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.
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.”