'Grandpa Rossy' playing free and easy in final season with Cubs

'Grandpa Rossy' playing free and easy in final season with Cubs

David Ross pumped his fist and jogged back to the dugout, high-fiving Jon Lester and fellow Cubs teammates along the way.

As far as celebrations go, this one was pretty tame for Ross, but it was also just the top of the second inning in a scoreless ballgame in April against the team with the worst record in baseball.

Ross is a fun-loving guy who typically celebrates everything he can, but he's also taking it all in and playing free and easy during his victory lap before he retires at the end of the season.

We've seen him skip around on the bases, douse teammates in ice showers and whatever that celebration is in the dugout that may be a little NSFW

"He's always stopped and smelled the roses," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's unique. Different cat from what I've had in the past."

Ross also has more to celebrate this season, hitting .267 with an .851 OPS. He's already scored more runs (8) than he did all of last season (6) in almost 150 fewer plate appearances and has an OPS more than 300 points higher than 2015 (.518).

Over the first month of the season, Ross has twice as many homers as he hit in 2015.

"At least I'm contributing and working at-bats and making the guys throw rather than three pitches to get me out," Ross said. "I'm just trying to have good at-bats and being a part of this group. 

"These guys pride themselves on going up there and being tough outs and I just want to get in the mix."

The 39-year-old has also done a solid job of limiting the running game, throwing out four baserunners already this year.

Ross also caught his first career no-hitter last month in Cincinnati and sports a sparkling 1.64 catcher's ERA

"He's playing at a really high level right now, regardless of his age," Maddon said. "He playing at a really high level offensively, defensively, the way he takes command or control of the game. You don't see catchers take control as well as he takes control these days.

"He's not afraid to say something out to the pitcher or the defense. He had a coversation with the umpire [Friday]. He does a lot of things that guys don't really do a whole lot anymore."

After Friday's win over the Braves, Ross joked that his teammates keep asking him why everybody always thinks he's so nice even though he spends so much time yelling at everybody.

Ross admitted he does get on Lester a lot because he looks at the veteran southpaw as a little brother and expects a lot out of him.

Lester obviously appreciates that from his personal catcher.

"Rossy stinks," Lester joked after his start Friday. "I'm tired of Rossy. I'm tired of dealing with him. You guys don't get to see the other side that I get to see.

"I mean, obviously Rossy is a big contributor on a lot of different levels. ... He's had some really good ABs for us this year. This guy is the consummate professional. He's the guy that enver takes a play off, whether he's in the dugout or in the game.

"He always expects the best from everybody, so it's nice to see the reward for the work he's put in to get where he's at. I don't want to keep talking good about him because then he'll probably get wind of it and then I won't hear the end of it."

The Cubs entered the season with Ross figuring to fill a role as pseudo-coach, part-time catcher and full-time cheerleader with Kyle Schwarber and Miguel Montero also available behind the plate. 

But both Schwarber and Montero are now on the disabled list and Ross is currently the guy sharing the catching duties with recent call-up Tim Federowicz.

The situation may have changed, but Grandpa Rossy's self-awareness hasn't.

"I know I can't catch every day," he said. "I'll tell you that. I know I'm not an everyday catcher. Nope. Not that guy."

Ross also won't credit his uptick in playing time as a reason for his increased productivity this season.

"I've been doing this backup thing for a long time," he said. "It's just about having confidence in your approach and what you're doing up there.

"The everyday at-bats: Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't. Depends on how you feel. I've had a good approach; I've worked on it since spring and this offseason and I just feel a lot better at the plate. That's the bottom line."

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

As the Cubs peruse over their list of managerial candidates, one name reportedly made a strong impression following his interview with the team.

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, Astros bench coach Joe Espada left the Cubs front office “exceptionally impressed” following his interview on Monday.

Espada, 44, has spent the last two seasons as Astros bench coach following three seasons as Yankees third base coach. He is one of MLB’s more sought after managerial candidates this winter and one of three known external candidates for the Cubs’ opening, along with Joe Girardi and Gabe Kapler.

Former Cubs catcher and current front office assistant David Ross has been the presumed front runner for the Cubs' opening. But based on Kaplan’s report, Espada clearly has given Epstein and Co. something to think about, which makes sense, considering Espada is coming from an innovative Astros organization.

Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference that there’s no timeline for the Cubs’ managerial search. However, MLB prefers teams to not make big announcements during the World Series, which kicks off on Oct. 22. Thus, the Cubs may not make an announcement for little while longer, though this is purely speculation.

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The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs


The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

If anybody thought the Cubs' 2019 season was a roller coaster, it was nothing compared to what Brad Wieck has gone through this year.

