Cubs

Replacing Marshall wont be easy for Cubs

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Replacing Marshall wont be easy for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. Sean Marshall had the perfect temperament to play at Wrigley Field.

Nothing seemed to bother Marshall, who never complained when the Cubs moved him in and out of the rotation. That sense of calm surrounded him while he evolved into perhaps the best left-handed reliever in the game.

Once the initial shock wore off, Marshall knew why Theo Epsteins front office engineered a four-player trade with the Cincinnati Reds just before Christmas.

I understood the moves they were making, Marshall said. I know its a business and Ive been lucky to be on the same team. I see lefties move all over the league each year, so I was lucky for my time in Chicago. From a business aspect, thats just the way it goes.

Marshall is reunited with Dusty Baker his manager when he broke into the big leagues in 2006 on a team built to win now. He threw one scoreless inning in an 8-6 loss to the Cubs on Monday at HoHoKam Stadium, and the Cubs werent going to find him enough high-leverage situations.

The 29-year-old Marshall who could have become a free agent after making 3.1 million this season decided against testing the market. He recently agreed to a three-year, 16.5 million extension with the Reds, closing the door on a return to the Cubs.

It was something that we thought was a good idea for my family, Marshall said. I understand Ive been very lucky to be in a Cubs uniform for nine seasons. There are a lot of players that get traded every couple years. (I) was always thankful for all my days at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs shipped out Marshall because they think Travis Wood, 25, could be in the rotation for years, and they also got useful pieces in outfielder Dave Sappelt and infield prospect Ronald Torreyes. Marshall could have been gone in months (though even now he still plans to keep his house in the Chicago area).

This could leave a huge hole in the bullpen.

Combined Marshall appeared in 158 games across the last two seasons. He finished last year with a 2.26 ERA and can get left-handed and right-handed hitters out. He would have been an option if closer Carlos Marmol who on Monday walked two and gave up three runs in one inning doesnt return to form.

The Cubs need to identify a second setup man to go along with Kerry Wood. Lefty James Russell who sought out Marshall on the field before Mondays game would like the job.

I know hes been looking forward to the opportunity, Marshall said. I think hes more than capable of doing what I did.

Russell became one of several young pitchers who gravitated toward Marshall over the years. Whether it was leading the relievers out for their pregame routine or at his locker showing them new electronic gadgets, teammates wanted to be around him.

Consistency, really, what else is there to say about Sean? Jeff Samardzija said. Im not just talking about on the field. Sean was great off the field, too. He came in every day and did his work and showed the younger guys how youre supposed to do it. He meant a lot to us.

Marshall saw so much in a Cubs uniform. He pitched for Baker and Lou Piniella. He played with Greg Maddux and Mark Prior, Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano. He finished in first place and last. Win or lose, you could find him at his locker.

I loved every moment I spent there, Marshall said. Im kind of the enemy now, but I loved being a Cub. I wouldnt change it for the world.

Craig Kimbrel feels 'great' after first Triple-A outing, is motivated to win with Cubs in 2019 and beyond

Craig Kimbrel feels 'great' after first Triple-A outing, is motivated to win with Cubs in 2019 and beyond

Craig Kimbrel's progression towards joining the Cubs bullpen took another step in the right direction on Tuesday.

In his first outing with Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, Kimbrel not only pitched a perfect inning of relief against the Sacramento River Cats, but he needed just eight pitches to do so. Now back in Des Moines as Iowa begins a nine-game homestand, Kimbrel told reporters that he feels great after his first pitching appearance since Oct. 27, 2018 — Game 4 of the 2018 World Series.

“[I] feel great," Kimbrel told reporters in Iowa. "Jumped on a plane yesterday morning and made our way [to Des Moines] and once we got in, [we] kind of assessed how everything felt. Everything feels good, so I’m looking forward to getting back out there Friday."

As he mentioned, Kimbrel's next outing with Iowa will be Friday, when they take on the Round Rock Express. What comes after that is entirely based on how Kimbrel feels, as the Cubs and the 31-year-old have continued to stress patience in his buildup towards big league action.

"We’re just going one appearance at a time, one step at a time," he said. "I’ll throw Friday, see how I feel and then go from there.

