Kyle Schwarber could become personal catcher for Jason Hammel


Kyle Schwarber could become personal catcher for Jason Hammel

MESA, Ariz. — The Jason Hammel reboot could include the Cubs making Kyle Schwarber his personal catcher.

After getting healthy, changing the diet and following a different offseason program, the Cubs think Hammel can again become the All-Star-level performer they saw in the first halves of the last two seasons, and not the pitcher who faded down the stretch.

Even with two veteran catchers in place, the Cubs haven’t given up on the idea of Schwarber behind the plate, believing it would make sense to pair him up with a particular pitcher while he also works on his outfield defense.

“Find a way to get big bats in the lineup,” Hammel said after throwing to Schwarber during a 15-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Sloan Park. “If that’s the way it ends up playing out, I welcome it 100 percent.”

[SHOP: Get your gear for the upcoming season, Cubs fans!]

Hammel gave up one run in four innings and now has 11 strikeouts against one walk through three Cactus League starts. Miguel Montero and David Ross will handle most of the catching responsibilities this year, but Hammel did work well with the rookie catcher last season (3.86 ERA in five starts).

“He’s a student of the game,” Hammel said. “He’s ready to learn. He made a lot of adjustments over the course of the offseason and then even in the early part of the spring with game-calling.

“He’s also lowered (his stance). You’re seeing him stick his leg out and giving a lower target than he was last year. It only helps the guys like me with tall leverage where I need that little extra sight line down to drive the ball down.”

Hammel hasn’t had the personal-catcher talk yet with manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff, but he’s willing to listen.

“You see the same thing every time,” Hammel said. “Decision-making becomes quicker and smarter, because you kind of know what the other guy’s thinking. (You’re) on the same wavelength.”

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.