Cubs

Cubs want to see Hector Rondon take things to another level

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Cubs want to see Hector Rondon take things to another level

MESA, Ariz. - Is Hector Rondon an elite closer?

That question has yet to be truly answered, but the Cubs believe the 28-year-old right-hander is on the right track.

After the Jose Veras experiment blew up in 2014, Rondon took over as the Cubs' closer, saving 29 games with a 2.42 ERA that season.

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Last year, he began the season in the ninth-inning role before losing sole possession of the spot midseason.

After about two months of Rondon and Jason Motte sharing the role, Rondon caught fire and never relinquished his spot as stopper from July 29 onward, even though manager Joe Maddon refused to name an official closer.

"He came back [to closer] and nailed it down towards the end of the year," Maddon said. "I was very proud of the way he handled all that. And he should be.

"He could have easily complained, cried, made it very, very difficult for a lot of people, but he didn't. He took the adjustment the proper way, came back and was better than ever."

From July 29 on, Rondon was 18-for-19 in save opportunities, posting a 1.38 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while striking out 30 batters in 26 innings.

He picked up three saves in the Cubs' four-game sweep over the San Francisco Giants Aug. 6-9, including the final game of the series when Rondon loaded the bases with nobody out before bearing down and striking out the side to ensure a 2-0 victory.

That series really put the Cubs on the fast track to contention and Rondon was right in the thick of things, picking up 15 saves in the final two months of the season.

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It's that kind of aggression that has the Cubs excited for the future, which is what Maddon told Rondon in their one-on-one meeting as spring training got underway.

"The point I wanted to make to him was that you definitely have another level to achieve," Maddon said. "He was really good towards the end of the season. Really nice.

"But now his mind's going to catch up with all these other [physical] abilities. The ability to process the moment, the ability to understand what the right pitch to throw is in the moment.

"And if something starts getting sped up a bit, to slow it down. Those are the next things for him to be able to do. And when he does, you're really going to see some saves come out of this guy."

When the Cubs took Rondon out of the closer's role last season, they wanted to see him pitch within the strike zone more, going right after guys instead of nibbling.

Rondon's 1.67 season ERA was topped by only two pitchers with at least 10 saves - Aroldis Chapman (1.63 ERA) and Wade Daves (0.94).

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

But does Rondon - who finished tied for 20th in Major League Baseball with 30 saves - feel like he has established himself as a closer?

"I don't know," he said. "Especially with my position last year - I lost my job and then I got it back.

"I'm really happy with the job I did last year and I feel like I'm in position [to do that again] this year."

Maddon, however, gave Rondon a vote of confidence.

"He's establishing himself as a legitimate closer right now," Maddon said. "I really anticipate to see even better work from him this year."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th 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.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

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USA TODAY

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.