Cubs

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs drafted and developed Ian Happ with the idea of turning him into a Ben Zobrist-type player who would move quickly through the farm system and surface as a versatile big-league contributor and/or legitimate trade chip.

With Zobrist sidelined because of a sore left wrist, the Cubs got their first look at Happ playing second base in The Show during Saturday’s 5-0 loss at Dodger Stadium. That kind of depth – plugging in a 2015 first-round pick while a World Series MVP rests – should ultimately propel the Cubs over the course of a 162-game season.

Even as the Cubs stutter-step through a 25-23 start, there are enough choices for the best defensive second baseman on the team and a National League Championship Series co-MVP (Javier Baez) to sit on the bench.

“We know that the talent’s there,” Zobrist said. “It’s not like having any one or two guys out of the lineup is a big drop-off for us because of the talent that’s there. And we know that just because we have a lot of young players doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely capable of doing the job as well.”

Zobrist – who’s reached base in 23 straight games and emerged as a new leadoff option with Kyle Schwarber struggling – felt something on an awkward swing in the first inning of Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Dodgers. Zobrist played through it that night and called it a “day-to-day thing” that didn’t require an MRI.

[MORE: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Facing Clayton Kershaw on Sunday after back-to-back shutouts will be a game-time decision.

“It’s tough,” Zobrist said. “We just haven’t strung together enough quality at-bats to score runs the last two games. It’s not just because of us. They’ve pitched well. Their pitchers are pretty hot right now. They’ve spotted up. They’ve gotten early strikes where they needed to and then gone to work pretty well on us.

“The task doesn’t get any easier tomorrow with Kershaw. We just got to keep trying to chip away.”

David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

The Cubs appear to be in better position than some teams as they start Summer Camp.

When asked Friday if he feels any anxiety being back at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager David Ross indicated the club has had no players test positive for COVID-19 during intake testing this week. 

Ross told reporters in Friday's Zoom session he didn't see any additional anxiety in the players initially either when it comes to the strangeness of the new protocols.

“And I think it's comforting to know that everybody's clear and, you know, has tested negative.”

Most Cubs players took their tests on Wednesday, but the club is following MLB guidelines and has not confirmed or denied any results. Because it’s not considered a work-related injury, teams cannot announce if a player tests positive for the coronavirus without consent.

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Later in the press conference, Ross was asked if he expects any players not to be at camp Friday, outside of the injured José Quintana.

“We’re not supposed to comment I guess — I think you guys have heard all that — on testing positive or negative or any of that stuff, and so I don't wanna lead into that,” he said. “But I definitely expect everybody to be here. I haven't heard anybody's not going to be here.”

Ross was then asked to clarify if every player is cleared.

“Report times are spread out, so not everybody is actually here,” he said. “But I haven’t heard of anybody from [Cubs head athletic trainer PJ Mainville] that is not gonna be showing up today.”

MLB intends to release broad league-wide testing results as early as Friday — the number of tests conducted and how many came back positive. We've already seen several COVID-related announcements from other teams this week.

Wednesday, the Phillies quietly placed four players on the 10-day injured list. Friday, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti announced outfielder Delino DeShields has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing minor symptoms.

Former Cubs and current Angels manager Joe Maddon said Friday 9-10 players would not be participating in workouts and did not disclose why, suggesting that at least several of them have tested positive.

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What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

One more injury or a positive COVID-19 test within the starting rotation, and the Cubs will be in trouble.

Jose Quintana’s thumb injury, which is expected to keep him from throwing for two weeks, called to attention just how precarious the future of every team is this season.

"We had some concerns about our starting pitching depth,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday. “A freak injury further challenges us in that area, and we have to respond."

 

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Starting pitching is a particularly vulnerable area in general. COVID-19 can affect anyone, even a team’s ace. More reports of positive COVID-19 tests are bound to trickle out now that teams are beginning workouts Friday. And with a three-week Summer Camp expediting the ramp-up process, risk of soft-tissue injury becomes a concern for pitchers in particular.

Add into the mix a microscopic surgery on a lacerated nerve in Quintana’s left thumb – the Cubs announced on Thursday that he suffered the injury while washing dishes – and the Cubs are beginning Summer Camp already shorthanded.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Epstein said. “This this is a bump in the road that we just have to overcome.”

The baseball season could be cancelled for any number of reasons, safety as judged by the league and government officials being the most important. But MLB also has the power to suspend or cancel the season if the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.

What that means isn’t for Epstein to decide, but he declined to give an opinion on the topic Thursday.

“My understanding of what the standards would be don’t necessarily matter,” Epstein said. “It’s a question for the league. I hope we never get in that situation.”

Injuries always have the power to alter a season. But that’s even more so the case during a 60-game season. At best, Quintana’s injury could delay him a several weeks. At worst, even just a three-month recovery time would wipe out his entire season.

For now, the plan is to replace Quintana with someone like Alec Mills. Assuming Mills does win the starting job, that takes him out of his role as a middle reliever, a bullpen spot Cubs manager David Ross emphasized earlier in the week.

“It’ll be really unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the shoot,” Ross said on Monday. “That may be a bit of a challenge. … The real important areas for me right now is that swingman, your Alec Mills-types that can give you two or three innings ang get to the back end of the bullpen. Those middle innings if guys aren’t stretched out enough are going to be vitally important.”

The ripple effects from Quintana’s injury aren’t nearly enough to undermine the competitive integrity of the season. But what if several teams have their starting pitching depth dramatically affected by COVID-19? What if those teams include the Dodgers and the Yankees?

Now that MLB has started ramping up for the 2020 season, it’s incentivized to keep the season running. But as the Cubs learned this week, just one dish-washing accident can alter a team’s 2020 outlook.

 

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