Cubs

Time running out in Cubs rotation battle

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Time running out in Cubs rotation battle

Saturday, March 12, 2011Posted: 4:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Randy Wells didnt need a media-training seminar to know this: Pitch well and all the critics will back off. Everyone will start writing nice things about you again.

No one expected Wells to win 12 games as a rookie in 2009. Everyone had an opinion on what went wrong last year, when he lost 14 games, a number that overshadowed his 32 starts and 194.1 innings.

At 28, Wells has a perspective and a sense of humor about the way it works. On Thursday morning, he sat through a session on dealing with reporters and social media run by a Major League Baseball representative. He then went out and limited the Indians to one hit in four scoreless innings.

Afterward, Wells was asked if he had the inside track to a spot in the rotation, which is what the image-makers call a vulnerable question. He smiled and went into full-clich mode.

Its all up to Q, Wells said. Im just one man.

Manager Mike Quade isnt prepared to publicly announce his fourth and fifth starters just yet. But its hard to ignore what Wells has done, stringing together nine scoreless innings through his first three games.

Just keep it rolling, Quade said.
Decision time
At a certain point, every day seems exactly the same in spring training. You lose sight of how quickly time is slipping away. There is the illusion that Opening Day is still almost three weeks away.

But decision time is fast approaching, which is what makes every inning so critical for Carlos Silva.

Another wave of cuts is expected around St. Patricks Day. For the group of pitchers trying to make the rotation, there might only be one or two more chances to make an impression and thats if front-office opinions havent already hardened.

By now its clear that the Cubs are not backing off at all from the Andrew Cashner experiment. Any doubts they may have had about moving the 24-year-old into the rotation were gone once they signed Kerry Wood and imported Matt Garza.

This isnt robbing the bullpen, because Wood will be the right-handed power arm in front of closer Carlos Marmol. And Cashner wont have to immediately be a frontline starter though the organization thinks thats what he can eventually become because Garza is there to take away some pressure.

Cashner remembers sitting on his parents couch back home in Texas and watching Wood hit a homer in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. He looks up to Wood and Ryan Dempster, two pitchers who have made 30-plus starts and saved 30-plus games in a season. They are always willing to help.

There may not be a more ideal time than now to fully commit to Cashner as a starter.

Hes got a lot of different folks around him that have (been successful), Quade said. He can really draw from (them) and he does listen (well). I get the biggest kick out of Cash, because he is a country guy, but he pays attention and sees stuff.

This is a really good environment for him to attempt to make this transition and for him to be able to attack it the best he can. I think these guys would be the first to tell him groundball to short on one pitch beats the heck out of a six-pitch or seven-pitch strikeout.

Image makeover

Cashner has improved steadily each outing and the Cubs feel his changeup is close to becoming a real weapon. He can throw the ball close to 100 mph, but hes really learning how to pitch, set up hitters and hold runners on at first base.

Eventually, Cashner will reach the crossroads where people stop looking at his potential and start focusing on what he isnt doing yet. In a down year, Wells went from being the converted catcher, the 38th-round pick, the feel-good story, to a disappointment.

Wells can be funny my britches fit just fine and brutally honest. He seems to have learned from the experience, and by watching his 2010 starts.

A lot of it is just staying calm and not panicking when you get a guy in scoring position (or) walk the leadoff guy, Wells said. (Its) trying to keep your wits about you. (If) a guy gets a hit and scores a run, its not the end of the world.

When things got bad, I tried to force things instead of now just taking a deep breath, relaxing, evaluating the situation and making a good pitch.

Its not as easy as flipping a switch, but Wells and Cashner have shown enough growth that it wouldnt be surprising to see them starting April 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field.

(Sometimes) you almost pitch like you dont want to go down rather than stay, Wells said. (When) you pitch aggressive, (like) this is your job and this is your livelihood and nobodys going to take it from you rather than pitching to not get sent down (that mentality makes people successful.)"

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Javy Baez can see the future

Javy Baez can see the future

Javy Baez doesn't have the words to describe Javy Baez.

But then again, that's not what he does.

Analytical breakdowns aren't his game — incredible, heart-stopping physical feats on the baseball diamond are.

On a night at Wrigley Field that felt like one of the October battles of the past between the Cubs and Dodgers, Baez once again wowed and awed.

It wasn't just that ridiculous juke move at first base, though that will undoubtedly go down as one of the top MLB highlights of the year — if not THE top highlight. 

During Tuesday night's 7-2 Cubs win, Baez turned five different ground balls into outs...from the outfield grass. One such play nabbed Cody Bellinger by a split second at first base to end a bases-loaded threat in the eighth inning. 

