Cubs

Cubs: Miguel Montero breaks it down after loss to Diamondbacks

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Cubs: Miguel Montero breaks it down after loss to Diamondbacks

PHOENIX – Miguel Montero stood at his locker inside Chase Field’s visiting clubhouse late Friday night and broke it down for reporters.

The Cubs had just lost a 5-4 game to the Arizona Diamondbacks that lasted 13 innings but pivoted in the 10th, with closer Hector Rondon one strike away from ending it when Paul Goldschmidt blasted the game-tying, two-run homer.

“It was not really a good pitch,” Montero said afterward. “Especially (with) Goldy, you really have to make pitches. He’s a good hitter, a professional hitter, so you can’t let that guy beat you like that with a fastball middle-middle.

“Other than that, I would say the pitch before is the one that got us in trouble, the double (by) A.J. Pollock. I mean, you got him with two strikes and then you throw a breaking ball. It’s got to be a better pitch than that.

“It was middle-middle, too. (Pollock) just protected himself and he just threw the bat out there and he hit the ball down the line.”

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Montero didn’t know English when he signed with the Diamondbacks as a teenager out of Venezuela. But by the end of his rookie-ball season in Missoula, Montana, he had picked up enough of the language to become a translator for teammates.

That didn’t mean Montero understood everything in 2002. But he wasn’t afraid of asking questions or making mistakes or somebody laughing at him. He’s also just naturally talkative.

As manager Joe Maddon said: “He’s not afraid to voice his opinion.”

So while Montero probably had a few ideas about the three-catcher experiment, he made sure to talk with Welington Castillo after this week’s trade with the Seattle Mariners and say good luck.

“Obviously, it was tough,” Montero said. “I tried to handle it as best as possible. I’m trying to be the best teammate as possible around here. But at the same time, as a player, you want to be (in your rhythm).

“You try to be as professional as you can. And when you’re in there, you’re trying to help them win, regardless. Right now, you got to adapt again.”

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David Ross is still Jon Lester’s personal catcher. So when the Diamondbacks awkwardly flashed a “Welcome Back” message on Chase Field’s video board during Friday’s game, Montero had just finished catching warm-up pitches from Lester in between innings.

If Montero could write out the lineup, he would probably want to be in there 162 times this year. Baseball allowed him to have a dream house in nearby Paradise Valley, so he believes you should respect the game and play hard all the time.

Montero, who will turn 32 this summer, earned two All-Star selections with the Diamondbacks and became the only major-league catcher to account for 1,000-plus innings in each of the last four seasons.

The Cubs hope some extra rest will help prevent Montero from feeling the same second-half fade as last season (.596 .OPS, or 164 points lower than what he put up before the All-Star break).

“He’s not 21 years old anymore,” Maddon said. “(Don’t) run him into the ground, he’s going to play a lot better.”

Montero is hitting .280 with four homers and 15 RBI through 34 games. He’s getting on base around 40 percent of the time and putting up an .852 OPS.

“This is baseball,” Montero said. “It comes and goes sometimes. I’ve been feeling pretty good hitting-wise. There’s going to be that period of time where you’re going to stink.

“You just got to go through that and try to get out of it as soon as possible. But it’s part of the game. You have ups and downs.” 

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Rondon is going through that now after his third blown save. The Cubs absorbed the three years and $40 million left on Montero’s contract because they wanted his presence.

Montero had already approached Rondon on Wednesday night at Petco Park, going to the mound to talk to the closer after he gave up a leadoff single in the ninth inning of an eventual 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

“What I’ve been seeing is when he gets runners on, the game speeds up (and gets) too fast for him,” Montero said. “So that’s what I was telling him: Hey, you know what, that’s when you got to slow the game down. That’s when you got to step out of the box, step off the mound and take your breather.

“Slow everything down. Because (his) heart rate – he was just flying right there. (He) really doesn’t want to let that run score. He just tries to do too much. And that’s when I say: Back it off. Try to make a good pitch rather than a nasty pitch.

“After the game, I told him: You need to slow yourself down, because when you don’t have anybody on base, you can see the quality of the pitches. When you got runners on base, you start flying open, you start missing – by far – the strike zone. So that’s when you got to slow down and just concentrate on making good, quality pitches.”   

The Cubs hope the message sinks in this time.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

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USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.