Bryant in the first inning.

Still, nothing is decided.

“We might have a pending test in two days and have to shuffle our entire schedule and rotation,” Hottovy said Monday. “A lot of this is going to be how we get through this next week healthy, with the testing protocols in place. And then we can start really lining up what we want to do when it starts.”

The Cubs open the season against the Brewers at Wrigley Field on July 24.

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How the MLB shutdown helped Steven Souza Jr. get ready for the season

How the MLB shutdown helped Steven Souza Jr. get ready for the season

Steven Souza Jr. called the extra time to get ready for the 2020 season “a silver lining in a tough time for the world and for baseball.”

Souza, 31, missed the entire 2019 season due to a serious knee injury – he underwent surgery to repair damage to the ACL, LCL PCL and posterior lateral capsule in his left knee. He signed as a free agent with the Cubs in January and played 10 Cactus League games with the team before the coronavirus pandemic shut down Spring Training.

“But having three more months to add strength and get into shape couldn’t have been better for me,” he said Tuesday. “I was able to test the waters in Spring Training and come back home and know what I needed to improve on. And I did that, and it was awesome.”

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Souza is traditionally a right fielder, but he could see some time in left and as a designated hitter this year. Souza insists he doesn’t need any extra games at DH to ease into the season.

“Wherever Rossy (manager David Ross) wants to put me, I’m going to do the best I can out there,” Souza said. “Having said that, I feel completely confident to handle as much work as possible from the outfield. I feel I’m able to run around every single day to date in these summer camps, where there’s no days off. We’re going every day, and that’s a true test for me that I’m ready to go.”

RELATED: Steven Souza’s rousing David Ross endorsement: 'He’s built for this job'

Souza said he didn’t take any breaks from hitting once Spring Training was cancelled. He took live batting practice at his Base by Pros facility just outside of Seattle, for about a month and a half. He faced pitchers including Cubs right-hander Casey Sadler and Yankees righty Dan Otero.

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What the Cubs' Summer Camp testing delays mean for the regular season

What the Cubs' Summer Camp testing delays mean for the regular season

A silhouette appeared at the top of a Wrigley Rooftops building beyond right field, backlit by the bright sky over Lake Michigan.

The Cubs players huddled up the third baseline Monday morning raised their hands and shouted. The figure acknowledged them and made his way down through the rooftop stadium seats, his dog by his side. It was Cubs manager David Ross.

“I got a nice seat over there," he said Tuesday, after returning to the team. "I got to watch the practice. The energy was good. I could hear the guys.”

Ross and five other Tier 1 individuals kept a safe distance from Wrigley Field on Monday, while waiting for COVID-19 test results. Despite frequent delays, Cubs leadership, from Ross to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to general manager Jed Hoyer, has expressed confidence that the testing process will only get smoother.

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On Tuesday Ross described Summer Camp as “a great testing time for them to iron some things out.”

He added: “We’re dealing with circumstances that have never been dealt with before.”

Since the clubs settled into an every-other-day testing schedule, the Cubs have pushed back workouts twice and were missing players once while waiting for test results. During that period, the team has been tested five times. Ross said he expects the results of the most recent tests, which the Cubs took Monday, by Tuesday night.

So, delays have become the norm in the first week and a half of Summer Camp. Is that what the Cubs can expect during the regular season?

“Every day there’s more and more improvements,” Ross said. “There’s another site opening up on the East Coast that should help put a lot from just sheerly the time zone constraints. … There’s going to be some adjustments to routing.”

On Monday, the issue arose from batch testing. By the afternoon, the Cubs had received the results of five of the pending tests – all negative, NBC Sports Chicago confirmed. The sixth case, which was not a player or Ross, required a new test. The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney first reported the test results.

Ross noted in a press release that “situations like this have not been a worrisome indicator of a positive test result to date,” but he and the other five affected individuals would not attend Monday’s workouts “out of an abundance of caution.”

He didn’t go far.

“It was miserable,” Ross said. “Your team’s here working and you want to be a part of it, and there’s no way around that.”

Missing six Tier 1 individuals for a morning workout: a minor inconvenience. But what will the league do if the same issue arises the day of a game, especially an afternoon game?

“You’re very, very rarely going to have an instance when five guys are hurt on the same day,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “So, when we get these pending test, that’s the unique part about this, is when are we going to get them back?

“If we had five pending tests and … one was a, let’s say, starting pitcher, one was your starting second baseman, one was your starting catcher, that’s a huge chunk of your team that day. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how the protocols come into place about those pending tests.

Ross said the league is still working to address those issues.

 

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