Cubs

LIVE: Cubs facing Diamondbacks at Wrigley

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LIVE: Cubs facing Diamondbacks at Wrigley

Monday, April 4, 2011
Posted: 9:24 a.m.

(AP) -- Randy Wells thinks his struggles in 2010 will make him a better pitcher this season.

The Chicago Cubs right-hander will try to get this campaign off to a strong start and help his team bounce back from a disappointing loss in Monday's opener of a three-game home series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Wells' first full season as a starter in 2009 was a surprise as he finished 12-10 and led all Cubs starters with a 3.05 ERA after being called up in May.

Wells, though, won only eight times last year, going 8-14 with a 4.26 ERA. After opening with three consecutive victories, he was 2-12 over his next 21 starts.

READ: No excuses, Cubs can't close deal for Garza

"I hit a little rough patch and didn't really know how to deal with it," Wells said. "I think it was a big learning experience. You learn a lot about yourself when you're going through that kind of adversity. I think it's really going to be beneficial for me this year."

The Cubs (1-2) could use a solid effort from their right-hander after failing to win their season-opening series versus Pittsburgh on Sunday as closer Carlos Marmol allowed two ninth-inning runs in a 5-4 loss. Shortstop Starlin Castro, who had two triples among his three hits, made a throw that pulled first baseman Carlos Pena off the bag, allowing Neil Walker to score the go-ahead run.

"A tough one for sure," manager Mike Quade said. "My sense is we'll be in a lot of (close) games. You work like heck and eliminate the mistakes."

The Diamondbacks (1-1) didn't get the chance to play Sunday as a mix of rain and snow postponed their series finale in Colorado. The previous day, they experienced a record 84-degree weather in Denver before losing 3-1.

Arizona had six hits in that game after collecting 15 in its season debut, a 7-6 win in 11 innings. Ryan Roberts said that opener gave the Diamondbacks a boost confidence.

"This team is capable of coming back and we showed it," he said. "This is a team that can hit and score runs late in games."

READ: Leading off, Castro only scratching the surface

Joe Saunders, who was scheduled to start Sunday, will get the ball for the series opener and bump Barry Enright to Tuesday.

"The guy's on my team. He's a veteran. I feel great about it," manager Kirk Gibson told the team's official website. "He was behind on his innings, but he got up around 100 pitches in his last outing. ... He'll be fine."

Saunders will try to rebound after suffering the most defeats in the majors in 2010 with Arizona and the Los Angeles Angels. The left-hander, who was 9-17 with a 4.47 ERA in a career-high 33 starts, didn't give many promising signs of a rebound during spring training as he was 1-3 with a 12.46 ERA in six outings.

Enright went 6-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 17 starts after his contract was purchased from Double-A Mobile on June 30. He won his major league debut in St. Louis but lost to the Cubs at home in the next outing.

Saunders dropped his only outing against Chicago on June 20 when he was tagged for eight runs - five earned - in 2 2-3 innings at Wrigley Field.

Wells is seeking his third win in as many starts against Arizona and will try to guide the Cubs to their seventh straight victory in the series.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.