Cubs

The comeback: Baker does the job for Cubs

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The comeback: Baker does the job for Cubs

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 3:49 p.m. Updated: 6:34 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
Jeff Baker walked back toward the dugout and looked down at the binder Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo placed on the ledge.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were changing relievers in the eighth inning of what was suddenly a tie game. Baker went over his keys, a few quick tendencies on Blake Hawksworth and got ready for another professional at-bat.

The Cubs had already erased a three-run deficit against Matt Guerrier, who came into the game with a 0.00 ERA. Baker excels against left-handers but the Dodgers have none of those in their bullpen.

Manager Mike Quade could have pinch-hit for Baker, but liked how he was already in the flow of Saturdays game. Hawksworth left a breaking ball up, and Baker barreled it.

The line drove bounced all the way to the wall in right field, just below the 368 sign at Wrigley Field, for a two-run double that completed a 10-8 comeback victory.

Its a decision you make and say, The guys been doing a hell of a job for us, lets give him a shot to win this thing, Quade said. And Ill be damned, he did it.

Darwin Barney who has emerged to take the second-base job away from Baker scored first on the play. Aramis Ramirez the third baseman Baker backs up in case of injury scored next.

That leaves Baker as a utility infielder, starting at first base on Saturday in place of Carlos Pena against left-hander Ted Lilly.

Hes always prepared for whatevers thrown at him, pitcher Ryan Dempster said.

Baker will turn 30 this summer and understands how hes being perceived at this stage in his career. He does not want to be labeled as a utility guy and doesnt think the sample size is big enough to say he cant hit right-handers.

But youll never hear Baker whos hitting .361 ripping the manager or the organization.

Thats not my style I like to win, Baker said. Obviously, you in your mind have ways that you want it to go and you want it to happen. But if it doesnt, its not about just me. There are 25 guys on the team. Im not going to complain.

My job is to play when they tell me to play.

The Cubs needed contributions from all over the roster to finish off the Dodgers (11-11).

Reed Johnson another bench player went 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored. Jeff Samardzija earned the win by getting four outs and getting the ball to Carlos Marmol, who notched his fifth save.

We know that we have a lot of pieces to the puzzle, Barney said. We believe in ourselves. We dont feel were out of the game until its over. We think we can do some things this year. Thats what keeps us going.

The 10-10 Cubs have set a major-league record by hitting the .500 mark every step of the way, which led Quade to say: Its been the strangest 20-game start that I can remember at any level, anywhere.

Inevitably, things will happen over the next 142 games and the Cubs will need players to step up. Baker will be ready for it. He wont be looking over his shoulder for a pinch-hitter.

Thats not my call, Baker said. I dont worry about that stuff. I believe I can hit righties, lefties, it doesnt matter. I dont prepare to go up there and get taken out. I prepare to go up there and get the hit.

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

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: