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Cubs: Joe Maddon argues against the designated hitter

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Cubs: Joe Maddon argues against the designated hitter

When Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright suffered a season-ending injury earlier this year running the basepaths, it opened up a fresh round of debates on whether the National League should join the American League in adopting the designated hitter and not having its pitchers bat.

But Cubs manager Joe Maddon — a supporter of pitchers hitting despite spending his entire career in the AL before coming to Chicago — brought up this point in addressing the DH discrepancy on Saturday: Plenty of hitters, especially young ones, don’t like being a DH.

Maddon said during his days as a coach on the then-Anaheim Angels, his team tried to rotate in a group of 20-something outfielders — Darin Erstad, Garrett Anderson and Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon — between playing the field and being a designated hitter. And there was pushback when one of those guys’ turn to DH came around.

“They hated it,” Maddon said. “Nobody wanted to DH. ‘It’s your day to DH.’ ‘I don’t want to.’ When they’re that young they don’t want to sit around, they want to play and I understand that. The more I thought about it, the more I got it. It’s hard to do that and the more you sit around and think about it, they harder it is to do it well.”

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The transition to being a full-time hitter and not playing the field isn’t always an easy one, even for longtime veterans. Fielding provides a good distraction from hitting, and without it, players are often left with large swaths of time with little to do during a game. Being a designated hitter, then, can become more of a mental struggle than a physical one.

And for the designated hitter to become universal and add 15 more job openings? That’s not something Maddon thinks is good idea.

“The DH is a really difficult position to acquire a really good player,” Maddon said. “It’s normally a very expensive position and there’s not many guys that could sit around for a half hour and come up and give you a good at-bat consistently on a nightly basis. So it’s a tough animal to find.”

Maddon may be overstating things here — of the 17 primary designated hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2014, only five rated as below average hitters (by Fangraphs’ wRC+ statistic). But the players on that list — David Ortiz, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Billy Butler, Nelson Cruz and Albert Pujols, to name a few — are mostly veterans. It’s rare to see a young player be a full-time designated hitter.

While in Tampa, Maddon said he had a young B.J. Upton learn how to play multiple positions so he wouldn’t have time to overthink his at-bats. By moving him across the infield and outfield, during games he would have to stay engaged while playing defense, which was part of the organization’s plan for developing him.

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Maybe Kris Bryant would make a good designated hitter in his early 20s, but from the way Maddon argues it’d seem like a risk to have him only hit while he learns opposing pitching and the routine of being in the majors.

Maddon, too, thinks the game is better for fans when pitchers hit. A recent poll showed 55 percent of baseball fans like having pitchers hit, and from a strategy standpoint, Maddon believes it’s more entertaining.

“I think if you’re a fan, you really want to get fans engaged, you’d like to believe the strategy of a National League game exceeds that of an American League game to the point where you should be able to capture some interest regarding building a new fanbase,” Maddon said. “So I’d prefer us to go all no DH as opposed to all DH, if it came down to that.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

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NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: