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.”

As they work to get healthy, Cubs unsure if Drew Smyly will be an option down the stretch

As they work to get healthy, Cubs unsure if Drew Smyly will be an option down the stretch

While the focus surrounding the Cubs' disabled list has centered on the trio of stars (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow), Drew Smyly continues to fly in under the radar.

You can't blame Cubs fans for forgetting about him given he's never thrown a pitch for the team after signing a two-year, $10 million deal over the winter.

As Smyly continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, his status for 2018 is becoming more and more of a question mark. What once appeared a strong possibility for a late-season return has now delved into one big #ShrugEmoji.

Last month, Smyly was throwing simulated games against Cubs hitters and hoped to go on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues by Aug. 1. It's now Aug. 16 and he has yet to begin that rehab stint.

Joe Maddon said Wednesday things are still status quo on the 29-year-old left-handed pitcher. The issue with Smyly isn't pain in that surgically-repaired elbow, he explained, but more on his body recovering at a slower rate than he would like.

"It's hard to put into words — I'm healthy, I'm throwing, it's just like the recovery standpoint, the bounce-back from the next day/the next couple days is not where I really want it to be," Smyly said. "So that's the hardest part — that's like the final hurdle. Just being able to pitch and then being like, 'OK, I'm good to pitch in a couple days as a reliever or five [days as a starter].' 

"It's just not really responding the way I want it to. It's completely normal. It's just part of the of the rehab process — shortening the window. When I'm on the mound and well-rested, I feel great and I walk off it excited where I'm at and ready for the next step. I kinda wake up the next day and the soreness just lingers."

Recovery from Tommy John is never linear; little things are different for each guy and each process.

That's why the Cubs backloaded Smyly's contract. They never went into 2018 planning on penciling him into the rotation or bullpen in September.

But up until a couple weeks ago, it looked very possible that Smyly could be a wild card for the Cubs pitching staff.

"I don't know if he's gonna be well enough to do that," Maddon said. "I know Drew really well and I know how good he is. It's enticing. You'd love to see it happen, but let's just get him well first."

Maddon managed Smyly with the Tampa Bay Rays in the second half of the 2014 and current Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey worked with the southpaw for the 2015-16 seasons, as well.

Smyly has extensive experience as both a reliever (71 appearances) and starter (85 starts) over his five-year MLB career. He boasts a 3.74 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.7 K/9, but hasn't thrown a pitch in a meaningful game since Sept. 26, 2016 (almost six weeks before the Cubs won the World Series).

"I'm so eager to get out there," Smyly said. "This is the hardest part for me, because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I'm on the mound, I feel great and I'm healthy and it's an exciting feeling.

"And then you kinda wake up the next day and you're like, 'Um, I'm still sore from it.' And so it's just been maintaining that hope and still not rushing it and taking it slow. When I signed with the Cubs, the goal was always 2019, but obviously I want to play. They know I want to play, just trying to push through."

Smyly feels like he's close and has helped work through his frustrations by talking with fellow teammates and friends — like Darvish and Tyler Chatwood — who have gone through the Tommy John process.

Once his body starts responding and recovering the way he would like the final hurdle for Smyly would be to pitch with maximum effort in a game environment. Sim games and bullpens are great, but there's no way to actually simulate the adrenaline and speed of an actual game. For now, he's still working with the training staff in Chicago.

The postseason is still more than six weeks away and the Cubs have so many other questions to answer on their roster outside of Smyly. 

But for a team that could use some more quality left-handed depth in the bullpen, it's hard to look at Smyly inches away from a return and not wonder — "what if?"

"I'm just champing at the bit to get out there," he said. "But it's excitement, too, because we go out there and we expect to win every day and that's a fun feeling. In the dugout, the energy in the ballpark, the atmosphere here, the fans every day — I get goosebumps just sitting in the dugout watching the team play.

"I'm anxious for that feeling myself to be on the mound. It'll come in good time. I'm very hopeful that it'll be this year, still, but if it's not, then it'll be next year. ... Counting down the days until I'm out there, man."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

kyle.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

For the first time in almost two weeks, the Cubs offense started to look more like the team we know they can be in Wednesday afternoon's victory over the Brewers. But when will the starting rotation follow? Kyle Hendricks pitched better than his stat line once again, but it's getting late in the season to continue to use that rationale for any Cubs starter.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs-Brewers series and Kelly sits down with David Bote for a 1-on-1 chat about his whirlwind week. Leila Rahimi also catches up with MLB Network's Dan Plesac to get his thoughts on Javy Báez's place in the NL MVP race, how the Central division is shaping up and X-factors for the Cubs and Brewers down the stretch.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: