Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon wants Tsuyoshi Wada to hit the reset button

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Cubs: Joe Maddon wants Tsuyoshi Wada to hit the reset button

Tsuyoshi Wada knows he’s put himself in a tough position in the Cubs starting rotation after another rough, short outing.

The left-hander was yanked from the Cubs’ 6-3 win over Cincinnati Thursday after allowing a leadoff home run in the fourth inning, giving him back-to-back abbreviated starts with little success in them. Manager Joe Maddon said after Thursday’s game he hasn’t yet thought about dropping Wada from the rotation, but if 34-year-old doesn’t get the message, he very well could lose his spot.

The message Maddon will deliver to Wada on Friday: Be more assertive and trust your stuff.

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“That’s why he’s here in the first place,” Maddon said. “A guy like that that doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, you need to trust what you’re doing out there."

Wada’s fastball velocity has dropped about one mile per hour since he made his season debut May 20 in San Diego, though he said there’s nothing wrong with his arm. The feeling Maddon and catcher Miguel Montero have is it’s all mental at this point.

“He needs to not give that much credit to the hitters,” Montero said. “It feels like he’s giving them too much credit and he falls behind … He needs to pitch to more contract.”

Montero said he saw Wada trying to make perfect pitches in 0-0 counts over his three innings Thursday, in which he allowed three runs on four hits with two walks. He gave up a two-run triple to Reds starter Michael Lorenzen and a solo home run to light-hitting outfielder Chris Dominguez, the later of which knocked him out of the game in favor of Travis Wood, who threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

The early results for Wada were solid for a No. 5 starter: A 2.30 ERA on 10 hits, five walks and 19 strikeouts over his first three starts covering 15 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.25 ERA in 13 starts for the Cubs last year, so the club has seen him succeed before.

Maddon feels like if Wada can get back to being more “primal” in term of his aggression, and re-gain the confidence that he can pitch well in the majors, he’ll be fine. But with two former starters in the bullpen in Wood and Edwin Jackson, there’s no shortage of options with the Cubs right now to replace him if he can’t turn things around.

“I don’t make those kind of decisions,” Wada said through a translator. “But if you look at the results it could be happening.” 

 

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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