Cubs

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

As if the possibility of clinching their first National League pennant in 71 years didn’t create enough drama and excitement in Wrigleyville, the Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Arizona Fall League, hoping he can add another chapter to his October legend.

Schwarber earned this chance after beating every expectation in his recovery from major surgery on his left knee in April. The Cubs haven’t ruled anything in or out – and still need to take care of business against the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend – but they want to see how he responds on Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox and ultimately decide if he would be a viable designated-hitter option for the World Series.

Schwarber gained clearance on Monday from Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL after a brutal outfield collision during the first week of the regular season. Schwarber immediately phoned Theo Epstein after the six-month checkup. The Cubs president anticipated getting a better idea of when the left-handed slugger might start hitting and eventually play winter ball.   

“I wasn’t expecting the call,” Epstein said. “We got news that was beyond better than we could have expected by any reasonable standard.

“He asked for a chance to do this. With as hard as Kyle has worked and as much as this means to him – and potentially to us – we wanted to give him that opportunity.”

Schwarber flew from Dallas on Monday to Los Angeles, where he hit in the cage at Dodger Stadium that night. As the NL Championship Series unfolded, Schwarber hit again on Tuesday and then left for Arizona on Wednesday to ramp up his baseball activities and prove whether or not he could again be a difference-maker in October.

Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, generated 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then set a franchise record with five homers in the playoffs. The Cleveland Indians would have to account for that kind of lineup presence in potential World Series Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Progressive Field, plus the pinch-hit opportunities to drive another ball onto a Wrigley Field video board.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

“We’ll see where this goes,” Epstein said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent on a short-term basis. But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility.” 

The Cubs still have to deal with Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night in Game 6, and then judge whether or not this layoff is too long, even for one of their best young hitters, especially against Cleveland’s dynamic bullpen.

Schwarber has been working out with a brace on his left knee, taking live batting practice on Friday in Mesa against James Farris, a Cubs prospect in the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs will have scouts watching Schwarber, who’s supposed to call Epstein and the team’s medical staff again on Saturday night with an update. The Cubs have already received good reports on Schwarber’s agility tests, watching him running, cutting and changing directions.

“He’s so passionate about baseball,” Epstein said. “He’s just been behind the scenes working his tail off and managing to stay part of the team. Physically, he’s on an accelerated timetable. And from a baseball standpoint, certainly, he’s only got about a week or so to get ready. But mentally, he’s been preparing for this for six months.

“He’s been doing advance scouting. He’s been watching how pitchers attack hitters. He’s been studying his own video. He’s been studying opposing video, so mentally he’s been preparing for this for a long time and has been itching to contribute.

“Just the fact that he’s gotten to this point is a testament to his character. He’s got everyone in the organization pulling for him.”

This is all goes back to how the Cubs drafted Schwarber when some in the industry viewed him as a DH and a reach that high in the first round, or why he became untouchable when the New York Yankees kept asking about him before trading lights-out reliever Andrew Miller to the Indians.

The Cubs will never bet against Schwarber.

“Typically guys need much longer to get their timing and get ready,” Epstein said. “But I wouldn’t put anything past Kyle.”

Tyler Chatwood gave the Cubs exactly what they needed

4-21_chatwood_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Tyler Chatwood gave the Cubs exactly what they needed

Tyler Chatwood now has as many quality starts in 2019 as Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish combined.

The Cubs opted to give Chatwood a spot start Sunday against the Diamondbacks and the 29-year-old right-hander responded with a masterful performance in the Cubs' 2-1 walk-off win, tossing 6 shutout innings. He allowed only 2 singles and walked a pair, but also induced a double play after each free pass.

Manager Joe Maddon said he thought Chatwood may be able to get up to 75 or 80 pitches, but he didn't even need that many, tossing 71 pitches through 6 frames.

Chatwood threw the first pitch of the game to the backstop and proceeded to walk the leadoff guy on four pitches, but then settled in from there and threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the next 19 batters. 

That's exactly the type of aggressiveness the Cubs wanted to see from him.

"He's got unique Chatwood-type mechanics," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said Sunday morning. "It's about simplifying things for him - trying to give him 1 or 2 things to focus on and really solidify what he wants to do. And it's about being aggressive in the strike zone, being aggressive attacking.

"When you try to feel for the strike zone and you try to work your pitches around it, a lot of times, mechanically things go wrong. So it's about letting him be aggressive, letting him be himself and attacking, using all his weapons. Mechanically, though, the big thing is just simplifying things and really giving him a good, strong foundation to pitch off of and drive off it." 

