Cubs

Stewart will have to grind it out

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Stewart will have to grind it out

MESA, Ariz. Ian Stewart felt something last summer while taking batting practice at Dodger Stadium. He tried to play through it, but it got to the point where he couldnt really swing anymore. He went on the disabled list with what was termed a left wrist contusion.

Almost eight months later, Stewart walks around the clubhouse at HoHoKam Stadium with a wrap around his arm thats so big it almost looks like a cast. The new Cubs third baseman says this is just a precaution (and not a huge red flag).

It stinks to say, but Ive kind of got to the point where Ive got some nagging stuff thats probably going to linger for awhile, Stewart said. Thats why I always have heat or ice on my wrist. Thats just a thing thats going to be there. You guys will probably see it a lot. Its just going to be one of those it is what it is-type-things (where youre) just trying to maintain it. But it feels good.

Stewart who hadnt played in a Cactus League game for almost a week because of a quad injury returned to action on Tuesday in Phoenix during a split-squad game against the Oakland As.

To be clear, the Cubs did extensive background work on Stewart before making him the centerpiece of a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies last December. Manager Dale Sveum downplayed the issue, saying its something you monitor, but dont notice because every batting practice he takes he swings at 100 percent.

But the admission seemed curious for a two-way player the Cubs believe has the power to hit 20-plus homers and play defense at a Gold Glove level. Stewart understands that hes going to have to manage the wrist. The nature of the game and the injury means that you cant expect it to just disappear.

Its a thing thats probably not going to heal during the season, but its not like its broke or anything, Stewart said. Its more like inflammation, just some general soreness. The best chance is in the offseason and even then (we) start working out right when the seasons over.

If I had probably whole year off, then it would be better, but (thats not an option). The wrist hasnt effected my play or being in the lineup at all in spring training, which Im very happy about.

The Cubs have shown a lot of faith in Stewart, believing that he can still be the player Baseball America fell in love with years ago. He will turn 27 on Opening Day and has been given the everyday job.

Stewart has shown flashes of the potential the Rockies saw when they made him the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Combined he generated 43 homers and 131 RBI for Colorado in 2009 and 2010.

But knee, hamstring and wrist injuries conspired against Stewart last season. He hit .156 with zero home runs in 48 games with the Rockies and spent a significant amount of time at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Stewart rejected the change of scenery narrative presented by the Cubs front office. The laid-back guy who grew up in Southern California has enough confidence to think that all he needs is an opportunity.

Stewarts not nearly as accomplished as ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez the Opening Day third baseman the past eight seasons but he uses the same calculus: If Im healthy, Ill put up numbers.

I dont think breakout year. I dont think I have to replace anybody, Stewart said. Im just focused on getting healthy. Thats all Im looking forward to just being as productive as I can (once) the season (starts) and maintaining that preparation throughout the year and getting 400 or 500 at-bats.

When I get those at-bats, the numbers have been there in the big leagues.

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the sixth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had already hit a combined five home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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Yu Darvish's Cutter Might Be What Turns His Season Around

Yu Darvish's Cutter Might Be What Turns His Season Around

Over the past two starts, Yu Darvish has walked three batters. That stat isn’t going to catch too many eyes until you realize that in the two starts prior, he walked 11. And the two starts before those? 7. 

Control issues have plagued Darvish all season, and if the season ended today, he’d set a career-high in BB% (16.6). He’s walked at least four batters in all but three of his starts. It’s been a mess so far, but it might not be for much longer. Look at how Darvish’s pitch selection has changed over the last eight weeks:


That’s a mighty big increase in two-seamer usage. Darvish was throwing his cutter barely 5% of the time at the start of the season, and now he’s throwing it basically once every four pitches. The cutter seen a 10% increase over the first two months as well. A game-by-game breakdown shows you just how much Darvish’s approach has changed of late: 


So, things look a little different now. That spike in sinker usage came against the Marlins, when he only got through four innings while allowing a run with six walks and seven strikeouts. He admitted after the game that he got too cozy with the pitch. 

More notably, Darvish’s cutter usage continues to steadily rise. That’s good news for the Cubs, because since over the last two years, it’s been one of his more effective pitches. 

It’s also probably not a coincidence that in Darvish’s best years, his cutter has been one of his most accurate pitches. The stretch from 2013-2016 (he missed all of 2015) saw some of the lowest BB% for his cutter: 

“I just think he has better command of that pitch,” Joe Maddon said. “I think he has a better idea of where that pitch is going. I think that’s the biggest difference with it. Because of that, it’s been more effective because he can throw it where he wants to. I think that’s the primary difference. 

News and notes

  • The Cubs called up Tim Collins and Dillon Maples before Saturday’s game. Collins was up briefly in mid-April, pitching 3.1 IPs in four outings. This is also Maples second time up this season, after making three appearances in late-April/early-May. “We had to,” Joe Maddon said about calling up the pair. “There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, a lot of usage. We’ve been in nearly every game we’ve been playing, so it’s difficult to give guy breaks.”
  • The corresponding move saw the Cubs option OF Mark Zagunis to Triple-A Iowa. In 29 games this season, Zagunis slashed .257/.333/.343 with a .676 OPS. “We’ve had these young guys that have not had a chance to play with regularity,” Maddon said. “It’s wonderful for them to be in the major leagues, but developmentally sometimes it can really hurt them. He’ll be back.” 
  • With a short bench, Maddon admitted that pitcher Tyler Chatwood could be a pinch hitter. “He’s legit,” he said. “I don’t know when or how, but he definitely has to have his spikes on.”
  • Pedro Strop is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Saturday. They have another one scheduled in a couple of days. Maddon noted that he’s getting close, and mentioned the end of next week as a potential timeline to when they’d more about his rehab assignment plans.