Cubs

Bears clearly thinking bigger

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Bears clearly thinking bigger

During his first public session as Bears general manager, Phil Emery pointedly described the NFL as a big-mans game. Lovie Smiths demand for speed would always be uppermost in most personnel thinking but the Bears, who had looked to get bigger on the offensive line over the past half-dozen years, were going to do it elsewhere as well.

That commitment was amply apparent in the unveiling of the expanded preseason roster, the rookies of which were working at Halas Hall this weekend.

The 2011 Bears had only one receiver taller than 6 feet (Roy Williams at 6-3) and generously listing Earl Bennett at 6 feet.

Besides veterans Brandon Marshall (6-4) and Devin Thomas (6-2) coming in for OTAs later this month, the Bears roster for rookie minicamp includes only one receiver shorter than 6 feet. No. 2 pick Alshon Jeffery is 6-3.

Marshall is a mismatch receiver, Emery said. He creates problems for corners. The average corner around the league is 5-11 and a lot of them are shorter than that. He creates a problem for them from the get-go just from his structure.

Indeed, two of the Bears top three cornerbacks last season -- left corner Tim Jennings and nickel corner D.J. Moore -- were sub-5-10.

Veteran signees Kelvin Hayden (6-0) and Jonathan Wilhite (5-10) already bump up the average.

And all of the Bears three draft choices in the secondary -- safety Brandon Hardin (6-3), corners Isaiah Frey (6-0) and Greg McCoy (5-10) -- moved the size needle in the direction of the receivers that afflict the Bears in the NFC North.

It's tough to take an undersized player as a depth player and in your mind he's going to continue to ascend and hasn't already reached a ceiling, Emery said. You want take players and be oriented toward players that are bigger, stronger, faster, so they can continue to develop in that role and possibly hit on a starter."

Ironically, No. 1 draft choice Shea McClellin held to the course of speed and functional strength over simple size, at 6-3, 260 pounds. But even McClellin already is weightier than predecessors Mark Anderson and Alex Brown, who played at 250 pounds or below.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

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USA TODAY

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

Explaining the roster move as Cubs switch backup catchers

Explaining the roster move as Cubs switch backup catchers

Chris Gimenez is in.

Victor Caratini is out.

Gimenez will not be Yu Darvish's personal catcher.

OK, we all caught up?

It's a lot more complicated than that, but those are the three main takeaways from the Cubs' early roster moves Saturday afternoon as they optioned Caratini back to Triple-A Iowa, recalled the veteran Gimenez and designated first baseman Efren Navarro for assignment to make room for Gimenez on the 40-man roster.

Then, roughly 45 mins before Saturday's game was to start, the Cubs announced they were placing Darvish on the disabled list with right triceps tendinitis.

Gimenez, 35, has been friends with Darvish since he was the pitcher's personal catcher with the Texas Rangers in 2014.

Darvish's last two starts have been solid but overall he's struggled since signing a $126 million deal with the Cubs prior to the season. Many have thought Gimenez could help make the dynamic starting pitcher feel more comfortable.

The Cubs were also faced with losing Gimenez on June 1, the date of the opt-out in his contract if he were not called up to the big leagues by that point. So the Cubs were on the clock.

"It has nothing to do with [catching Darvish]," Maddon said. "I can sit here and try to explain that and I think there'll be skeptics. It has nothing to do with that at all. It's all about Caratini's development.

"This is something we talked about in spring training. Not to say that Gimmy might not catch him in the future, but this move was purely based on Caratini and the fact that Gimenez is available, veteran, can sit on the bench in a manner that you don't feel like you're injuring their development."

Maddon managed Gimenez with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012-13 and knows he can trot the journeyman out in the outfield, first base or even on the mound.

Gimenez also has 9 career appearances as a pitcher, including 6 last season with the Minnesota Twins where he allowed 4 runs in 5 innings.

He's not sure yet how he'll be used, but is ready for anything, including lending moral support to the injured Darvish.

"From top to bottm, this is a class organization," Gimenez said. "Nothing but class. They treat you with respect, with dignity and it's just fun to be able to get to experience that up here now. It's still your dream, it doesn't matter how old you are.

"Any day you get to spend up here is a blessing and I'm just thankful for it. I'm excited to do whatever the heck they want me to do. I'll be a cheerleader, I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Of course, he's been watching every single one of Darvish's starts in a Cubs uniform.

"I wouldn't be a good person if I haven't. ... I'll text him a few things here and there and apparently it hasn't worked very good," Gimenez joked. "Hopefully I can cheer him on and he'll work through it. He'll be just fine.

"I know it's almost June now, but I think there is that little bit of that grace period that we all don't wanna have, but you kind of have to have it - getting to know guys. Spring training is one thing, but when you get out here in the real deal, it's a little different.

"I think eventually it's gonna turn around for him and he'll be fine. I'll be here to make fun of him to do it."

The Cubs believe they have the most talented catcher in baseball in Willson Contreras, so it was difficult to sit him and find time for the 24-year-old Caratini.

Caratini started just 8 games at catcher this season and 5 at first base when Anthony Rizzo was injured last month. He's had just 69 plate appearances and only 13 trips to the batter's box since May 8.

With the extra off-days added into the schedule this season plus the unexpected days off due to rain, the Cubs have been able to lean on Contreras more than they anticipated in spring training.

This week is a perfect example, where the Cubs were off Monday and Thursday, then a day game Friday, a night game Saturday and then a night game Sunday, so Contreras could play all 5 games the Cubs had this week while also getting plenty of rest.

The Cubs don't have much catching depth in the system beyond Contreras, Caratini and Gimenez and it would've been silly to let Gimenez leave the organization given his background with Darvish and the high chance of injury catchers face on a regular basis.

Gimenez has 9 years of experience in the big leagues with 361 games under his belt, but he said he had no trouble staying patient waiting for the call to Chicago.

"Really, you take it a day at a time and if it happened, it happened. If it didn't, I understood that, too," Gimene said. "I'm sad for Vic because I don't feel like he deserved it and I feel like he's done a great job up here. 

"But kinda knowing that coming into it that was something that could happen and it's just gonna further develop his career."

The Cubs have raved about Caratini's at-bats, attitude and work ethic, but they also don't want one of their top prospects (who hit .342 with a .951 OPS in Triple-A last season) just rotting away on the bench as they try to live up to the World Series expectations bestowed upon this team.

"Not playing Caratini enough really bums me out," Maddon said. "That bothers me a lot. And he needs to play, so we gotta get him out playing again. Something will occur here where we're gonna need him on a more consistent basis.

"You know that it's likely to happen or if it doesn't, to just lose a year of development for him is just really sinful. So we wanted to get him out there to play and knowing he's gonna be back here relatively soon."