And there was his seventh homer of the season — his first at home, surprisingly — to give the Cubs some more breathing room as he continues to hit the ball with authority the other way. He now has 15 hits in his last 33 at-bats and 9 of those knocks have gone for extra bases (5 doubles, 3 homers and a triple). 

But back to that play at first base — how did he do it?

After pausing for a few seconds, Baez shrugged and said, "I don't know," before trying to find the words to explain what was going through his head in those few seconds as he was hurtling down the basepath:

"I just saw him really close to the line," Baez said. "Usually on that play, you go around [the base] like it's a base hit. I think if I would've kept going, he was going to run me over because he's a big dude. 

"I saw a play — Billy Hamilton did it like 3 or 4 years ago. I saw it and that was the first thing that came to my mind — to stop or see a reaction and he couldn't stop. I know I didn't leave the line. It was everything good."

It's the last part that's most amazing. 

Here's the play Baez was referencing, from July 11, 2014:

So as he's running down to first base, he has the wherewithal to dip into his encyclopedic cache, pluck out the perfect play from his memory and execute it in glorious fashion...all in a matter of maybe a second-and-a-half.

"I think we all feel his energy all around the place — not only on the field, but in the clubhouse," catcher Willson Contreras said. "We call him The Mago for a reason. I love this guy. To me, he has the best instincts in the game. What he did today was just awesome. That's one of the best base hits ever."

Joe Maddon said he and the Cubs coaches were comparing Baez to legendary Bears running back Gale Sayers in the dugout for that juke move.

"That's him playing on a playground in Puerto Rico somewhere," Maddon said. "That's what I love about him. There's no fear in his game. His game is a game and he sees things in advance and he's fearless. He could strike out three or four times in a row and that is not going to impact his fifth at-bat."

Just about every week throughout the season, Baez shows the baseball world something it's never seen before. 

From his lightning quick tags to his swim move slides to hitting bombs left-handed during batting practice to his rocket arm that has been clocked as high as 98 mph on the infield — even he has to surprise himself every now and then, right? Especially like this play Tuesday night?

"Nah, not really," he said, smirking. "I think if it's in your mind, it's possible. I see a lot of things that people can do and they don't realize it. I realize everything I can do and everything I can't do."

If you ever want to know what makes Baez "El Mago," read that last sentence again:

"I realize everything I can do and everything I can't do."

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Jose Quintana continued his strong run in a dominant 7-inning performance against the Dodgers

Jose Quintana continued his strong run in a dominant 7-inning performance against the Dodgers

During the 4th inning of the Cubs’ 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night, LA right fielder Cody Bellinger took a 92 mile per hour fastball from Jose Quintana and sent it right back his way at 96: 

After a quick (maybe unintentional?) grab, Quintana calmly tossed the ball in his glove a few times before walking off the mound without even a grimace.

It was just that kind of night for Quintana, who pitched 7 strong innings while allowing only two runs on four hits and striking out seven. He’s now gone seven innings in three straight starts, all Cubs wins - two of which were against teams that currently sit in 1st place.

“We needed that kind of performance tonight,” Manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “They have a very difficult lineup to navigate and he was once again on top of his game. Great focus - he kept coming back with good pitches. Really the curveball was very pertinent tonight and then he had some good changeups to go with the fastball. He’s pitching.”

Quintana flashed an impressive amount of control while working through one of baseball’s toughest lineups. After walking six batters through his first two starts, Quintana has now only walked three since. 71 of his 114 pitches -- the most thrown by any Cubs pitcher this season, per team notes -- went for strikes. 

“I feel great,” he said after the game. “I know I’ve been throwing the ball really well the last couple of starts. All my stuff’s worked really good.”

“This year he’s been really good,” Willson Contreras added. “He’s using all his pitches which he didn’t do last year very often. I think he has his mind in the right place right now, and we’re in a good place.”

Quintana’s offspeed repertoire was firmly on display all night. Per Statcast, after throwing two changeups to Dodgers leadoff hitter Enrique Hernandez, he didn’t show the pitch again until the 4th. On the night, he threw the change up 12 times; the Dodgers failed to put a single one in play. 

“We’ve been in these types of situations and conversations since Spring Training,” Contreras added. “I saw him working out his change up in [there], which is good. He was a little harder than 84, but today I think was one of the best games he threw with the change up.”

Through 28 innings pitched this season, the lefty now sports a sub-3 FIP (2.89) and is striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. Some pitchers that have a higher FIP include David Price, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. 

“He’s absolutely pitching right now,” Maddon added. “Where in the past I thought he would just pretty much rely on his fastball. He’s becoming a pitch maker.”