Cubs

Cubs-Royals: Setting the record straight on Jorge Soler’s hustle

Cubs-Royals: Setting the record straight on Jorge Soler’s hustle

SURPRISE, Ariz. – During a Q&A at Cubs Convention this winter, high-ranking executive Jason McLeod revealed that Jorge Soler got benched a few times last season for not hustling, a detail that seemed unnecessary, since the Cuban outfielder had already been traded to the Kansas City Royals one month earlier in a deal for All-Star closer Wade Davis. 

McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development, singled out Soler in response to a fan’s general question about how a “Respect 90” organization handles those situations, saying: “This is not trying to harp on Georgie at all, but he got yanked a couple of times last year for not hustling out to the outfield, for not running down the line.”

“I didn’t do that,” manager Joe Maddon said before Wednesday’s 7-3 win over the Royals at Surprise Stadium. 

“Most of the time when they take a player out of the game for not hustling,” Soler said through Royals translator/catching coach Pedro Grifol, “they bring him in the office and say: OK, we took you out for (this). But that never happened.”

McLeod gets the benefit of the doubt as someone who has good people skills, strong relationships throughout the organization and a straightforward approach with the media. McLeod also made a larger good cop, bad cop point about Maddon not burying players during his media sessions while bench coach Dave Martinez and third base coach Gary Jones dealt with Soler in private.

Soler didn’t seem to be aware of McLeod’s comments, though he did confirm that happened in the minors.

“Maybe that’s what Jason meant, because I had not had that issue,” Maddon said. “If we had a problem with any guy, yeah, Davey talks, Jonesy might talk to him. And then if it gets chronic, then I talk to him. I try to avoid embarrassing anybody publicly in the dugout. Say a guy doesn’t run hard, I know the moment I start walking down the dugout, it becomes an issue. And I don’t like that.

“I think there are better ways. I don’t have to exert my authority publicly in order to get my point across. I’d much rather handle it through the proper channels.

“We talked to (Soler) – we talked to a lot of guys actually – about pop-ups and they’re frustrated or whatever. That happens more than you know. But I did not ever pull George for that.”  

There were times the Cubs had told Soler to not run with maximum effort, to try to preserve his body and avoid some of the leg injuries that plagued his development. It also became a World Series storyline after a 1-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians where Lonnie Chisenhall jumped and misjudged a flyball Soler drove into right field. Soler ran hard enough for a triple and has given the Cubs his size for a championship ring.

“I am really pleased with the way our guys have respected that distance,” Maddon said. “We got in trouble at the end of the year. Maybe a guy thought it was a home run. That’s interpreted badly. I get it. Of course, you don’t want that to happen. But it happens.

“That does not mean they lack respect. It just means they had a poor judgment or moment. So I think you have to treat every situation separately and exercise common sense. But I never had that issue with George in regards to pulling him, (though I) did have conversations with him, yes.”   

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more  than 14 months ago.

That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.

Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning. 

Does he feel like he's still moving forward?

"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."

The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.

He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.

"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke. 

"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."

Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.

Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far. 

Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform. 

In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019. 

Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.

"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself. 

"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."

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Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

The news on Brandon Morrow might not be so positive, but the Cubs did receive very good reports on their injured ace this weekend.

Jon Lester threw a simulated game against a couple of his Cubs teammates Saturday morning at Wrigley Field, tossing 45 pitches in total. In between "innings" of the sim game, Lester was also working out on the side in an effort to ramp up the intensity and simulate more of a game feel to see how his injured left hamstring will respond.

Lester initially went on the injured list two weeks ago after he was removed in the third inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8, when he hurt his hamstring running the bases.

"[The sim game went] really well," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "I thought he looked very good. Pretty amazing where he's at already. ... Did not hold back at all, so it's very encouraging."

Maddon also said he thought Lester's stuff looked good from where he was watching behind the catcher and pointed out that the Cubs ace was "hypercritical of himself," indicating that Lester's focus was on competing and making good pitches instead of worrying about his hamstring or any physical limitations.

The Cubs don't have a next step mapped out for Lester just yet, as they will see how the 35-year-old feels Sunday after the "rigorous" activity Saturday.

There is currently no timetable for his return, but Maddon didn't rule out the possibility that Lester would be able to pitch sometime in the coming week.

The Cubs rotation has looked very good since Lester went down — combining for a 0.96 ERA in the last 7 games before Yu Darvish struggled early in Saturday's tilt with the Diamondbacks.

Tyler Chatwood gets the ball for the Cubs Sunday to close out the series against Arizona and then the team has Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels lined up for the first two games of the series against the Dodgers when they come to town Tuesday night. 

The Cubs won't need a fifth starter in the rotation again until next Saturday, April 27, so that could be a date to circle for a possible Lester return if all continues to go well in the veteran's recovery.

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