Cubs hope chemistry counts for something


Cubs hope chemistry counts for something

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted 8:04 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Ryan Dempster and James Russell were sitting on the couch. They had just finished playing a few games of hockey on Xbox. The entire afternoon was in front of them.

Dempster is almost 34 years old and will make 13.5 million this season. He turned to Russell on Monday with an idea: Lets go watch the boys play.

So they left the condo Russell and Andrew Cashner are renting in Scottsdale and drove over to Tempe Diablo Stadium. They got there in time to catch the first few innings before driving rains caused the Cubs and Angels to seek shelter and cancel another meaningless game in a month filled with them.

We had no clue where we were going. (We) asked every usher we saw where the visitors locker room was nobody had a clue, Russell said. So we just started walking around, made our way down to the front row and just hopped a fence. (We) walked on the field and into the dugout in jeans and tennis shoes.

Cash was kind of surprised to see me. He goes, Hey, what are you doing here? Nothing, man, just came to (watch you pitch).

That two players who were completely off the clock would show up at a road Cactus League is remarkable. It speaks to the team chemistry the Cubs think they are building.

Reed Johnson was part of that 97-win team that turned every home game into a Wrigleyville block party in 2008. He remembers Dempster and Kerry Wood organizing team dinners where 90 percent of the guys would show up and theyd need a full charter bus to get to the restaurant.

To have those two guys back together, Johnson said, is going to be huge this year and for the future.

General manager Jim Hendry brought in several veterans on minor-league deals to bring a sense of professionalism to camp. Johnson has made the team as the fifth outfielder, and he is what Hendry likes to call a character guy.

The Cubs felt their chemistry was an issue isolated to the one-man island of Milton Bradley in 2009. The media just dragged the story into the next season. Hendry says the Cubs always emphasize a players makeup and personality, whether its in the amateur draft or Latin America.

We didnt lose early last year because we had a bad clubhouse, Hendry said. Its always a premium.

Its hard to ignore the intangibles that Wood, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza bring to the room. The teams three major offseason acquisitions have already performed at an All-Star level and been tested in the playoffs. They instantly earned the respect of their teammates.

The Cubs try to keep it light in spring training. There is a sheet of paper posted on the bulletin board inside the HoHoKam Park clubhouse. It features the smiling face of Charlie Sheen above the word WINNING and this quote: I have decided just to win inside of every momentand the score is like a bazillion to zero.

There were times last year when a lead like that might not have felt safe with the Cubs bullpen. But its not just the young Texans like Cashner and Russell who are almost in awe of Wood.

John Grabow is about 17 months younger than Wood. And Grabow will make more than three times the amount Wood will this season. Even Grabow cant wait to listen to Wood talk down in the bullpen.
Kerry Wood talks with teammates in the dugout during a spring training game. Many Cubs veterans and youngsters are happy to have Wood back citing his ability to help build team chemistry. (US PRESSWIRE)
Im looking forward to picking his brain (and) just watching him get after it, Grabow said.

Pena, who is bilingual, connects with everyone and does not hesitate to speak up when he sees a different way to do things. Hes quick to walk over to the mound when a pitchers in a jam. The Gold Glove first baseman has been eager to help Tyler Colvin as he learns a new position.

Great guy, Colvin said of Pena. He has a wonderful personality. He goes out here and you can tell he has fun.

The day after Pena tried to settle Cashner down during his rain-shortened start, the pitcher pulls a chair next to Penas locker and the two have a long conversation.

At a table in the middle of the clubhouse, Colvin and Darwin Barney who once talked about what it would be like when they made it to the big leagues together are playing cards.

Dempster is trying to prepare for his start against the Dodgers that afternoon in Glendale.

We try to pick each other up, Dempster said. We try to push each other. When I went down to the cage to go hit (Tuesday) morning I got kicked out because there was like 20 hitters down there. Thats a really cool thing.

Has that happened in the past?

Not that I can remember, Dempster said. Its becoming a really tight group.

