Cubs

Kyle Schwarber out to show Cubs he's here to stay

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Kyle Schwarber out to show Cubs he's here to stay

CINCINNATI — Kyle Schwarber’s homecoming angle might feel a little different if he wasn’t replacing a two-time All-Star catcher and the Cubs weren’t in the middle of a pennant race.

The Cubs don’t yet know — or won’t publicly reveal — how serious Miguel Montero’s thumb injury is now. So Schwarber’s crash course in the big leagues will continue indefinitely.

“I’m happy that I’m back here in Cincinnati, but it’s time to do the job,” Schwarber said Monday afternoon, surrounded by four TV cameras and more than a dozen reporters in Great American Ball Park’s visiting dugout before a 5-4 loss to the Reds.

Yes, Schwarber grew up about 40 miles from here, rooting for the Reds, looking up to Ken Griffey Jr. and studying how Joey Votto approaches at-bats with such patience.

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Montero was scheduled to visit another hand specialist on Monday in Arizona to get a better idea of how long he might be sidelined. The Cubs have made it clear Montero will miss more than 15 days and don’t necessarily see his left thumb as a quick fix.

The impact hitter the Cubs add before the July 31 trade deadline might essentially be Schwarber, who had his bat from last week’s Futures Game in Cincinnati sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Schwarber earned the MVP award in that All-Star showcase event about 13 months after the Cubs drafted him No. 4 overall out of Indiana University. There were some doubts about whether or not Schwarber would be able to catch at the major-league level, a perception that maybe the Cubs reached for a designated hitter.

Good or bad, Schwarber doesn’t believe the hype.

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“I really don’t pay attention to any of that — the prospect (stuff) or any other rankings,” Schwarber said. “I’m a ballplayer just like anyone else is — I’m trying to now stay here.

“I got here. Now it’s time to stay here. The easy part is getting here. The hard part is getting to stay here. So whatever I got to do to stay here, I’m going to (do it).”

Schwarber got a taste during interleague play last month, walking into a clubhouse filled with young talent (Kris Bryant, Addison Russell) and veteran leaders like catcher David Ross.

“That’s the good thing about this team,” Schwarber said. “All the egos are put aside at the door. We’re all out here to win. We want to win. And whatever it takes, we’re going to do it.

“Whenever we’re going over a report, or whatever situation comes up in the game, it comes down to me doing my homework (and) making sure the pitcher is on the same page.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m not a complete product at all. I always want to be a student of the game, always learning the game.”

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In front of his hometown crowd, Schwarber went 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run. (The Reds also scored a run on Clayton Richard’s wild pitch in the fourth inning). Schwarber now has a .974 OPS through his first 10 games in The Show.

Schwarber hasn’t even completed his first full season in professional baseball yet, and he’s already forcing the issue. He’s out to show the Cubs that he’s here to stay.

“Outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You saw him go out to the mound and talk to the pitchers a couple times — very comfortably — and he always has a good message. I got to give the kid a lot of credit, man. He’s really understanding this quickly.

“He’s the one who has to be the sponge — willing to absorb — and then has to have the aptitude to put it in play. He’s got all that going on.”

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Dominating.

That's how a smiling Theo Epstein described Yu Darvish's simulated game at Wrigley Field Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of the "Friendly Confines," the Cubs' clubhouse was getting used to the idea of closer Brandon Morrow on the disabled list.

Such is life for the current state of affairs for the Cubs pitching staff with their two biggest additions from the winter now on the shelf at the same time.

Darvish threw roughly 50 pitches in his sim game against hitters Ian Happ and Tommy La Stella. He worked in all his pitches and liked the way his fastball and slider felt, but needs to refine his curveball and splitter with more work.

"I feel good," Darvish said through a translator. "There was some anxiety beforehand, but I think it turned out to be better than I expected."

Darvish said the anxiety stemmed mostly from his past elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2014.

"Definitly the elbow aspect," Darvish said. "The anxiety came from whether I could throw at 100 percent condition."

