Bulls

Cautiously optimistic: Toews feeling better

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Cautiously optimistic: Toews feeling better

Jonathan Toews walked into the Johnnys Ice House locker room with a smile on his face. Its been a long few weeks for the Blackhawks captain, who was coming back nicely, then had a setback, and now is hopefully recovering again from his concussion.

But hes not pegging a game for his return. Not again.

Im not going to do that again, he said with a grin. Obviously that didnt work out (last time).

No, it didnt. But Toews, after skating for the fifth consecutive day - and practicing with teammates for the first time in nearly two weeks -- is nevertheless feeling better. And hes feeling that this time he could be truly turning the corner towards recovery.

Toews is confident hell play this season.

It sucks its taken this long but I feel this is it, Toews said Saturday. Mentally Im positive and telling myself that Ill get through this. Im not going to let the setbacks that have happened (before) weigh me down.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Toews jumped into a couple drills there and looked fine. Theres progress there, so well keep working at it.

Toews was feeling good after skating four straight days in early March, so good that he was targeting the Blackhawks March 13 game vs. St. Louis as a potential return date. But he suffered a setback a day or two before that, and was once again on the shelf. Toews said he wouldnt feel right when he got up in the morning, or symptoms would hit him when he came to the rink, hoping to take the ice.

Ive gotta say its probably the most frustrating thing Ive been through, he said. I had those hopes and feelings that I was going to be ready not even a week into the recovery process. Here I am past a month, still waiting to see when its going to get better the way I was three weeks ago. When you wake up every single day thinking this will be the day youll break through and things are going to happen for you, and it turns out it isnt, its tough to keep going that way.

Toews will obviously keep playing the cautious game. Even when hes deemed 100 percent, he may take another day or two to fully prepare for game action again.

Id love to be playing as soon as I can and get a couple of those games under my belt. At the same time I want to make sure Im in game shape before I go into the game, he said. I dont want to go in feeling like I still need conditioning, still need to catch up. If youre a step slow you may take a hit or two you dont want to take.

Its been a long and frustrating road for Toews. Hes hoping this is the end of the rough part of it.

I feel like Im getting back to that stage where Im progressing and getting closer to feeling the right way, he said. It was a while ago when I felt pretty much the same way I do now. Im just staying positive and hoping theres a time Ill break through.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.