Thats easy to say now, when theres no pressure and no ones really keeping score. It may not matter all that much. But you can see Carlos Zambrano joking with manager Mike Quade and his teammates. You notice that Aramis Ramirez has a smile on his face. You wonder where Garza went, because he always seems to be on the move.

How long will it last? Dempster knows that winning is the only way to keep it fun for everyone.

PatrickMooney is's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Tyler Chatwood/Yu Darvish podcast


Cubs Talk Podcast: The Tyler Chatwood/Yu Darvish podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Luke Stuckmeyer talks with Tyler Chatwood, Kelly Crull catches up with Yu Darvish, and David Kaplan and David DeJesus weigh in on the starting rotation.

01:00 - Tyler Chatwood on his outing on Sunday

02:25 - Chatwood on difference from last year

6:00 - Yu Darvish talks about his season so far

7:15 - Joe Maddon thinks Darvish has another gear

8:00 - Why the starters have been so good lately

9:30 - What adjustments has Tyler Chatwood made on the mound this season?

11:20 - Could Chatwood be effective out of the Cubs bullpen?

12:00 - Is Darvish making progress?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


The next step for Yu Darvish? Hitting that 'sixth gear'

The next step for Yu Darvish? Hitting that 'sixth gear'

Joe Maddon compared Yu Darvish to a Hellcat, saying he wants to get the 32-year-old pitcher into sixth gear.

Darvish will just settle for getting through the sixth inning.

With his former team (Dodgers) in town, Darvish will not get a chance to face the guys he went to the World Series with back in 2017, as the Cubs are still leaning toward starting Jon Lester in Thursday's series finale if the veteran can continue his recovery from a hamstring injury.

But Darvish did speak about the rotation as a whole, admitting he's been the weak link since Lester went down more than two weeks ago (the Cubs pitching staff leads baseball in ERA since April 8).

"Apart from me, it's been good," Darvish said Tuesday afternoon. 

He laughed a bit, but it was an honest assessment from an honest guy — Maddon said over the weekend that Darvish has no filter and can sometimes be "brutally honest"). 

When asked what he needs to do to take that next step, Darvish's answer was simple: "Be out there more than six innings." 

In 13 career starts with the Cubs, Darvish has completed six innings just three times and he has never thrown a single pitch in the seventh inning. In 2017 — his first full season after Tommy John surgery — Darvish averaged a little over 6 innings a start with the Rangers and Dodgers.

He wants to get back to that point and knows the key to doing so is throwing his fastball for strikes. 

"You gotta get guys like this that have all these different gears to work with in sixth gear and let him go," Maddon said. "We gotta get him up to 75, 80, 90, 100 [mph] on the Alligator Alley and let him just roll. It's all in there, man. I see it; I know what I'm seeing; I've seen it in the past. 

"This is my take: as he gets more comfortable — and he is — and as he gets out there and he really gets into that free flow and doesn't hold himself back, just let it roll. Just let it rock and roll and let it happen. He has that kind of talent. He's got prodigious talent. We just gotta get him in sixth gear all the time."

After a slow start to the season (11 walks in 6.2 innings over his first two starts), Darvish has righted the ship a bit, lasting at least five innings each time and striking out 19 against only 7 walks in 16 frames. But he's been hit hard — allowing 5 homers and a .526 slugging percentage in that span.

Between the injury-riddled 2018 campaign and the rocky start to 2019 as he finds his footing, it's certainly not what the Cubs had in mind when they inked him to a 6-year, $126 million deal 14 months ago.

"The next step would be to continue doing what he's doing, actually," Maddon said. "I like the attacking of the strike zone. I like the method. He's much more comfortable here. I think he's more animated here this year. I like all of that.

"Last year, with all the problems he had physically, I think it was very difficult for him to demonstrate to all of us exactly who he was. I think it's gonna continue to get better. As he continues to get more comfortable, he's gonna get that game like you saw Chatwood throw [Sunday] and then all of a sudden, he's gonna hit that seminal moment and be able to take off.

"I just like him being him. That's an oversimplification. I think he's finally relaxed or exhaled here a bit now that we're eventually gonna see how good he can be."

Darvish will get his next opportunity to take that jump forward this weekend in Arizona.