Cubs

Cubs: The wait for Kris Bryant could be almost over

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Cubs: The wait for Kris Bryant could be almost over

Adidas put Kris Bryant’s image on a billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee, promising the mega-prospect will be “WORTH THE WAIT.”

It’s almost over. The Cubs have already crossed off nine of the 12 days needed to delay Bryant’s free agency until after the 2021 season, and injuries at the major-league level could help spring the third baseman from Triple-A Iowa.

If Tommy La Stella’s “side” injury lingers, and Mike Olt’s wrist doesn’t respond, could we see Bryant sooner rather than later?

“Maybe, yeah, we’ll see,” team president Theo Epstein said before Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. “We’ll just weigh all the factors.”

[RELATED - Kris Bryant tracker: Counting down the days until Chicago]

This doesn’t mean the Cubs will have Bryant’s big bat in the middle of their lineup on Tuesday night, but it does create a potential opening for this weekend’s series against the San Diego Padres at Clark and Addison.

Ideally, the Cubs would like a big-time prospect to debut on the road, in a less-pressurized environment, away from the Wrigleyville fishbowl. That’s why people around the team have pointed to next week’s trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as a logical spot for Bryant’s arrival.

La Stella is still feeling sore and getting treatment, and the Cubs have been fuzzy with the details. By the time Joe Maddon met reporters for his daily media session, the manager didn’t know if La Stella would be available to pinch-hit that night. After Monday’s game, the Cubs planned to discuss how long they could ride out the infielder’s injury.

The Cubs also scratched Olt from Monday’s lineup as he recovers from the 96-mph fastball that drilled his right wrist on Saturday night at Coors Field. As the Opening Day third baseman fell to the ground in the ninth inning of a victory over the Colorado Rockies, Twitter lit up with Bryant speculation.

“We’ll see,” Epstein said. “Obviously, his development is a hugely important factor, and then the needs of the big-league team, as well.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

Would Bryant first have to work on his outfield defense at Iowa before getting called up?

“It depends on the circumstances,” Epstein said.

Bryant put up 43 homers, 110 RBI and a 1.098 OPS during his first full season in professional baseball last year. He rode that momentum into the Cactus League, hitting .425 with nine homers in 40 at-bats and becoming arguably the most talked-about player in baseball.

In an age of overhyping prospects, Bryant is as close to ready as you’re going to find. He hasn’t lost focus at Iowa, hitting .381 with two homers through five games. 

Ever since the Cubs drafted Bryant No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013, team officials have raved about his work ethic, emotional maturity and sense for being a good teammate.

“(I’ve said) that his performance, obviously last year, and then even during spring training, showed that he’s really close,” Epstein said. “And that we’re probably more likely to get him sooner rather than later. It just started, though. We’re trying to get him into a good rhythm down there.”

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

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AP

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

Kyle Hendricks' shoulder injury isn't opening the door for Adbert Alzolay to make his way into the Cubs rotation.

Not initially, at least.

The Cubs will hand Tyler Chatwood the ball in Hendricks' normal spot Thursday evening against the Mets at Wrigley Field, keeping Alzolay in the minors for the time being. 

When Hendricks hit the injured list over the weekend, many speculated it could be the Cubs' top pitching prospect who gets the call, as Alzolay has been on fire in Triple-A (1.93 ERA, 40 K in 28 innings over his last 5 starts). But the Cubs have two veteran starting pitching options hanging out in their bullpen in Chatwood and Mike Montgomery and it would send a bad message inside the clubhouse to pass over those guys and call up a starter from the minors to take a turn in the rotation.

The Cubs also felt like Chatwood has earned the chance to start after dealing with last year's struggles and having a resurgent season out of the bullpen and in his one previous spot start.

"He's been pitching a lot better," Joe Maddon said of Chatwood. "We believe he's earned this opportunity to pitch in the situation. ... It's an earned situation."

The Cubs made sure Chatwood was stretched out, as they held him back in case of extra innings Sunday night in Los Angeles and then had him throw in the bullpen after the game to help build his stamina back up to join the rotation.

But even if Alzolay won't be joining the rotation this week, that doesn't mean his opportunity isn't right around the corner. The Cubs have been discussing the potential for a six-man rotation in the near future, as they just began a stretch of 17 games in 17 days before their next break on July 5. 

