Cubs

Joe Maddon knows it’s time to start pushing Cubs harder – except Wade Davis

Joe Maddon knows it’s time to start pushing Cubs harder – except Wade Davis

BALTIMORE – The Cubs gave Joe Maddon a shiny new toy last summer without handing over the instruction manual – or the manager never bothered to read it – or something else got lost in translation.

How to handle Aroldis Chapman became a recurring storyline, from his tone-deaf welcome-to-Chicago press conference to the first- and second-guessing even after winning a World Series Game 7.   

As the defending champs try to find another gear after a stop-and-start first half, Maddon understands “now is the time to push it a little bit, absolutely.” Except with All-Star closer Wade Davis, who has already shown an ability or willingness to work multiple innings and notched the final out in a World Series for the 2015 Kansas City Royals.  

“I learned early last year with Chappy that he didn’t want to do it,” Maddon said Saturday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “When we first got him, I thought: ‘We’re good.’ And then I found out that it wasn’t so good, so we backed off. We had the conversation right there for the postseason and then everything was easy after that.”

Does Davis have a Santiago that you have to clear it with?

“I’m not aware of it,” Maddon said when asked about Chapman’s personal assistant who hung around the clubhouse and functioned as a go-between for the 100-mph closer and the coaching staff. “Santiago, we had a great relationship, it was awesome.

“But, yeah, with Wade, I don’t want to push him on that, unless it’s absolutely necessary, with or without Santiago.”   

While Maddon can ride $155 million ace Jon Lester and new addition Jose Quintana – and make daily lineup decisions that aren’t as focused on the big picture – he’s not ready to extend Davis for four- or five-out saves: “I don’t think so, not yet.”

Because the Cubs purposely built a deeper bullpen this year with Koji Uehara, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop and want to keep Davis performing at this optimal level (2-0, 1.74 ERA, 17-for-17 in save chances) for a full season.  

“That would be like if everybody’s exhausted,” Maddon said. “Listen, I’m good with Koji. I’m good with C.J. Stropy’s been pitching really good in the eighth. I have no problem with any of that stuff.

“I’m saying when you get on a nice run when you start winning some games, the guys get fatigued, and then all of a sudden you may have to get an extra inning or an extra out or two out of somebody under those circumstances.

“Right now, we’re OK. But that would be the reason why I would do it, because if the bullpen’s fatigued, we’re on a nice little run right here, he’s rested, so let’s see him get four outs tonight. And I want to believe I’m going to ask him before the game ever begins.”

Chapman’s overuse in the playoffs is a story that won’t go away for the New York Yankees, who’ve already stashed him on the disabled list for a month (inflammation in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder) and watched him put up ordinary numbers (3.92 ERA, 8-for-11 in save chances) in the first season of a five-year, $86 million contract.

[MORE: Cubs trying to 'become the team that everyone loves again']

Lost amid that criticism of Maddon is how his aggressiveness in August 2015 – not caring about Jason Hammel’s feelings or Starlin Castro’s ego – helped transform the Cubs into a 97-win team that would come back for more. 

“This second half, we do have to really push it a little bit,” Maddon said. “The first half, I was concerned about doing that too early. And I know (there were times): ‘Boy, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would you?’ Because the guys are fatigued from the last two years, and I thought if you get the whip out too soon, man, you will be done by the middle of August.

“Of course, we can’t just keep putting it off until tomorrow. (So) get the pitching right. Keep the bullpen in order. And to get back to the point about the lineups – make sure everybody still plays but you might push somebody a little bit more right now.”

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Hendricks figured it all out. 

It appears Friday was that day. 

The 29-year-old right-hander was off to a slow start to the season, surrendering 24 hits and 8 earned runs in 13.1 innings across his first three starts, good for a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. 

Things looked a little better last time out — only 2 earned runs allowed on 6 hits in 5 innings last Saturday against the Angels — but even after that start, Hendricks admitted he still feels like he's fighting himself and searching for his fastball command.

"You can't rush it," he said after that outing. "You can't rush the process. But it definitely gets frustrating. I need to do a better job and give the team a better chance to win when I'm out there regardless. And set a better tone — be more aggressive with my fastball and set a better tone for the game. You want it to come quick, but at least I'm seeing something, so I just gotta stick with what I'm doing."

Whatever he was seeing with his mechanics came to pass in Friday afternoon's 5-1 Cubs win, as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks in a brilliant performance — 7 shutout innings, permitting only 3 singles while striking out 11. It was his first double-digit strikeout game since he whiffed 12 Cardinals on Aug. 13, 2016 en route to his ERA title that season.

"Yeah, like I said, you kinda always want it to come, but I didn't think it was gonna come this quick," Hendricks admitted after Friday's game. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah it helps the confidence a lot. It solidifies the things we've been working on, so I just told the guys this was just one good day, so tomorrow, gotta get right back at it with another good work day and hopefully get on a roll here."

