Joe Maddon: Cubs in no rush to promote Javier Baez


Joe Maddon: Cubs in no rush to promote Javier Baez

MILWAUKEE — Joe Maddon says the Cubs are in no rush to promote Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa and potentially shake up their middle infield.

“The overall message I’m hearing is that our guys really want to make sure that he just gets it going,” Maddon said before Sunday’s 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

After Kris Bryant left that game as a precaution, feeling dizzy from a hard headfirst slide, the manager sounded optimistic about his All-Star third baseman: “We believe he’s fine.”

[MORE: Montero's future unclear with Schwarber in mix for Cubs]

Maddon lobbied for Baez to make the Opening Day roster, believing that Javy Being Javy would bring enough to the table in terms of speed, defense and baseball IQ to overcome any readjustment period to big-league pitching.

But Baez needed an extended leave of absence after his sister’s death in April and fractured a finger while trying to steal a base in early June. The Cubs could still use his Gary Sheffield bat speed at some point during a pennant race, especially with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro going through such a frustrating season.

“(It’s) the fact that he missed so much time,” Maddon said. “Right now, we’re OK. Obviously, if there’s an injury, then that could accelerate maybe, possibly. But for right now, though, I think our guys are pretty comfortable with the work that he’s getting and the progress he’s making — and not to really rush into it.”

The Cubs still have the Baez option because they didn’t make the deadline trade for pitching with the San Diego Padres (Tyson Ross) or Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco) that probably would have included the 22-year-old infielder as a centerpiece.

[SHOP: Buy a Javier Baez jersey]

Baez homered twice last week during his first game back with Iowa. He’s gone 7-for-23 with eight RBI — and 10 strikeouts — through five Triple-A games since returning from the injury.

The Cubs hope Bryant’s concussion-like symptoms won’t linger. Either way, Baez appears to be playing his way into next-man-up discussions.

“The kid’s had a difficult year,” Maddon said. “But he’s going to make an impact, possibly in the near future, definitely in the future. I am happy that he’s here. He’s a really talented baseball player.

“He could be very impactful moving down the road. Things happen, too, injury-wise. Depth is always a good thing to have. And having a kid like that around can really make a difference.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.