Cubs

Cubs still waiting on final roster answers

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Cubs still waiting on final roster answers

Thursday, March 24, 2011Posted: 1:15 p.m. Updated: 4:24 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Mike Quade loves the ponies and spent four years managing Triple-A Iowa. This has the feel of a Des Moines caucus, and is being covered like a political horse race.

Its all whos up, whos down and whos surging ahead that day. A week out from Opening Day, the Cubs are putting the finishing touches on their roster, but delaying the major decisions on their pitching staff until the weekend.

Heres what we know: Jeff Baker and Darwin Barney have made claims on the second-base job by hitting above .350 and with their steady defensive play. Reed Johnson a 34-year-old veteran valued for his experience and clubhouse presence will be the fifth outfielder.

Phase 1 is done, Barney said. Im breaking with the Chicago Cubs. Its pretty amazing. Now the focus is on the team its on winning.

The Cubs appreciate Barneys intangibles he won the College World Series twice at Oregon State University and the 25-year-old represents another player drafted and developed by the organization.

Blake DeWitt has essentially made the team, but will again start working at third base an idea the Cubs had resisted and transition into more of a utility role. The 25-year-old has struggled at the plate (.167) and there are concerns about his range and ability to turn the double play at second base.

You still got to perform, Quade said. I can be as excited as I want about the possibilities of Blake DeWitt getting better and having a better season than he has this spring. If I didnt believe that, he wouldnt be on the club.

But suddenly (Baker and Barney) are making a case for themselves. And so now versatility becomes as important as anything.

The picture became clearer on Thursday when the Cubs optioned outfielder Fernando Perez to Triple-A Iowa and sent infielders Bobby Scales, Scott Moore, Augie Ojeda and Matt Camp to minor-league camp.

Perez was included in the Matt Garza deal and the Cubs would like to see him develop in Iowa. He turns 28 next month and has unbelievable speed but needs to improve his jumps and the angles he takes in the outfield.

Besides, the Cubs were already comfortable with Johnson, who made many friends during his first tour on the North Side (2008-09). Fans loved his reckless style and enjoyed watching him dive at the wall.

Johnson feels like he has rediscovered his swing after working closely with Rudy Jaramillo. Johnson remembers that the hitting coach basically turned around Mark DeRosas career in Texas.

Johnson signed a minor-league deal in January because he was so familiar with the organization. But he also noticed how non-roster players are on their own schedules and even take their drug tests at a different time.

Youre given all those constant reminders. (You) try to forget about it but stay focused, Johnson said. About a week to 10 days ago was really where I just put the confidence in myself (to say): Hey, Im going to make this team. And thats the way its going to be.

Yet the biggest question remains: Who becomes the fifth starter?

Andrew Cashner will start Saturday against the Rangers and try to eliminate Carlos Silva from consideration.

Silva had the best outing of any candidate on Wednesday one run in six innings but his spring ERA is still 10.90. There are concerns about how engaged and effective Silva will be for an entire season.

Cashner has a guaranteed spot on the roster and proved himself as a major-league reliever last season and could be another weapon in what looks like a very good bullpen. It has to be tempting to consider that possibility.

No temptation at all right now, Quade said, because that would do us no good if Im running him out there as a starter and not taking that seriously, or all of a sudden on the basis of four or five starts abandoning this completely.

The only time that Ill consider the other side of it is when his success as a starter or lack thereof has come to the point where we need to talk about whats best for him and the club. But right now I think we continue to let him pitch and let this play out.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

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USA TODAY

Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

Monday was a mixture of good news and bad news for the Cubs on the injury front.

Star shortstop Javy Baez was held out of the starting lineup Monday after suffering a heel injury in Sunday night's game, but manager Joe Maddon said he hopes Baez could be available to hit off the bench. 

Closer Brandon Morrow threw from flat ground (45 to 60 feet) Monday, his first day throwing since he suffered a setback earlier this spring in his return from offseason elbow surgery. 

That throwing session "went well," Theo Epstein said before the Cubs and Phillies faced off at Wrigley Field Monday night and Morrow will continue along a regular throwing progression from there, ramping up to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. The Cubs will evaluate along the way, exercising caution with the 34-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs also received encouraging news on Pedro Strop, who is recovering from a hamstring strain initially suffered in Arizona in late April. The veteran reliever threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, which went well, and is in line for another bullpen later this week. 

Then there was the bad news: Top prospect Nico Hoerner will miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist. 

Hoerner — playing for Double-A Tennessee — was hit in the wrist with a pitch on April 23 and has been sidelined since then. 

"He went to start his hitting progression; it didn't go great," Epstein said. "After a couple days, they did a CT scan and this time they did find a hairline fracture right where his forearm meets his hand, so right at his wrist essentially. 

"So he's gonna be in a splint for three weeks and get out of it and evaluate it from there. He'll be out at least a month, obviously, with this."

That's bad news for the Cubs, given Hoerner has already missed nearly a month and looked to be on the comeback trail just a few days ago. The young infielder has done nothing but hit since the Cubs made him the 24th overall pick in the MLB Draft last June and was slashing .300/.391/.500 with nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8) in 18 games this season.

Hoerner wasn't expected to impact the big-league level in 2019, but if he continued to flash the skills and production that made him the organization's top prospect all summer, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Cubs put him on the fast track to Chicago. That seems unlikely now that he'll miss at least two months of development. 

However, the Cubs will certainly take the good news on Morrow and Strop. Morrow was shut down in late April after a suffering yet another setback in his recovery and spent about a month without picking up a baseball. 

Any impact he can make on the Cubs bullpen later in the season would be a welcome addition after he saved 22 games with a 1.47 ERA in 35 apperances last year. But he didn't throw a pitch in the second half and is still a long way off from rejoining the big-league bullpen, even if he continues to show well healthwise.

Strop has been the Cubs' closer in Morrow's stead, though he's had a pair of hamstring injuries (last September and now again this spring). He last pitched on May 6 when he blew a save against the Marlins.

Even without Morrow (and now Strop, more recently), the Cubs bullpen has the best ERA in baseball (2.66) since the rough start to open the season.

"Since that first road trip, they've been — by the numbers — one of the best, if not the best in baseball," Epstein said. "So they've been doing a great job. We've had our hiccups along the way the way like every club will, but even under some difficult circumstances after some short starts, they've found a way to really put some zeros up there. 

"It's been impressive. It's been a group effort, which is nice to see. And Joe's done a great job picking the right spots for those guys, too."

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