Wieck — the 6-foot-9 left-handed reliever — went from a cancer diagnosis to a Padres cast-off and wound up finishing the year carving through the heart of the Cardinals order in the eighth inning of a must-win game in late-September for the Cubs.

Wieck began 2019 with a testicular cancer diagnosis in January and underwent surgery shortly after. That left him playing catch-up all spring training, unable to lift, run or throw off a mound for a month after the surgery. He only ended up facing live hitters twice before the regular season started and was never able to recover with the Padres, putting up a 5.71 ERA in 34.2 MLB innings. 

Then the Cubs came calling.

While the rest of Cubdom was understandably occupied on Trade Deadline Day celebrating the Nick Castellanos move, Theo Epstein's front office made a smaller move with the San Diego Padres. And Wieck wasn't even the central focus of that trade, as more of the emphasis was on the departure of Carl Edwards Jr. — a polarizing figure in the Cubs bullpen the last few seasons, including throughout the 2016 World Series run.

Yet Epstein's front office didn't treat Wieck like a throw-in. From Day 1 with the organization, the Cubs handled the southpaw more like a first-round draft pick.

Right after the trade, Wieck was immediately assigned to Triple-A Iowa, where he made a pair of appearances against the Tacoma Rainiers. From there, he was invited to Chicago to meet with the Cubs front office and throw a bullpen off the Wrigley Field mound.

"So I got here and they had a whole presentation of what my current curveball looked like and what they would like the shape of it to look like and so we just started messing around with grip," Wieck said. "I went to a spike curveball grip and we got in the lab and we started throwing it more and we came up with consistent break of what we thought was gonna be a better break than the curveball that I had.

"Just trial and error, honestly. We just looked at Rapsodo stuff and saw what spin efficiency is doing and spin rate and trying to get my curveball spin to replicate the exact opposite of my fastball. That's what our goal was."

That led to a trip to the "Pitch Lab" in Arizona where Wieck worked with Josh Zeid, the Cubs' pitching analyst, to continue to mess around with the new curveball grip and add a new, consistent weapon to his arsenal. 

If the term "spike curveball" sounds familiar, it should. It's become the unofficial pitch of the Cubs (you know, if organizations defined themselves by just one pitch). Rowan Wick — Wieck's former roommate in the Padres system — broke out as a trusted big-league reliever in large part because of the emergence of his spike curve. Craig Kimbrel throws one and also taught the pitch to Yu Darvish, who added it to the plethora of options already at his disposal. 

Wieck's time in Arizona was about getting comfortable with the new pitch and not worrying about facing hitters or pitching in a game. After a couple weeks in the desert, the Cubs threw him back out on the mound in Iowa, where he made four appearances before getting the call to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September. 

Right off the bat, we got a look at that spike curve and there is no doubt it can play at Wrigley Field, especially when the shadows roll in:

Just like that, a new weapon was born and Wieck developed more confidence in that reshaped curveball.

"I like that they're forcing me to throw it more because I've been a fastball-heavy pitcher my whole life," Wieck said. "I trust my fastball with my life. To have a catcher get back there and make you throw it, that's really good."

The Cubs' confidence in Wieck also grew as the month went on. He emerged alongside his buddy Wick as vital pieces of the late-season bullpen while Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler dealt with injuries. It got to the point where Joe Maddon kept Wieck in to face the Cardinals' big boppers (Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — both right-handed hitters) with a 1-run lead in the eighth inning on that final homestand. We all know how that game ended (Kimbrel served up homers on back-to-back pitches for another gut-wrenching Cubs loss), but Wieck did his job and proved he's far more than just a lefty specialist.

This fall was the first time Wieck had been a part of a playoff push and that outing against the Cardinals was only the 46th MLB appearance of his young career. Moving into 2020, the 28-year-old southpaw looks to be one of only a few arms penciled into the Cubs bullpen. 

The Cubs had their eyes on Wieck for a while before they were able to trade for him and they don't plan on rolling out a big presentation for each acquisition or ask every new arm to start throwing a brand new pitch or completely remake one of their existing pitches. This was a unique situation, but it's one that already paid dividends in a short period of time and could help set up the bullpen for the future. 

It's also another indicator that the "Pitch Lab" can work, as Wieck joins Wick and Kyle Ryan as products of the Cubs' new model they hope to fine-tune and grow. Epstein will hire a director of pitching for the organization this winter and the Cubs are hoping to change the narrative surrounding their shocking lack of pitching development under this front office. 

In Wieck's case, it was a group effort from the Cubs — the front office, research and development department, big-league coaching staff (led by pitching coach Tommy Hottovy), the pitching analytics unit based in Arizona and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara all teamed up to make it happen for the tall lefty in only a month's time.

It's a model the organization will attempt to duplicate moving forward, beginning this winter.