Cubs

Cubs: Maddon not worried about 'being nice' with quick hook on Hammel

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Cubs: Maddon not worried about 'being nice' with quick hook on Hammel

Joe Maddon is trying to win baseball games, not make friends.

These are the kinds of calls Theo Epstein's front office envisioned when they pitched the idea of coming to Chicago to Maddon in the offseason. 

The celebrity manager was at it again Wednesday night, yanking starter Jason Hammel out of the game after just 65 pitches, when he had given up only one run in 5 2/3 innings.

His last time out, Hammel threw just 76 pitches against the San Francisco Giants, and the veteran was not happy with the decision.

He wasn't any happier this time around, refusing to speak much on the matter after the game, saying he was "obviously" surprised and upset that he came out of the game.

[MORE CUBS: Six in a row: The Cubs are feeling 'unbeatable']

Maddon said he was "certain" Hammel would be upset but explained his reasoning while also reminding the media that the number of pitches doesn't matter because "it's not a 100-pitch exercise."

Maddon didn't like how Hammel matched up against Adam Lind with a runner on second and two outs, so instead of walking the Brewers first baseman, he brought in left-hander Clayton Richard from the bullpen to face the lefty Lind.

"From my perspective, where I'm sitting, it's not about being nice," Maddon said. "It's about trying to do the right thing at the right moment. I've been watching Lind all year. He's one of the scariest left-handed hitters out there right now.

"You could have chosen to walk him or 'pitch around him,' which I wasn't comfortable with that either. I thought Clayton could put the ball on the ground; he did not. ... I thought it was the right thing to do."

[MORE CUBS: Cubs searching for spots to get Kyle Schwarber in at catcher]

Hammel is a 32-year-old veteran in his 10th year in the big leagues. He has been one of the Cubs' most consistent starters all year, posting a 3.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 22 games.

So even catcher Miguel Montero was surprised by Maddon's quick hook.

"It caught me a little off guard there," Montero said. "But he had his plan. Obviously, Hammel threw his ball good, maybe not quite as good as I've seen him in the past.

"They were putting good swings on it. (Maddon) saw that. He saw that they were hitting the ball good. That's probably why he made that decision.

"As a player, we don't understand because we like to compete and we think we're still good and all this. But sometimes, we kinda actually step back and go, 'You know what? You were right because I didn't pitch that great.'

"He didn't pitch bad, but I've seen him better before."

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But, all's well that end's well, maybe? The Cubs did get the win, and Hammel talked about how proud he was of the way his teammates played.

However, given this is two starts in a row, Maddon knows the frustration is building for Hammel.

"I'm sure there's a statute of limitations involving something like this, and I might be, like, pressing it right now," Maddon said. "However, I really like the guy a lot; I think he's outstanding. I'm sure we'll be able to get through it. 

"I want him to be upset, actually, because of his competitive side. I'm fine with that."

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.