Cubs

Changing approach, Cubs hire Deer as assistant hitting coach

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Changing approach, Cubs hire Deer as assistant hitting coach

Following a trend, the Cubs have hired Rob Deer as an assistant hitting coach, adding another voice as they try to reshape their organization.

Deer will work closely with hitting coach James Rowson who replaced Rudy Jaramillo in the middle of last season and earned the job full-time as well as manager Dale Sveum. The Cubs confirmed the hire on Monday, which could be the beginning of a busy week leading into the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn.

Sveum a former hitting coach and Deers teammate on the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986 through 1990 has strong opinions about what the Cubs should be doing at the plate.

So does team president Theo Epstein, who wants to see hitters grinding out at-bats, like those Boston Red Sox teams that played deep into October. Since coming to the North Side, Epstein has described the lack of focus on plate discipline and on-base percentage as an institutional problem.

Trying to gain an edge, the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams that have used two hitting coaches andor will be structuring their staff that way in 2013.

Like Rowson who used to be the minor-league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees Deer has experience dealing with young hitters. Deer, 52, had worked as a roving hitting instructor for San Diegos system, and also developed the Viz-U-Bat training device.

Deer hit .220 with 230 home runs, 575 walks and 1,409 strikeouts during his major-league career. He led the American League in strikeouts four times, but also appeared on the leader board at different points for homers, walks and slugging percentage. Coming off a 101-loss season, the Cubs need to improve in all those areas.

Baseball Prospectus once described Deer as the king of Three True Outcomes, meaning each at-bat would typically end with a home run, walk or strikeout. Those experiences will inform the next generation of hitters at Wrigley Field.

I dont teach the way I hit, Deer told Baseball Prospectus during a 2009 interview. I'm a big guy who understands the importance of using the whole field and wants hitters to understand a two-strike approach. Those are the things I implemented in my hitting system.

I tried to teach (the) things I couldnt do. I didnt have a two-strike approach when I played, so I try to make that an important part of teaching. I didnt hit the ball the other way, so I try to make them more complete hitters by having them do something I couldnt do.

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.