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Adam Warren settling into a groove in Cubs camp

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Adam Warren settling into a groove in Cubs camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Adam Warren is just like everybody else: He has no idea what Joe Maddon is going to do next.

Between the "try not to suck" T-shirts, Kawasaki Karaoke, a dance party and all of the other Maddon-fueled craziness, the baseball world is taking notice.

Warren's former New York Yankees teammate, John Ryan Murphy, texted the new Cubs pitcher and asked how different camp was with this team.

"I told him, 'You come to the park, you know you're gonna laugh, but you have no idea what's gonna happen,'" Warren said. "I think that's fun. It makes it interesting to come to the ballpark. The unpredictability, you know you're gonna have fun and you know you're gonna work on baseball.

"This group of guys makes it much more enjoyable to come. It's not that it wasn't fun in other camps, I just think it's a completely different feel for me than previous ones."

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Warren has only been in Yankees camps before, entering the historic organization as a fourth-round pick in 2009 and spending six-plus years there before the Cubs acquired him for Starlin Castro over the winter.

Warren appreciates how the Cubs have fun and goof around, but also get their work in and know when to focus on the task at hand.

The 28-year-old right-hander made his first appearance in a Cubs uniform Sunday, getting the start in the team's fourth Cactus League game. He allowed three hits and two runs in the first inning before settling in and hurling a perfect second in the Cubs' 8-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Just kinda getting back in the swing of things," Warren said. "Things were moving a little faster than I wanted them to. It's kind of expected. A little jittery, anxious to get out there.

"That comes with a new team. Getting that first inning out of the way is really nice. Really encouraging for me to go out in the second inning and kinda settle down and pitch like I wanted to."

Warren admitted he was a little bit more nervous than normal in his first spring game because he wants to prove himself to his new team. But he also likes the butterflies because it helps him get ready for the regular season, too.

The Cubs are handling Warren the same way they're handling the other swingmen on the roster (Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard), stretching them all out this spring and keeping options open to push Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks in the rotation.

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At Cubs Convention back in January, Warren said the organization told him they acquired him with a role as a starting pitcher in mind, though acknowledged that might not be this season.

Warren is fine with whatever role he's in, having started 20 games and pitched 127 as a reliever in his four years in New York.

If he winds up in the bullpen, Warren said he only needs one or two outings as a reliever in the spring to feel ready for that role. 

Warren is used to a World Series or bust mentality from the Yankees, so he's been "embracing the target," so to speak, for basically his entire big-league career.

In talking about his potential role for 2016, Warren said this is a "special" season for the Cubs and just wants to help the team win however he can.

"I know how close this team feels right now," Warren said. "I'm still trying to get to know everyone. But I know the relaxed vibes here. You feel the confidence coming from guys. That's a good thing.

"Everybody knows how talented this team can be and I think that's kinda what motivates everybody to come to the field every day."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

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.