Cubs

Cubs: Manny Ramirez sends positive message to Javier Baez

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Cubs: Manny Ramirez sends positive message to Javier Baez

Javier Baez is going through a personal crisis at a time when his professional career is at a crossroads.

Manny Ramirez still sees so much potential in Baez, who took a leave of absence from Triple-A Iowa after his sister, Noely, died last week at the age of 21. The Cubs are giving Baez space as he mourns an inspirational figure in his life.

“When you lose part of your family, you get kind of down,” Ramirez said Monday at Wrigley Field. “But I told him: Leave everything to God.”

[MORE: Cubs feel for Javier Baez during his leave of absence]

Ramirez found religion and rehabilitated his image to the point where Theo Epstein’s front office hired him to be a player/coach last season at Iowa, where he formed a strong bond with Baez. In their own ways, they are baseball gym rats, incredibly gifted hitters with a few personality quirks.

Ramirez enjoyed the experience enough to become a hitting consultant this year, with Baez being perhaps his biggest project.

Baez isn’t expected to return to the Iowa club until later this week. Noely had been born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair, but her death was described as sudden and unexpected – within the context of her medical condition – and not something that weighed on Baez throughout spring training.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

After a long debate in Arizona, there’s still a feeling inside the organization that Baez should be on the big-league team now. The thinking being the Cubs could use his speed on the bases and presence at second base, where he would almost function like a quarterback or point guard running the defense. It could also be a way to accelerate his learning curve at the plate after he struck out 95 times during a 52-game audition last season. There’s no doubt he plays the game hard.

“We got his support,” Ramirez said. “That’s all we can do. He’s going to come back and do his job. We need him here in Chicago. We need him at second base. The team will be better and he’s going to be fine.”

For all his Manny Being Manny moments – and questionable off-the-field decisions – Ramirez won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and became one of the best hitters of his generation with a surprisingly methodical, studious approach.

Ramirez recognizes talent and sees a bright future for Baez, a 2011 first-round pick who is only 22 years old and had been Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect heading into last season.

“It’s like I always tell Javy: He’s an unbelievable kid,” Ramirez said. “He can play. He can run. And his hitting is going to come along. I haven’t seen (anybody) with that kind of bat speed.”

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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