Cubs

Good vibes around Cubs interrupted by bad news for Ramirez

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Good vibes around Cubs interrupted by bad news for Ramirez

Bad news for Neil Ramirez interrupted all the good vibes around this Cubs team.

Ramirez walked off the mound with athletic trainer PJ Mainville in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Ramirez had just thrown three pitches to Joey Votto, struggling to find the velocity that’s made him a dominant reliever and shaking his right arm.

The Cubs are calling it “right shoulder discomfort” and expect to know more on Thursday after Ramirez gets an MRI.

“They haven’t really had a chance to analyze it in detail,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, the 90-mile-an-hour fastball was well below his thing. So something, obviously, was not well with him.”

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Catcher Miguel Montero immediately noticed the difference in Ramirez, who made his big-league debut last season and put up a 1.44 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 43.2 innings, looking like an elite setup guy.

“You don’t want to see that happen,” Montero said. “I don’t know if he’s hurt or not. But if he is, it’s a big loss. Hopefully, it’s nothing bad. He really kind of looked weird to me. Like the way he was warming up, something wasn’t right.

“(On his last pitch), he kind of pulled it and bounced it like he was trying to get it there. Something wasn’t right.”

That became the downer on a night where the Cubs (5-3) won their second series in a row, moved back into first place and hinted they might actually live up to some of the preseason hype.

Anthony Rizzo said it’s time to compete after Game 162 last season and doubled down during the team’s winter caravan, predicting the Cubs would win the National League Central this year.

Rizzo understood everyone would run wild with that quote, but the All-Star first baseman didn’t really care, finally seeing the pieces of the puzzle coming together.

Rizzo again set the tone in the first inning, blasting a two-run homer off ex-Cub Jason Marquis that disappeared into where the right-field bleachers are rising as a skeleton of steel beams.

[MORE: Cubs see Gold Glove/Andre Dawson potential in Jorge Soler]

The rebuild is a work in progress, but that shot was enough for Travis Wood, who Maddon affectionately called a “dirtbag” and “one of those throwback dudes.” Wood pitched into the eighth and got loud cheers from the crowd of 29,205 as he walked off the field after putting up seven scoreless innings.

“We need to do this,” Rizzo said. “We need to keep doing it and just get everyone rallying behind us. We’re all rallying for each other in here and we’ll get the whole city rallying behind us.” 

The Cubs felt confidence heading into this season with a deep, strong bullpen that had been methodically built. Justin Grimm — another pitcher acquired from the Texas Rangers along with Ramirez in the Matt Garza trade — is already on the disabled list with a forearm injury.

Theo Epstein’s front office and ex-manager Rick Renteria put Ramirez in an awkward situation last summer, trying to stash him at Triple-A Iowa for a “break” before the Major League Baseball Players Association intervened. The Cubs wound up putting Ramirez on the disabled list with “right triceps soreness.”

Maddon has to feel a level of concern for Ramirez, who will turn 26 next month and figures to be a big part of the future.

“It’s nothing real positive, I don’t think,” Maddon said. “We have to wait and see. I don’t like to go to negative town too quickly. But we’ll see.”  

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

Hear from Jake Arrieta after his first start as a visitor at Wrigley Field, including his thoughts on facing his former teammates and the standing ovation he received during his first at-bat (1:30). Then, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by MLB Network's Mark DeRosa to discuss the Cubs' leadoff spot, the team outperforming expectations so far, and much more (8:15).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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