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Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs

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Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs

Jason Hammel sat down with pitching coach Chris Bosio during the rain delay and watched video, trying to break down what went wrong during a season that’s gone so right for the Cubs (so far).

“It’s one of those nights where it seemed like they knew what was coming,” Hammel said after a 10-8 loss that saw the Detroit Tigers generate 19 hits as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning.

Wrigley Field had gotten loud and felt like a playoff atmosphere. For a moment, it became hard to tell which team recently fired its general manager, traded away its best pitcher and started to play for the future.

Dave Dombrowski is now running baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox, David Price is pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tigers aren’t the same monster team that won four division titles in a row.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue]

But for all the optimism on the North Side, the Cubs (67-50) haven’t accomplished anything close to that run yet. They absolutely need Hammel if they’re going to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates, hold off the San Francisco Giants and play deep into October.

“It’s unacceptable right now,” Hammel said. “We’re in the middle of something special.”

The Cubs still hold the second wild-card position, running three games behind the Pirates and three games in front of the Giants in what should be six-plus weeks of dramatic, meaningful baseball.

Detroit (57-61) hit Hammel hard in the first inning, almost drilling back-to-back-to-back homers – Miguel Cabrera’s line drive to left field became a ground-rule double after a replay review showed fan interference – and that started the “Let’s go Tigers!” chants.

Hammel put the Cubs in a 3-0 deficit and then gave up a two-run homer to Anthony Gose in the second inning, creating more questions about Joe Maddon’s quick hook, last month’s hamstring injury and the potential for a stretch-run fade after a first half that approached an All-Star level.

Maddon allowed Hammel to throw only 65 pitches in his last outing, and the manager pulled the veteran right-hander after four-plus innings in the start before that. The Cubs wound up winning both those games and going on a nine-game winning streak.

This time, Mother Nature made the decision for Maddon with a tornado watch, a flash flood warning and a rain delay that started in the third inning and lasted two hours and 17 minutes.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said Hammel is healthy, the velocity is there and the stuff is good: “He’s trying like way too hard.”

“I’ve probably been out of sync for the last few starts, but physically I feel fine,” Hammel said. “For whatever reason, mechanically, execution-wise, I’m not getting the ball down in the zone the way I did before. We’ll go back to the drawing board.

“Effort-wise, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different. I’m not trying to overthrow. Sometimes, less is more. It’s disappointing to go out there and have good stuff – like I did tonight – and just kind of get hit around the yard.”

The Tigers wound up beating Pedro Strop with finesse in the eighth inning. With Bob Costas up in the Wrigley Field press box calling the game for MLB Network, Detroit bunted for two singles before Strop walked Cabrera and J.D. Martinez drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center field.

The crowd of 39,684 had almost disappeared by then, with wide stretches of empty green seats throughout the ballpark. Strop intentionally walked pinch-hitter Victor Martinez before Nick Castellanos lifted a soft single into shallow right field to score two more runs.

The Cubs are supposed to be the rising power now and believe they can play with anyone. That starts with pitching.

“I don’t want anybody to change anything right now,” Maddon said. “I promise you, I mean that sincerely: There’s nothing I would change about our guys right now. Some have met adversity and fought through it. Others have been there, done that before and they understand how to do it.”

Sources: Cubs will open 2020 season against Brewers at Wrigley Field

Sources: Cubs will open 2020 season against Brewers at Wrigley Field

For all the dramatic changes to the 2020 schedule, one thing won’t change: The Cubs still open against the Brewers.

Almost four months after the originally scheduled opener, the Cubs and Brewers open their seasons July 24 at Wrigley Field, sources say.

The Cubs and White Sox both open at home that day, with the Sox playing the Twins.

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The Cubs play three series each against NL Central opponents, hosting the Brewers and Cardinals twice each (one road series vs. each) and Reds and Pirates once each (with two trips to each).

The Cubs and Sox play a pair of three-game series.

The full 60-game schedules are to be released at 5 p.m. Monday.

 

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How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

As the Cactus League shuttered its doors and Cubs players scattered across the country – some headed home, others stayed in Arizona —Tommy Hottovy stepped into uncharted territory.

Hottovy has been the Cubs pitching coach since December of 2018, so he’s guided his pitchers through offseasons before. But going from ramping up in Spring Training to not knowing when Major League Baseball would return? No one had a play book for that.

“Our philosophy was be over-ready and not try to play catchup,” starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “So, luckily we were able to do that.”

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Fast forward to Sunday, Day 3 of Cubs Summer Camp. By the end of the holiday weekend, four of the Cubs’ five presumptive starters had thrown at least two innings in an intrasquad scrimmage and four relievers had also gotten time on the mound.

“It’s just a testament to the work those guys put in over the process,” Hottovy said.

During the shutdown, Hottovy held regular meetings with the pitchers via video conference. They bounced ideas off each other and discussed their overall approach.

“We had so many resources between Tommy, Rossy (manager David Ross), the whole coaching staff staying in touch with us the whole time,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “And then other players. So, we really did it as a group.”

Out of those conversations, Hottovy learned that many of the pitchers wanted arm strength to be a focus during the break.

“Not just pitch-count wise,” Hottovy said, “but to feel that their arm was in the right throwing shape.”

So, he incorporated that into the pitchers’ throwing programs.

Each pitchers’ program was catered to the resources and facilities he had access to, as well as his own goals. But before ramping up for Summer Camp, most of the starting pitchers were throwing one bullpen session early in the week and a simulated game later in the week. As the season got closer, they added a second bullpen.

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“The reason I liked getting to those two bullpens,” Hottovy said, “was because now you kind of start simulating what it’s like to be on a five-game rotation.”

By the time they entered camp, many of the starting pitchers were already throwing multiple-inning simulation games. By Day 2 of camp, the Cubs were ready for a short intrasquad game. Hendricks threw three innings, and Yu Darvish threw two.

“Both of them had actually thrown more pitches in a simulated outing prior to coming here,” Hottovy said, “but we wanted to back that off a little bit, obviously knowing that the intensity was going to go up. They’re back on the field with players behind them facing more of our lineup, more of our hitters.”

On Sunday, the Cubs stretched an intrasquad out to five-innings. Chatwood and Alec Mills started, and Dan Winkler, Duane Underwood, Rex Brothers and James Norwood all pitched in relief.

“Everything’s based off pitching,” Ross said and then laughed. “We give the pitchers a hard time all the time; the pitchers kind of dictate how long the day’s going to go because these guys have got to get their pitch counts up.”

With less than three weeks until the season opener, Hottovy’s job still doesn’t return to normal. Instead of setting a schedule based on the order of the pitching rotation, he’s “front-loading” the starters. He also is preparing some relivers to throw extended innings.

“Right now, in my mind we have seven opening day starters,” he said, “…You can’t space them out too much in my opinion just because you can’t take that chance.”

 

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