This is the second time Darvish has mentioned his past elbow injury is in the back of his mind as he's worked through the current triceps issue. He said the same thing last week in Milwaukee after his first bullpen session.

Remember, too, Darvish was concerned about the possibility of cramps in his arm in his Cubs debut in Miami in late March.

It appears as if he has some mental hurdles to work through with his history of elbow problems, but he hasn't reported pain in weeks now and the MRI showed no structural damage in late May.

The Cubs do not yet have a set plan for Darvish after this sim game and will evaluate how he feels Thursday. If the reports are all good, he could head out on a rehab assignment shortly.

Darvish said he would only need one rehab start before he'd be ready to rejoin the Cubs rotation.

Meanwhile, Morrow's back tightened up on him in the wee hours of Monday morning after the Cubs made the trip back from the night game in St. Louis. He hurt his back taking off his pants, he said, and was unavailable Monday and Tuesday before the Cubs put him on the disabled list Wednesday morning.

"It's just one of those freakish things," Maddon said. "People bend over and hurt their backs all the time."

The Cubs have been uber cautious with Morrow all year with his injury history and now that they're in the midst of a stretch of 14 games in 13 days thanks to Tuesday's doubleheader, can't afford to not have a fresh arm in the bullpen.

"We thought it would be wise to give him a couple days," Joe Maddon said. "It's like a back spasm, back tightness. We just can't go with one less pitcher right now coming off the doubleheader. 

"...It's for him, too. I don't want him to go out there and pitch coming off that right now. There's really no reason to rush it back. Prefer him getting 100 percent well, getting him back out there when it's right and then moving on from there."

In Morrow's absence, Maddon will play matchups with the closing options as he did in Game 1 Tuesday. Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Pedro Strop all have experience closing.

The Cubs also don't have an update yet on Carl Edwards Jr. as he works his way back from a shoulder injury. He's been throwing from flat ground and looking "outstanding," Maddon said, but the team doesn't have a finish line yet. Edwards would probably need a short rehab stint before returning, too.

Then there's Brian Duensing, who is currently on the bereavement list due to the passing of his grandfather. The Cubs expect to have their left-handed veteran back by Friday.

All told, the Cubs are without Morrow, Edwards, Duensing, Mike Montgomery (rotation) and Eddie Butler (DL - groin) from their Opening Day bullpen. Only Cishek, Strop and Wilson remain from the group.

In their stead are Luke Farrell, Justin Hancock, Randy Rosario, Rob Zastryzny and Anthony Bass — all 5 of which have been pretty successful during their time in Chicago.

As if there wasn't already enough complications with the Cubs pitching staff, here are three more:

—The weather in Cincinnati this weekend
—Tyler Chatwood's wife is about to have the couple's first child
—Monday's rain/light-out at Wrigley Field pushed Chatwood back a day, so he cannot start Saturday's game

Let's start with the weather. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was a 100 percent chance of rain all day in Cincinnati on Thursday, where the Cubs begin a four-game series. The forecast doesn't look much better for Friday, either.

Even if the Cubs are able to play every game as scheduled, who will start Saturday? It can't be any of the current rotation members given none would be on regular rest. 

Chatwood would be in line to start Sunday's series finale in Cincinnati, but that's only if his wife isn't given birth at the time.

So right now, the Cubs don't know who's going to start either game this weekend. They could call somebody up from the minor leagues or give the ball to Farrell, who is still stretched out enough to give them 4-5 innings or so.

"It's totally by ear," Maddon said. "This is absolutely seat of the pants. We have Farrell, of course. By not using Farrell [Thursday or Friday], he would be a consideration, no question. 

"But other than that, we got a baby on the way, we got all kinds of stuff going on, so we're just gonna have to play that by ear."

With the pitching shortage, it makes what Jon Lester (7 shutout innings Wednesday) and Mike Montgomery (6 innings in Game 2 Tuesday) even more important to the overall health of the unit, eating up innings at a desperate time.

The Cubs' next off-day won't come until July 2, barring any weather delays. So this stretch will be huge for how Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff/front office handles the pitching staff.

But hey, at least it's only June and not October.