"We really haven’t set a time on anything. It's more about how I feel and how I’m recovering. And once I get to feeling great and recovering where I feel like I need to be, I’ll be ready to go."

"He's trending in the right direction," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. "Obviously he's feeling good, but we're not gonna rush him or make judgment on any one outing. We're just gonna take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the remainder of the season."

Although he's had a long layoff from MLB action, it's not like Kimbrel has been sitting around at home unprepared. During his extended free agency that leaked into June, he worked out in the gym three times a week in addition to throwing six days a week. And despite pitching deep into October with the Red Sox, Kimbrel started throwing in January in preparation for the 2019 season.

No matter how long the layoff, though, Kimbrel stressed the need to practice patience right now. He's an important piece to the Cubs' championship puzzle, one that will be a valuable weapon in the summer and in the postseason, should the Cubs get there. Right now, it's about getting his body ready, even if he's mentally ready to pitch.

“I’m ready, I’m ready to do it, but also I have to listen to myself, listen to my body," Kimbrel said. "This isn’t about the next couple games before the (All-Star) break, this is about after the break and the postseason."

As if joining a team in the midst of a pennant race wasn't enough, Kimbrel was asked if he is feeling any motivation from the way last postseason went for him individually (5.91 ERA, 10 2/3 innings) and after how long he remained a free agent.

“No, I’m motivated to win. I don’t need to try to make anyone else happy," he said. "Towards the end of last year, we still accomplished what we set to do - win the World Series. [It’s] still a success. I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong. I'm just trying to do my job."

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David Bote's neverending game of chess

David Bote's neverending game of chess

David Bote feels like he's in a neverending game of chess.

He's been so ingrained in the Cubs conversation the last two years that it's easy to forget this is his first full big-league season and he's still learning the ropes.

Bote is now nationally known thanks to the ultimate grand slam he hit last August, but he's not hanging his hat on that one accomplishment and has found a way to conjure up some staying power in the majors. He's a former 18th-round draft pick who never found his name on top prospect lists, yet signed a five-year, $15 million extension before even playing his first home game in 2019.

But Bote won't rest on his laurels with that contract extension, either. He knows he's in store for a constant battle.

"It's never ending," Bote said. "[The league] points out something that you do and you make an adjustment off it and then they make another adjustment off of you. It's just trying to stay with what you want to do and also try to stay in front of what they're trying to do at the same time."

Much like he did last year, Bote got out to a hot start this season but then eventually hit a rough pitch. 

After he had a tough series in Cincinnati in mid-May (he went 0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts), he found himself on the bench for back-to-back games while his season average dipped to .239 and OPS fell to .713.

But then he got the start at third base in Washington on May 18, hit a homer and hasn't looked back since.

From that game on, Bote has a 1.027 OPS while slashing .324/.378/.649 with 6 homers and 18 RBI in 19 starts.

The 26-year-old infielder has earned more playing time with his production, taking advantage of the respective offensive slumps from Addison Russell and Daniel Descalso. As the Cubs faced a tough righty in Lucas Giolito Wednesday night, it was Bote who found his name at second base and he responded with a homer off the American league ERA leader.

"He started out well, then he hit a little bit of a skid, which was good because he had some problems at the major-league level early in the season and he's overcome that already," Joe Maddon said earlier this month. "So you need to go through that adversity, too. My goodness, David's got a great head on his shoulders. He's a team-oriented player. 

"He's like any other young player — he's still working to really understand what's going on every day and understanding himself. But he does it in a very mature way. He's gonna keep getting better because he listens well, and I think he's getting to the point where he understands his strengths, which is really important. Just watch him — he's gonna continue to get better."

Bote doesn't feel like the neverending game of chess gets any easier, but at least now, he has a checklist he can go through to evaluate his mechanics or mental approach or whatever else may be slightly off. 

At the end of the day, it's all about confidence for Bote — as it is for every player in the big leagues.

"Whether you feel good or feel bad that day, it's trying to be as confident as you can and just letting your ability and your work before that take over," Bote said. "I'm not in the box thinking about my mechanics, but trying to trust that my BP and cage work and all that that takes over and you just go to battle.

"And if [you're still not feeling great], then you say, 'Screw it, I'll just go out there and battle today and get 'em tomorrow.' It's all fluid. It's all ever-changing."