Cubs

Cubs: Jorge Soler will get MRI for latest hamstring injury

Cubs: Jorge Soler will get MRI for latest hamstring injury

PHILADELPHIA — Just when it looked like things might really be starting to click for Jorge Soler, the Cubs are dealing with another injury, the stops and starts so far defining the Cuban outfielder’s young career.

Soler will get an MRI on his left hamstring on Tuesday, and until the Cubs get those results it’s hard to say which direction they will go from here, whether this is something that can be managed short-term or will heighten the need for another hitter by the trade deadline.

Soler walked off the field with manager Joe Maddon and athletic trainer PJ Mainville during the third inning of Monday’s 6-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Soler — who has injury history with his left and right hamstrings — had just driven a ball into left field and felt something about two steps before first base.

“Some guys are (injury-prone),” Maddon said. “We’ve been taking care of him, and he really does all the right things. ‘Hammies’ — once you do that, it’s kind of a chronic (issue) that normally does follow (you), hopefully not to a severe degree.

“Again, he’s been doing everything properly. Our training staff has (as well). It just happens. Some people are predisposed.”

Maddon has raved about Soler’s effort levels, improved focus and natural talent, hoping the Cubs can still tap into the “superstar” potential he’s shown in flashes, particularly against the St. Louis Cardinals during the playoffs last year (2.341 OPS).

Soler began the day hitting .286 with a .983 OPS in his last 16 games, finding ways to contribute and force his name into the lineup (even if he didn’t immediately grab the job when Kyle Schwarber suffered season-ending knee damage after an outfield collision in early April).

“It’s a little frustrating,” Soler said through coach/interpreter Henry Blanco. “It happened before, and now it’s happening again. I was feeling better at the plate and (everything) was coming around, but hopefully it’s nothing serious.”

Soler is also getting more comfortable in a new position with Jason Heyward installed as the team’s $184 million Gold Glove defender in right field. Soler perfectly timed his leap at the left-field fence in the first inning, robbing Tommy Joseph with a great catch.

“You hate to see it ever happen to anybody,” Heyward said. “But now of all times, when Georgie is coming around and being Georgie, that’s frustrating. It’s a frustrating game. You can’t control that stuff. I know you can take care of your body as much as you want and things like that, but it’s a hustle play.

“It just sucks. We have no excuses. Players get hurt. Teams have injuries. You got to deal with that. We got to do what we can every day to — not replace him — but just not miss a beat. Hate it for him, hate it for us, because he’s been outstanding.

“You see every day he wants to come in and help, knowing he wasn’t going to play every day, getting a curveball thrown at him in spring training (when) we signed ‘Dex’ (Fowler) back and then (trying to make) the most of every opportunity.”

Injuries begin to explain why Soler was limited to only 151 games in the minors between 2012 and 2014. He spent almost two months on the disabled list last year with a sprained left ankle and a strained left oblique.

The Cubs brought in Matt Szczur — who had been a football/baseball star at nearby Villanova University — to pinch-run for Soler and take over in left field. But it’s unclear what their next moves might be if Soler misses an extended period of time, beyond the built-in versatility with players like Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez.

Maddon said former first-round pick Albert Almora should be in the conversation, but the Cubs aren’t in a hurry with a 22-year-old prospect in his first season with Triple-A Iowa. Matt Murton — a part of Lou Piniella’s 2007 playoff team in Chicago — is hitting .324 during his comeback tour from Japan. Even when Soler struggled, he still brought a presence to this lineup that won’t be easily replaced.

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start." 

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs fans had plenty to cheer about late in Friday's game against the Cardinals, but not in the way they expected.

With St. Louis absolutely wearing out the Cubs pitching staff in an 18-5 blowout, Joe Maddon turned to a trio of position players to pitch.

In front of 41,077 people at Wrigley Field for the second game of the official second half of the season, Tommy La Stella came on to pitch for the Cubs with 2 outs in the top of the sixth inning. After La Stella got 4 outs, it was Victor Caratini's turn for the eighth inning.

The Cubs have actually used multiple position players as a pitcher before, but it was back on June 16, 1884 in a 20-9 loss, according to historian Ed Hartig. Obviously, the game of baseball was quite different back then.

But just using two position players on the mound wasn't enough for this wacky day at the ballpark.

Ian Happ got the nod for the ninth inning on the mound, serving as the third different position player on the mound. He joked he was using his sinker effectively and that he's now the Cubs clubhouse leader in ERA after not giving up a run in his inning of work.

Was there a friendly competition between Happ, Caratini and La Stella?

"Yes," Happ said. "I won." 

How did Maddon determine who would get the opportunity to make history?

Well, for starters, the process began with getting a certain player OUT of the lineup.

"I had to take Rizzo out of the game because he would've been badgering me the whole time," Maddon laughed. "So it started by getting Rizzo out, and that made my decision-making process a lot easier. Otherwise just imagine him harping in your ear constantly that he wants to pitch and every time I go out to the mound and the game may be lopsided as I'm maybe bringing somebody else in, he reminds me.

"At some point, hopefully in a good situation where we're leading [he can get in and pitch]."

Seeing a position player pitch has actually been a pretty common occurence under Maddon as he's done everything he can to limit the stress on the bullpen:

"I think the fans kinda started to enjoy it, too, which is always fun when you're getting blown out," said Kris Bryant, who connected on his 11th homer of the season in the blowout loss. "Those guys stepped up for us to save the bullpen. So there ya go. We're making history."

Meanwhile, on the other side, Matt Carpenter had a record-setting game.

Before being removed from the game in the sixth inning, Carpenter smashed 3 homers and 2 doubles and drove in 7 runs. It tied a Cardinals record for total bases (16) while tying the MLB record for most extra-base hits in a game (5):

It also was only the second recorded game in MLB history where a player had 3 doubles and 2 homers. The other? Bryant, of course — in Cincinnati in 2016.

Of course, the fact he did it all before the game reached the seventh inning is remarkable:

Offensively, the Cubs left 12 men on base, which would normally be the focal point of ire for the fanbase if not for the rest of the day's events...