"That's been something we've talked about a lot," GM Jed Hoyer said. "This is really the third time we've had 2-3 weeks in a row [of games]. No doubt, the starters wear down after 2-3 times through the rotation on four days rest and we're aware of their age and mileage on some of these guys. We want to make sure we take care of them. In general, getting extra rest is something we've talked about going into the break."

The Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation before and after the All-Star Break in past seasons and it makes sense to do so again this year, even with Hendricks on the shelf. Montgomery and Alzolay are both options and then Chatwood, of course, though Maddon insisted the Cubs have not come up with a concrete plan for the rotation beyond Thursday's outing.

The big question looming over the rotation is how long Hendricks will be out. He was in some kind of groove before experiencing shoulder issues in his last start against the Dodgers.

"All the test confirmed what we thought — he's kinda dealing with an impingement," Hoyer said. "I feel like we got ahead of it. We're not sure how much time he'll miss. We'll try to take it slowly and take the length of the season into account."

It's still only mid-June and the Cubs are hoping they're going to be playing baseball for another four-plus months, so they know how important Hendricks is to the overall goal of a second championship. 

They'll practice patience with him in his recovery, but right now, they can't say whether or not Cubs fans will be able to see him pitch again before the All-Star Game.

Cubs players support White Sox extending protective netting: 'That's a positive step for the sport'

Cubs players support White Sox extending protective netting: 'That's a positive step for the sport'

Albert Almora’s foul ball that struck a young girl in Houston’s Minute Maid Park started a discussion around baseball. The other team in Chicago became the first to act on it.

On Tuesday, the White Sox announced that the team will be extending the protective netting at Guaranteed Rate Field to both foul poles later this summer. As the news broke in the afternoon, Cubs players were asked about it before the first Crosstown game of the year. Unsurprisingly, all of them were in favor of the move.

“I think obviously that’s a positive step in this sport,” Almora said. “I don’t think anybody should go home with bumps or bruises or even worse so whatever they got to do to take care of that, I’m glad they’re taking procedures.”

Almora admitted that the incident he was involved in has moved the conversation forward and led to more action from teams. Before the White Sox announced the decision, the Iowa Cubs, the Cubs Triple-A affiliate, had said they would be extending the netting at their park.

“Unfortunately my incident was, I don’t want to say the reason behind it, but I think teams are obviously paying attention,” Almora said. “Even incidents that aren’t making headlines, we had one in Dodgers Stadium where I saw the section of the crowd go silent while we’re still playing. At least 10 fans go home with bumps and bruises at the best. I don’t want to see that and I know any player in this league doesn’t want to see that either.”

Manager Joe Maddon said this wouldn't have happened so quickly without Almora's incident.

"Everything that occurs like that is going to expedite," Maddon said. "It always does. It normally takes a situation to get things rolling so of course it had some bearing on it."

Jon Lester thinks more teams will follow suit now that the White Sox have been the first one to extend the netting.

“Would I like to see it? 100 percent, but we’ll see how far my opinion gets us,” Lester said. “It’s a positive. Obviously when one team does it, then you get kind of the herding effect and the rest of people follow.”

Anthony Rizzo also believes the rest of the league will get there eventually, but wasn’t sure going all the way to the foul poles is necessary.

“Both foul poles is pretty aggressive in my opinion, but you don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Rizzo said. “I think sooner or later it probably will end up being both foul poles for every team, but I think the netting here is really good. There’s some line drives that hit fans, but that’s far enough away where it’s not the span of a finger and if you’re engaged in a game, which most everyone here is usually. You don’t ever want to see anyone get hurt so whatever it takes for people not to get hurt.”

Maddon told a story from his playing career to explain why the issue was close to him before Almora's foul ball. When he played in Quad Cities in 1976, he saw a kid sitting behind home plate get hit in the face because the net wasn't very wide. 

"I sat with his dad and the kid had a bloody face and from that moment it made an impact on me," Maddon said. "I won't let my kids sit anywhere at a ballpark unless there's a net in front of them or if they're high enough or far enough back that the velocity is off the baseball by the time it gets there. The way the nets are today, you can see through them relatively well. I'm good."

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