Cubs

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Joe Maddon made the obvious choice and named Jon Lester as the Opening Night starter, the Cubs manager joked about Kyle Hendricks reacting to the news by throwing stuff around the weight room.

So imagine how last year's ERA titleholder and a World Series Game 7 starter responded to the idea of being slotted fifth in the rotation.

"I heard things rattling in there," Maddon said with a laugh.

The Cubs revealed their alignment before Thursday afternoon's Jake Arrieta vs. Zack Greinke matchup at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, confirming Brett Anderson will work as a starter (for as long as he's healthy) while Mike Montgomery moves to the bullpen for the defending champs.

The Cubs want John Lackey to face the St. Louis Cardinals, so he will open as the No. 3 starter at Busch Stadium. To break up the lefties in the rotation, Anderson — who once tweeted: "Kyle Hendricks looks like he'd celebrate a World Series win with a glass of 2% milk, Oreos and a book" — will start Game 4 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

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Whether or not the Cubs are overthinking this and overplaying their hand with a mild-mannered personality, don't expect Hendricks to rage against the pitching infrastructure.

"That's the point about our group," Maddon said. "Everybody buys in. Everybody's good. They understand being a part of the puzzle in your own unique way.

"It's kind of neat when you can have these conversations, knowing that ego's not going to play a part of it from the player coming back at you. They know it is part of the overall picture. They also know that the purpose is to try to do what we did last year.

"It's a unique situation. I'm not saying we're taking advantage of it, because everybody kind of digs it."

Whether or not Hendricks repeats his 2.13 ERA and third-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award vote, the Cubs see 200 innings as his next level after throwing 180 in 2015 and 190 last season (plus seven playoff starts combined).

"Everybody gets hung up on numbers," Maddon said. "He's definitely better than a No. 5 starter. It just happens that we're going to slot him in the five-hole coming out of camp. It's not a pecking order regarding ability by any means.

"A lot of it is just comfort zone for us with Kyle doing so well there last year. But, listen, Kyle can be a lot of people's No. 2s or even a 1 in a situation right now, too."

All along, the Cubs have coached up and managed Hendricks to the point where he could beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the franchise's first pennant in 71 years.

"Why mess with that?" Maddon said. "As long as his ego doesn't force you to attempt to try to do something differently, and it doesn't, outside of throwing things a little bit. He's beautiful. We're all good."

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Cubs taking care to make sure Pedro Strop's hamstring issues are behind him

Pedro Strop said he feels "ready" in his return from a hamstring injury, but he and the Cubs aren't going to rush it.

The veteran reliever has missed most of May with the injury, but threw 25-pitch bullpens on both Monday and Wednesday and has reported zero issues. He said it's been more than a week since he last felt pain in the area.

But considering this is Strop's third hamstring injury in the last eight months, the Cubs want to be extra cautious to make sure this will not happen again.

Plus, there's no point in rushing him back right now, even with the bullpen struggling. The Cubs would certainly welcome Strop back to the active roster immediately, but he's going to be a huge key for them down the stretch and they need to ensure he's healthy for that.

"I think we're just being overly cautious because we don't want this to happen again," Joe Maddon said. 

But how can Cubs avoid another hamstring injury with the soon-to-be-34-year-old? 

"We're building strength, we're working hard to make it stronger instead of just, 'Oh, it's OK and pain-free, let's go out there and have the same thing happen again,'" Strop said. "We're just taking care."

He missed the final two weeks of the regular season last year and pitched through "severe pain" in the National League wild-card game after first hurting his hamstring in Washington D.C. He then missed time in spring training with an issue in the other leg.

The injuries are not all directly related, but hamstrings are tricky by nature.

"That's a hammy, man. When you mess up with those things, they keep reminding you that they're there," Maddon said. "He has to continue to be proactive with the work in between and our guys in the back there do a wonderful job rehabbing and strengthening. 

"I think some guys are just predetermined to do those kinds of things and it really stinks. But it happens. So our next best thing is to create that program that hopefully prevents it from happening again. 

"In the meantime, just really monitoring him and not pushing him too hard, etc. But hamstrings are hamstrings, man. They're just no fun. Once you pull them once, there's a chance to do it again."

Strop said he will throw another bullpen Saturday and doesn't believe he needs a rehab stint. Because this was a leg injury, he's been able to continue throwing throughout the recovery process and keep his arm strength up.

If Strop continues to report well and doesn't go on a rehab assignment, we could possibly see him back in the Cubs bullpen early next week, which would be a welcome sign for a unit that has suddenly run into some tough sledding of late.

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Pedro Strop adds another chapter to the Legend of El Mago

Pedro Strop adds another chapter to the Legend of El Mago

The Legend of El Mago continues to grow. 

Two days after Javy Baez's pinch-hit walk-off, Pedro Strop gave us a behind-the-scenes account of the ordeal.

Baez did not start that Tuesday night game because of a heel/ankle injury suffered two days earlier, but he was called on to pinch hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cubs had just battled back to tie things up when Kris Bryant hustled home on Albert Almora Jr.'s tapper in front of home plate.

It was the second straight game in which Baez didn't play, but as the ninth inning approached and the Cubs began to mount their comeback, he talked the Cubs training staff into taping his ankle and letting him pinch-hit. 

At the same time, Baez was telling fellow injured teammate Strop that he was going to make sure the Cubs won the game before extra innings.

"Oh my god, that was crazy," an animated Strop said. "We were just sitting [in the clubhouse] watching the game. We were getting ready to go to the dugout and support the boys and I was like, 'Let's go, we don't want to go to extra innings.' He's like, 'No extra innings, I'm gonna end this game right now.' 

"He started putting his shoes on and I'm like, 'Javy, you're not playing today.' And all of a sudden, I hear on the TV and they're like, 'Joe Maddon's going to his bench; Javy Baez is pinch hitting.' I was like, 'What?! Is this really gonna happen?'

"And then first pitch, it happens. Oh my god, it was crazy. I started running like crazy in here and was just screaming. It was unbelievable."

Strop — who is recovering from a hamstring injury — joked that the celebration was more proof he's nearing 100 percent health.

As for Baez, he assured everybody he would've been able to stay in Tuesday's game to play defense if it went into extra innings and he was in the starting lineup for both Wednesday and Thursday's games against the Phillies.

"I told Stroppy I was gonna end the game and he didn't believe me," Baez said. "And then everything happened and Stroppy told me, 'I thought I saw everything in baseball, but I've never seen this.' It was a great moment and I was swinging first pitch — like always."

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