It was also the Cubs' third straight appearance from a starting pitcher of 7 shutout innings, after Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana turned the trick in the final two games in Miami earlier in the week.

The one pitch Hendricks felt good about last time out — his changeup — was his bread and butter Friday, too. He threw it 30 times out of his 100 pitches and induced 8 swings and misses.

"That was kinda classic Kyle," Joe Maddon said. "Great changeup, again. A lot of called strikes, pitching on the edges. ... That first inning or so, still seeking and then once he found it, he got into a nice groove."

Part of the success of the changeup was due to Hendricks' command with his fastball, which he apparently figured out — for one start, at least. He threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes throughout the game and 35 of his 56 fastballs went for strikes. 

"From the get-go, I just felt more comfortable in my mechanics, so it just freed everything up," Hendricks said. "From there, I just used my fastball a lot better — kinda like what I was talking about. Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else worked off that and it just had good action today. Kept it down, made a lot of good pitches, so it worked out."

Hendricks even saw 17 pitches at the plate despite an 0-for-4 performance, as the Cubs offense put 19 runners on base throughout the course of the afternoon.

However, his day was not without negatives. He took a 110 mph liner off the left leg in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game and finished off the last two hitters he faced.

He also snapped his fascinating personal streak, as he threw his first wild pitch since Sept. 5, 2016 — a span of 6,662 pitches:

"I had no idea; I came in the clubhouse and someone brought that to my attention," Hendricks said, laughing. "Time to start a new streak."

In all, Hendricks picked up his first win of 2019 and lowered his season ERA to 3.54 and WHIP to 1.67 with his performance. He also helped pitch his team back to the .500 level (9-9) for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

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Joe Maddon weighs in on the bat-flip debate

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon weighs in on the bat-flip debate

You won't be finding Joe Maddon among Tim Anderson's defenders, but he's also not using this week's incident as a teaching moment for his players.

Maddon is still under the belief that it's better not to create a list of rules in the clubhouse to govern the players, but he also isn't into the whole show of celebration, of which bat-flips are at the forefront.

When Anderson flipped his bat on a home run Wednesday against the Royals, Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller responded by drilling Anderson the next time up. That resulted in a benches — and bullpens — clearing incident and then on Friday afternoon, both Anderson and Keller were hit with suspensions (Anderson was suspended for using a racial slur in his response to Keller). 

This is just the latest — and maybe one of the most charged — examples of the whole bat-flip/unwritten rules ordeal. Baseball's long tradition of punishing players for "showing up" a pitcher is alive and strong, and that's true even in the younger generation (Keller is only 23 years old). 

At 65, Maddon has been in the game of baseball since decades before Keller was even born, but he subscribes to a similar line of thinking as the Royals right-hander.

"I know my first year [with Cubs in 2015], I got upset at Junior Lake down in Miami [for flipping his bat]," Maddon said. "At that time, my being upset was about trying to flip the culture here — being more professional-looking and act like you're gonna do it again. That was my whole point about that.

"For me, I would prefer our guys didn't do that. I would prefer that the younger group right now doesn't need to see demonstrations like that in order to feel like they can watch baseball or that baseball is more interesting because somebody bat-flips really well and I kinda dig it and if I watch, I might see a bat-flip. 

"I would prefer kids watch baseball because it's a very interesting game, it's intellectually stimulating and when it's played properly, it's never too long. I prefer kids learn that method as opposed to become enamored with our game based on histrionics. I really would prefer that, but it seems to be that we are catering to that a bit.

"...When somebody choose to [bat-flip] and somebody gets hit in the butt because of it, that's what you're looking at. Regardless if you're old or new school, if you're a pitcher, I think you're gonna be offended by that. Act like you're gonna do it again would be the method that I would prefer with our guys. I want to believe we're not gonna do that, but it may happen here, too. And then we're just gonna have to wait and see how the other team reacts."

Though Maddon is not a fan of bat-flips and excessive celebration for big moments, he has not coached his players into avoiding such moments. 

That's why you still see Javy Baez out there being his typical flashy self and David Bote with an epic bat-flip on his walk-off grand slam (though that was obviously a much bigger moment than a run-of-the-mill fourth-inning homer) and Pedro Strop nearly dislocating his shoulder with some aggressive fist-pumps after nailing down a big out late in games.

But if anything does get out of line, Maddon prefers the policing comes from the players within the Cubs clubhouse or from the other team. Think back to last year when Baez tossed his bat in frustration after a pop-out against the Pirates at Wrigley Field and Strop pulled Baez aside to let him know "we don't do that here."

"I think the tried-and-true method of policing the group — whether it's the team policing itself or the industry and players doing the same thing," Maddon said. "I'd be curious to see if [Anderson] ever does that again, based on the result the other day." 

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