The Cubs probably won't keep Chatwood in the rotation with Jon Lester on the verge of returning from his hamstring injury, but the right-hander certainly did all he could to keep his hat in the ring.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Reinforcements coming for Cubs pitching staff

Reinforcements coming for Cubs pitching staff

The Cubs pitching staff is about to get some reinforcements.

Not that they really need it right now — Cubs pitchers entered Sunday with a 1.80 ERA in the last 10 games, the best mark in the league in that span by a wide margin (the Pirates were next-closest with a 2.30 ERA).

But they're about to add two of their most important arms to that group, as a pair of veteran southpaws could return from injury as soon as this week.

Jon Lester threw a simulated game Saturday at Wrigley Field and Mike Montgomery is set to make his second rehab start Monday with Double-A Tennessee.

Lester (hamstring) threw 45 pitches Saturday and reports were all positive as he showed up to the ballpark Sunday. He will throw a bullpen either Monday or Tuesday and then the Cubs will reevaluate from there.

There's no specific timetable, but the Cubs have not yet announced a starter for Thursday's game against the Dodgers and acknowledged Lester could slide into that spot.

"He's looking good," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said Sunday morning. "We're just still taking it day-to-day to make sure there's no setbacks, he's recovering the way he wants to recover and that everything's on track. He's such a tough guy and competitor — he wants to be out there as soon as he can.

"We got a couple more days to make sure he gets through the bullpen, gets through all the things he wants to get through the next few days, but hopefully we'll be seeing him here pretty soon."

Lester last pitched on April 8 during the Cubs' home opener. If all goes well with his bullpen in the coming days, he wouldn't need a rehab stint to get back up to speed.

Meanwhile, Montgomery (lat) threw 27 pitches with Class-A South Bend last Wednesday and has been working out with the team in Chicago over the weekend. He is expected to throw about 3 innings with Tennessee Monday.

"I felt really good after my last outing," he said. "Even better the last couple days. It's a change and adjusting some of the things I do to prepare — throw/workout-wise to get me feeling right.

"...It's really fun just to go out there and compete. When you're away from it, you kinda miss it and you get that itch to be, 'OK, I gotta do whatever I can do to get back healthy and be effective.' That's where I'm at."

Montgomery knows he's facing minor-league hitters, but he's treating it like a big-league appearance, trying to get himself on track mentally as well as physically. 

He dealt with some shoulder inflammation at the beginning of spring training and he felt like that set him back in terms of getting up to speed and building up strength before the season. 

Montgomery only made 4 appearances before hitting the disabled list, allowing 5 runs on 8 hits in 2.2 innings.

"I feel like I've been playing catch-up so far this year and I haven't been able to get out there and really work on certain pitches in certain zones — working on my cutter/slider and getting that a little sharper, working on curveball command where I can throw it early in counts or bounce it," he said. "That's been missing and so the last week or so, I've gotten back to that.

"...If you're dealing with things physically, it's really hard to work on stuff and perfect the mechanical side of the game. I know with all the tech nowadays, you can shape your pitches the way you want and work on pitches to one side of the plate and the other. 

"When you're really not feeling good, it's more of 'how can I just get through this?' as opposed to really working on stuff. I think I'm at a point where I can really work on stuff and that's a good place to be."

Only Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana have thrown more innings for the Cubs than Montgomery over the last three seasons, as he's made 33 starts and 53 relief appearances. 

Montgomery said he hasn't had any conversations with Joe Maddon or the Cubs about a change in role when he returns, but assuming he slides back into that swingman role, this time off will allow him to build up strength and get stretched out.

He also has a new perspective on life as he and his wife, Stephanie, welcomed their first child early Tuesday morning — a boy named Max. Both sets of grandparents have been in town to help take care of and celebrate the newborn, so Montgomery has also been able to enjoy time with his family and work his rehab activities around that.

"It's been a whirlwind, to say the least," Montgomery said. "But I love it that way. My wife's awesome — she's able to handle the stress of baseball and having a baby. We're still in good spirits; the family's out here helping her out.

"Going home the last couple nights makes you get a little emotional, but at the same time, it makes you really understand what is important. For me, I think that's just me being good at my job of pitching and taking care of the family. 

"That's where I'm at, so it's a good experience to have and we're gonna take it from here."

The Cubs will also have options for the bullpen beyond Montgomery, as both veterans Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette are on the recovery path from their respective injuries. Cedeno made his second rehab appearance with Double-A Tennessee Saturday and Barnette will throw his first outing with Triple-A Iowa Sunday.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.