Cubs

Braun tests positive for PEDs

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Braun tests positive for PEDs

The path to the NL Central title for the Cubs may have just gotten a little easier.

YokalSports.com first reported on their Twitter account that reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Braun faces a possible 50-game suspension, but he will dispute the positive test through arbitration.

After news of the positive test broke on Saturday, a spokesman for Braun issued this statement:

"There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program."

The spokesman went on to praise Braun's character and try to push any doubt aside that Braun is indeed innocent.

"While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident he will ultimately be exonerated."

According to Tyler Barnes, a spokesman for the Brewers, the commissioners office had yet to contact the team and Milwaukee didn't know anything about the positive test. ESPN's Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn claim Braun told people close to him that he had no knowledge of taking PED's and the arbitration will prove he's innocent.

After signing a five-year contract extension for 105 million, Braun had the best season of his career. He hit .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBI and recorded 33 stolen bases and led the Brewers to their first division title since 1982. Milwaukee was within two games of the NL Pennant when they were eliminated in the NLCS, 4-2 by the World Series Champion, St. Louis Cardinals.

Cubs bullpen updates: Craig Kimbrel takes a step forward while Brandon Morrow remains a question mark

Cubs bullpen updates: Craig Kimbrel takes a step forward while Brandon Morrow remains a question mark

Before Pedro Strop served up the go-ahead homer to former top prospect Eloy Jimenez in the ninth inning Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs got some good news on their bullpen as Craig Kimbrel took a step forward while Brandon Morrow remains status quo.

Obviously the pair of closers are on completely different trajectories. Kimbrel is coming off an elongated free agency period and is just working up to game form while Morrow is still on an injury comeback trail that is approaching the one-year mark.

Kimbrel threw a perfect seventh inning in relief for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday, needing only 8 pitches to get his job done. The Cubs don't have a specific plan for his next step, but acknowledged it would be another relief outing for Iowa probably on Thursday or Friday. 

"He's trending in the right direction," GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. "Obviously he's feeling good, but we're not gonna rush him or make judgment on any one outing. We're just gonna take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the remainder of the season."

This was the first game action of any kind for Kimbrel since Oct. 27 when he appeared in Game 4 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. He signed with the Cubs nearly two weeks ago now and threw his first bullpen at Wrigley Field on June 8 before going to Arizona to throw another bullpen and face hitters in live batting practice.

As dominant as Kimbrel was in the one inning — Hoyer joked Kimbrel may have to purposely walk a guy next time out just to get more extended time in the rehab game — don't expect the Cubs to get aggressive and push him now. It's still hard to see any scenario in which he's in the big-league bullpen on this current homestand (that runs through June 27).

The Cubs didn't sign Kimbrel to rush him and risk injury when they want him to lock down the back end of the bullpen down the stretch in September and then in what they hope is a long playoff run in October.

The original plan called for Kimbrel to throw in back-to-back outings in the minor leagues, and the Cubs haven't indicated any change to that.

"[I'm just looking for] good health," Joe Maddon said. "He felt good, velocity was there, the break on the breaking ball was good, the velocity on the breaking ball was very good. It's just about health. If the guy's healthy and ready to rock and roll, you put him in the ninth inning. That's pretty much what we're looking forward to."

Kimbrel would obviously be a huge shot in the arm to the entire Cubs roster whenever he's able to walk through those clubhouse doors, but they could also receive another boost if Morrow is somehow able to get healthy and on the right track.

Morrow — the former Cubs closer — has been out since last July, going on the shelf at that point with what was originally described as biceps tendinitis. It was later revealed to be a bone bruise and he actually had to undergo a minor surgery on his right elbow over the offseason. 

The Cubs knew they'd be without Morrow for at least the first month of 2019, but the veteran then experienced a setback and still hasn't gotten back in a game. But he's been throwing from about 135 feet, Hoyer said, and feeling OK at the moment.

"With Brandon, we've been down this road a few times where he feels good and he has a setback, so I don't want to be overly optimistic," Hoyer said. "I don't want to be pessimistic. This is where he is. Obviously getting him back would be such an incredible bonus for us at this point. 

"We just want him to be healthy. I feel awful for him. No one is more disappointed or more frustrated than he is. Hopefully this time through, it works for him.

"...It's hard — you have to build your way back up. You don't really get a true sense of what it's gonna be like until you throw in games or throw in live bullpens because that's when the real stress pitches come in."

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

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AP

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

Kyle Hendricks' shoulder injury isn't opening the door for Adbert Alzolay to make his way into the Cubs rotation.

Not initially, at least.

The Cubs will hand Tyler Chatwood the ball in Hendricks' normal spot Thursday evening against the Mets at Wrigley Field, keeping Alzolay in the minors for the time being. 

When Hendricks hit the injured list over the weekend, many speculated it could be the Cubs' top pitching prospect who gets the call, as Alzolay has been on fire in Triple-A (1.93 ERA, 40 K in 28 innings over his last 5 starts). But the Cubs have two veteran starting pitching options hanging out in their bullpen in Chatwood and Mike Montgomery and it would send a bad message inside the clubhouse to pass over those guys and call up a starter from the minors to take a turn in the rotation.

The Cubs also felt like Chatwood has earned the chance to start after dealing with last year's struggles and having a resurgent season out of the bullpen and in his one previous spot start.

"He's been pitching a lot better," Joe Maddon said of Chatwood. "We believe he's earned this opportunity to pitch in the situation. ... It's an earned situation."

The Cubs made sure Chatwood was stretched out, as they held him back in case of extra innings Sunday night in Los Angeles and then had him throw in the bullpen after the game to help build his stamina back up to join the rotation.

But even if Alzolay won't be joining the rotation this week, that doesn't mean his opportunity isn't right around the corner. The Cubs have been discussing the potential for a six-man rotation in the near future, as they just began a stretch of 17 games in 17 days before their next break on July 5. 

"That's been something we've talked about a lot," GM Jed Hoyer said. "This is really the third time we've had 2-3 weeks in a row [of games]. No doubt, the starters wear down after 2-3 times through the rotation on four days rest and we're aware of their age and mileage on some of these guys. We want to make sure we take care of them. In general, getting extra rest is something we've talked about going into the break."

The Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation before and after the All-Star Break in past seasons and it makes sense to do so again this year, even with Hendricks on the shelf. Montgomery and Alzolay are both options and then Chatwood, of course, though Maddon insisted the Cubs have not come up with a concrete plan for the rotation beyond Thursday's outing.

The big question looming over the rotation is how long Hendricks will be out. He was in some kind of groove before experiencing shoulder issues in his last start against the Dodgers.

"All the test confirmed what we thought — he's kinda dealing with an impingement," Hoyer said. "I feel like we got ahead of it. We're not sure how much time he'll miss. We'll try to take it slowly and take the length of the season into account."

It's still only mid-June and the Cubs are hoping they're going to be playing baseball for another four-plus months, so they know how important Hendricks is to the overall goal of a second championship. 

They'll practice patience with him in his recovery, but right now, they can't say whether or not Cubs fans will be able to see him pitch again before the All-Star Game.