Cubs

Carlos Pena will fight through the pain

Carlos Pena will fight through the pain

Thursday, April 14, 2011
Posted: April 13, 9:22 p.m. Updated: 12:04 a.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Carlos Pena has been wearing a kind of cast inside his glove. That way his right thumb doesnt snap all the way back. He just feels the vibrations.

The thumb bothers Pena when hes buttoning his dress shirt, so you can imagine how it feels when he stops a bullet throw at first base. He isnt about to play without the guard, but still feels like hes getting closer to healing.

Theres always a risk-reward (for) every single time a balls thrown at you, Pena said. I thought we were on the right track there for a couple days: Boom! A ball hits me again and Im like: Here we go, two steps back.

This is something that the Cubs are going to have to monitor because as manager Mike Quade said the Gold Glove first baseman will take a pounding over there. The Cubs know how long these issues can last.

Derrek Lee injured his thumb on Opening Day 2010 and it lingered long enough that it required offseason surgery. Lee never really let on how much it hurt, but his offensive numbers across the board dropped one year after being one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.

Aramis Ramirez looked lost at the plate before he went on the disabled list last June with a left thumb contusion and by July was still hitting under .200 for the season.

Pena who is relentlessly optimistic and strongly believes in the power of positive thinking does not see it like that. But it has to be part of the reason why he is hitting .185 with zero home runs and 10 strikeouts in 27 at-bats.

He wants to play and makes no excuses, Quade said. I love that.

Pena landed awkwardly and bent his thumb back while making a defensive play on April 4. Given almost all of Wednesday night off, and with no game Thursday, hell essentially get a 48-hour window to rest, which he thinks will help.

Pena will turn 33 next month and is working on a one-year deal. He is the big free agent in a new city but insists that he doesnt feel the weight of having to go out there and prove himself.

Pressure? Pena said, repeating part of a reporters question. Thats not the word. Its the desire.

Its impossible to watch the Cubs regularly and not notice how many teammates Pena talks to in the clubhouse, or how often he goes over to the mound to grab the rosin bag and give his pitcher a moment to breathe and calm down.

Even when hes struggling, he comes to play, Quade said. He likes to play and he understands the importance of every aspect of the game.

When a guy doesnt get off to a great start, some of the rest of his game goes south because his minds not there. This guy understands (how to) compartmentalize.

The Cubs can live with the strikeouts. Pena did that 163 times in 2009 and still finished tied for the American League lead with 39 homers after missing the final 25 games of the season with two broken fingers.

Pena is someone whos admitted that he has a tendency to think too much. But he isnt down on his first nine games. Hes not obsessed with the outcome yet, just focused on how he feels at the plate and figuring out why that was a good at-bat, or a bad one.

Pena sprinted for a base hit Tuesday night on a ball that was hit right into the teeth of the defensive shift. He will play through the pain, but believes he will really only be at full strength when hes focused on the moment.

(Sometimes) we get caught up in the emotion, Pena said. When you bring all that (baggage) with you on your back, youre not 100 percent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

Cubs third baseman David Bote charged down the line and called off pitcher Alec Mills.

Bote snagged the bunt with his bare right hand and slung it across is body. Bote’s throw to first beat the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi by half a step.

“It does nothing but fire you up,” Mills said after the Cubs’ 2-0 win over the Royals on Monday.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Bote had been filling in for Kris Bryant at third for the previous two games, but when Bryant returned on Monday, Bote remained in the lineup. Even as a role player, Bote entered Monday's series opener with a top-5 batting average (.278) on the team and  tied for second in RBIs (5). But Cubs manager David Ross also trusted him in the infield with a groundball pitcher on the mound. Bote’s defense shone.

It stood out even in a game that included an outstanding tag by shortstop Javier Báez to catch a runner stealing and Jason Heyward covering a ton of ground in right field.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Ross said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized that could be better, and it’s been so great. These guys are getting a lot of work in.”

This time, Bote knew long before the game that he was playing. On Saturday, when Bryant was a late scratch due to an upset stomach, Bote found out five minutes before first pitch that he was starting at third base.

