Cubs

No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension

No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension

MESA, Ariz. — Whatever frustrations Pedro Strop might have kept bottled up during the playoffs didn't change how he feels about his Cubs teammates or living in Chicago or the energy at Wrigley Field.

"I think if there were any hard feelings we wouldn't be doing this extension," general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday after announcing the deal that could keep Strop in a Cubs uniform through the 2019 season.

The Cubs framed Strop's fade into the postseason background as a matter of bad timing after he tore the meniscus in his left knee in August. Otherwise, manager Joe Maddon in theory wouldn't have felt the need to push Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

The Cubs backed up their story by avoiding an arbitration hearing with a $5.5 million settlement for 2017 before camp opened in Arizona. The two sides continued negotiating, agreeing to a one-year extension worth $5.85 million and a $6.25 million club option for 2019 with a $500,000 buyout. For that sense of comfort and security, Strop sacrificed the chance to sell himself as a possible closer next winter.

"I just feel happy that I know I'm going to be here," Strop said. "I don't care about the role or whatever.

"I like to win better than roles."

It's not just a talking point with Strop, who memorably high-stepped down the third-base line next to Kris Bryant in a walk-off win that became a 2015 Sports Illustrated cover and a blown-up image players see on the way from the Wrigley Field clubhouse out to the tunnel leading into the dugout.

"I have a lot of energy," Strop said. "Every time I walk into the clubhouse, I always come in positive, you know, waking people up when they're sleeping and just trying to have good moments and just play ball, play the game the right way."

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With Wade Davis and Koji Uehara positioned to become free agents after this season, the Cubs wanted to invest in their bullpen and clubhouse, where Strop is among the most popular players and a bilingual presence buzzing around the room.

"We don't want to be in a position of always having to rebuild the bullpen," Hoyer said. "Pedro's been a rock for us down there. His pitching is a big part of why we wanted to bring him back. But it's also who he is.

"He puts every person around him in a better mood every day. This guy's always beaming. He's always in a great mood. But under that huge smile, he's an awesome competitor, and this guy wants the ball in the biggest spots. We want more guys like that."

Since coming over in the franchise-altering Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds, put up a 0.98 WHIP and a 2.68 ERA and accounted for 232 appearances. During that time, the right-hander leads all National League relievers with a .173 batting average against and ranks third in opponents' OPS (.530) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.82).

"We got these guys in our clubhouse that are just great to have (around) beyond being good," Maddon said. "He's at the top of the list. He's always upbeat. He's always ready. He's always there for somebody else. And then he's got one of the best sliders in all of baseball."

Maddon didn't show that same level of trust in Strop during the playoffs, but the force of his talent and personality — the crooked-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and love for the game — helped change this team's identity and turn the Cubs into World Series champs.

"I felt for Pedro," Hoyer said. "I felt like he rushed as much as he could to get back on the field for the postseason, but he probably wasn't vintage Pedro Strop at any point down the stretch, just by nature of the timing. But when you look at the numbers he's put up over the last three years, he's been one of the best setup guys in the game."

Sources: Cubs will open 2020 season against Brewers at Wrigley Field

Sources: Cubs will open 2020 season against Brewers at Wrigley Field

For all the dramatic changes to the 2020 schedule, one thing won’t change: The Cubs still open against the Brewers.

Almost four months after the originally scheduled opener, the Cubs and Brewers open their seasons July 24 at Wrigley Field, sources say.

The Cubs and White Sox both open at home that day, with the Sox playing the Twins.

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The Cubs play three series each against NL Central opponents, hosting the Brewers and Cardinals twice each (one road series vs. each) and Reds and Pirates once each (with two trips to each).

The Cubs and Sox play a pair of three-game series.

The full 60-game schedules are to be released at 5 p.m. Monday.

 

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How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

As the Cactus League shuttered its doors and Cubs players scattered across the country – some headed home, others stayed in Arizona —Tommy Hottovy stepped into uncharted territory.

Hottovy has been the Cubs pitching coach since December of 2018, so he’s guided his pitchers through offseasons before. But going from ramping up in Spring Training to not knowing when Major League Baseball would return? No one had a play book for that.

“Our philosophy was be over-ready and not try to play catchup,” starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “So, luckily we were able to do that.”

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Fast forward to Sunday, Day 3 of Cubs Summer Camp. By the end of the holiday weekend, four of the Cubs’ five presumptive starters had thrown at least two innings in an intrasquad scrimmage and four relievers had also gotten time on the mound.

“It’s just a testament to the work those guys put in over the process,” Hottovy said.

During the shutdown, Hottovy held regular meetings with the pitchers via video conference. They bounced ideas off each other and discussed their overall approach.

“We had so many resources between Tommy, Rossy (manager David Ross), the whole coaching staff staying in touch with us the whole time,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “And then other players. So, we really did it as a group.”

Out of those conversations, Hottovy learned that many of the pitchers wanted arm strength to be a focus during the break.

“Not just pitch-count wise,” Hottovy said, “but to feel that their arm was in the right throwing shape.”

So, he incorporated that into the pitchers’ throwing programs.

Each pitchers’ program was catered to the resources and facilities he had access to, as well as his own goals. But before ramping up for Summer Camp, most of the starting pitchers were throwing one bullpen session early in the week and a simulated game later in the week. As the season got closer, they added a second bullpen.

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“The reason I liked getting to those two bullpens,” Hottovy said, “was because now you kind of start simulating what it’s like to be on a five-game rotation.”

By the time they entered camp, many of the starting pitchers were already throwing multiple-inning simulation games. By Day 2 of camp, the Cubs were ready for a short intrasquad game. Hendricks threw three innings, and Yu Darvish threw two.

“Both of them had actually thrown more pitches in a simulated outing prior to coming here,” Hottovy said, “but we wanted to back that off a little bit, obviously knowing that the intensity was going to go up. They’re back on the field with players behind them facing more of our lineup, more of our hitters.”

On Sunday, the Cubs stretched an intrasquad out to five-innings. Chatwood and Alec Mills started, and Dan Winkler, Duane Underwood, Rex Brothers and James Norwood all pitched in relief.

“Everything’s based off pitching,” Ross said and then laughed. “We give the pitchers a hard time all the time; the pitchers kind of dictate how long the day’s going to go because these guys have got to get their pitch counts up.”

With less than three weeks until the season opener, Hottovy’s job still doesn’t return to normal. Instead of setting a schedule based on the order of the pitching rotation, he’s “front-loading” the starters. He also is preparing some relivers to throw extended innings.

“Right now, in my mind we have seven opening day starters,” he said, “…You can’t space them out too much in my opinion just because you can’t take that chance.”

 

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