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Jason Heyward survives attack from swarm of bees during Cubs game

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Jason Heyward survives attack from swarm of bees during Cubs game

MESA, Ariz. — This looked like one of Joe Maddon’s gimmicks gone wild, an Easter Sunday swarm of bees surrounding Jason Heyward in center and chasing the Cubs outfielder all the way out to the warning track.  

Heyward jumped onto the fence at Sloan Park, trying to escape, but that didn’t work, either. He just kept swatting his glove through the air, brushing away the bees buzzing at his beard and waving around his blue Cubs hat. 

Heyward estimated he got stung at least 10 times in front of a sellout crowd, the TV cameras and a social-media audience that loves stuff like this. Fans sitting on the berm wrapped themselves underneath blankets during a bizarre third-inning scene that interrupted the game for several minutes.

“It was no stunt,” Heyward said after a 12-9 loss to the Seattle Mariners. “It was real.”

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This came two days after the Cubs manager had his players pose for pictures with two cubs from Bearizona Wildlife Park, near the end of a Camp Maddon that has featured all sorts of diversions, from mimes to karaoke to hippie costumes.

Heyward had moved from right field to center when Dexter Fowler left the game after feeling tightness on his left side. The Cubs downplayed it and didn’t have a postgame update on Fowler, who did feel good enough to homer in his first at-bat. So the bees attacked Heyward.

“I wasn’t thinking to get out of there until it just got crazy,” Heyward said. “I just tried to get out of the way. I should have went over the fence.

“It’s OK. Not allergic.”

Heyward — who usually comes across as calm and cool and older than 26 — simply shrugged off the entire episode. But a plague descending upon a player at the beginning of an eight-year, $184 million contract sort of fit into the sometimes surreal vibe surrounding this team in spring training.

[MORE: Where things stand with Javier Baez and Cubs roster]

For Sunday's workout, Cubs players and coaches dressed like 1970s gym teachers with tight shorts and knee-high socks. The bees ultimately forced Cubs relievers to walk across the grass after the third inning and move into the right-field bullpen with the Mariners.

“That was wild — I’ve never had a delay like that before,” said pitcher Jason Hammel, who gave up two of Robinson Cano’s three homers and was charged with nine runs in 4.1 innings. “I had no idea. But once I figured out what was going on, you could see from the whole left-field line all the way out to center – they were everywhere.”

Now the question becomes: Can strength/conditioning coach Tim Buss find a beekeeper suit in time for Monday’s workout?     

“The fact that Heyward isn’t swollen beyond belief right now — I don’t know how he made it out of that,” Hammel said.

 

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.