On Monday, Bote remained at third, and Bryant started in left field. That setup put extra speed in left on a windy day and allowed Kyle Schwarber, who had played in left for the past three games, to be the designated hitter.

Bote worked with bench coach Andy Green on slow-rolling ground balls before the game, according to Ross.

 “This is one of the teams that bunt a lot in this league,” Báez said, “and we were ready for it.”

Bote proved that with a bare-handed grab seventh inning, when the Cubs were protecting a one-run lead. He threw out Mondesi for the final out of the inning.  But then, he made another bare-handed play the next inning.

Bare-handing a bunt and throwing across the body on the run is a play exclusive to third basemen. The downside of playing multiple positions is a utility man like Bote has to spread his receptions out among those positions.

Bote had attempted a bare-handed play once before in the season, but he didn’t field it cleanly – there’s a reason infielders use their gloves whenever possible. The margin for error is so much smaller without them.

In the eighth inning, Whit Merrifield hit a weak ground ball to Bote. The third baseman charged, fielded the ball with his right hand, and again threw across the diamond on the run. That was the second out of the inning.

“Both of those plays could have gone either way,” Bryant said of Bote’s bare-handed grabs, “and then there’s runners on base there. You don’t know how the game’s going to turn out.”

Case in point: Jorge Soler hit a single right after Bote’s eight-inning play. If Bote hadn’t thrown Merrifield out, he would be in scoring position with one out.

Instead, Rowan Wick took over for Casey Sadler on the mound and struck out the next batter to end the inning.

“It’s those little things in the games that don’t get too much attention,” Bryant continued, “but they definitely do change the momentum of everything out there.”

 

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

One of the unnoticed benefits of Javy Báez’s game-ending single in the 11th inning Sunday against the Pirates was that it eliminated a 12th inning that would have belonged to the struggling Craig Kimbrel.

That was David Ross’ next man out of the bullpen, the Cubs manager said Monday.

Instead, we watched the man who would be — and should be — the closer pitch out of the contrived jam (man on second) that is the start of each extra inning this year, and earn the win.

Or did we?

One day after veteran Jeremy Jeffress needed just nine pitches to beat the Pirates in the best of four impressive bullpen appearances, Rowan Wick earned a four-out save in a 2-0 victory over the Royals on Monday night.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

And just like that, the Cubs unveiled a closer-by-committee scheme, if not a closer controversy.

The way the first eight games looked, it's hard to imagine having enough reliable pitchers for a quorum. much less a bona fide committee, among the 14 pitchers who have occupied roster spots in the Cubs’ pen so far.

But until or unless Kimbrel (four walks, two homers, one wild pitch and four outs so far) gets right again, that’s the plan for closing out close games, Ross said after Monday’s game.

“I think every night will be different,” he said. “Every night we’re trying to find the best matchups and who’s throwing well.”

Jeffress is the one guy in the group who has the track record, the unflappable veteran presence and the cold-blooded performance so far this year that included escaping a pair of bases-loaded jams in addition to Sunday’s 11th-inning work.

Whether Jeffress was considered unavailable Monday because of high-leverage innings both Saturday and Sunday or Ross liked Wick’s 95-mph fastball/curveball mix against the middle of the Royals order, it was last year’s rookie success story on this night.

“It’s going to be a full team effort down there,” Ross said. “I’m not scared to pull the trigger in a lot of areas with a lot of those guys. They’ve done a really good job of answering the bell here lately and we’ll continue to assess on a daily basis.”

For now it has meant eight consecutive scoreless innings the last two nights against two of the worst teams in baseball for a Cubs bullpen that ranked last in the majors in ERA and several other categories.

That’s not what Ross means when he talks about looking for matchups.

But 10 games into 60-game season, that bullpen almost certainly will continue to be assessed on a daily basis top to bottom.

And with its $43 million closer looking like the weakest link since September, the end of any game with a close lead might be the most intriguing thing to watch with this team for as long as this pandemic season might last.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.