Cubs

Where does Justin Grimm fit in Cubs bullpen?

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Where does Justin Grimm fit in Cubs bullpen?

MESA, Ariz. — It's still early in spring training (Cactus League games haven't even started yet), but it's already a given Justin Grimm will be a part of the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen if healthy.

The question is: In what role?

Joe Maddon isn't one to adopt or announce specific roles for pitchers in his bullpens, but when asked Monday, the Cubs manager offered up another year of the 27-year-old right-hander filling in as the team's "mid-innings closer" again while acknowledging there is room for that role to expand.

"Yeah, I do," Maddon said. "He could keep growing. This guy's got the kind of stuff that finishes games. I think as he pitches more consistently, as he gets older, you'll see more.

"He's got great stuff. He's got a great attitude. He's a great teammate. He's all of the above. As he gets more comfortable mentally just handling the latter part of the game, he'll be able to do it.

"Going into this year, I'd be happy if he was able to fulfill the same role he did last year."

[RELATED: Cubs set pitching rotation for beginning of Cactus League schedule]

Grimm, however, sees things a little differently. He wants the ball in the late innings in high-pressure situations.

"I've talked to Joe about it. He knows I value myself more than that middle relief connotation they put on it," Grimm said. "I think we're on the same page with that — me and Joe are.

"I'm just here to help this team get to what we want to do. I gotta put my personal things to the side for the team."

Grimm dropped the standard company line in Cubs camp, as everybody works toward pulling the rope in the same direction.

[RELATED: Maddon continues to do 'whatever it takes' to bring Cubs together with crazy Leap Day celebration]

But it still represents a shift in thinking for Grimm, who mentioned each of the last two years that he still envisions himself a starter in the big leagues, but now has taken to the relieving role.

"I truly think I'm getting better with it," Grimm said. "Learning day-to-day, what it takes to stay strong, stay fresh.

"It's just getting that mindset. I think I'm continuing to grow with it."

Grimm has found success as a reliever since coming to the Cubs from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza back in July 2013.

In 2014, he led the Cubs in appearances, putting up a 3.78 ERA in 73 games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Last year, he got a late start to the season with a forearm injury, but still wound up with 15 holds, three saves and a 1.99 ERA in 62 games.

Grimm also struck out 67 batters in 49.2 innings, ranking ninth in Major League Baseball in K/9 (12.1) among pitchers with at least 40 innings — right up there with some of the top closers in the game like Aroldis Chapman (15.7 K/9), Andrew Miller (14.6), Kenley Jansen (13.8) and Craig Kimbrel (13.2).

This year, regardless of role, Grimm just wants to keep the momentum rolling. He feels comfortable in all his pitches, but knows he needs to use his fastball, too.

"I just wanna build off last year," Grimm said. "It was a great year, but I always expect more out of myself. I'd like to tone down the walks.

"I have the kind of stuff where I'm able to attack the zone and pitch within the zone. I'm just realizing that I have to be on the attack more. I'm at my best when I'm going right after guys."

Sounds like Bryce Harper hasn't closed the door on returning to Nationals in free agency

Sounds like Bryce Harper hasn't closed the door on returning to Nationals in free agency

Bryce Harper could be playing in his final week of games as a Washington National as the 25-year-old superstar as about to become a free agent for the first time in his young career. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post was able to speak to Harper as he started to clean out his locker at Nationals Park wondering out loud whether or not this would be his last time in the Nationals' home locker room. 

 “If I walk into Nats Park as a visiting player?” Harper said Monday afternoon, sitting at that double locker in the prime spot, just off the entrance to the shower. “That’s weird. And who wants to see that? That’s really weird.”

The Bovada odds were released last week, as all signs point towards Harper leaving his current club to team up with fellow Las Vegas-native Kris Bryant and the Cubs this winter. And while the odds-makers are expecting Harper to bid farewell to Washington, Harper doesn't seem like he's quite ready to move on. 

“I think about other cities, but I love it here,” Harper said. “Am I in the plans, you know? I don’t know. It’s hard to think about because it’s all you know, and then you think about it, it’s like, ‘Well, it could all be over in a,’” and here, he snapped his fingers, “ ‘a second.’ It’s kind of crazy.”

Harper goes on to talk about how he grew up with the Nationals and how he's reluctant to leave something he knows. But, the Nationals are in one of the big markets in terms of baseball landscape, and can't quite offer the things the Cubs would that come along with playing in Chicago. And it sounds like the most important thing for Harper is being truly wanted. 

He kept saying he wants to be a part of the plan in Washington, but what he's leaving out is the price-tag that will come along with any team attempting to persuade the superstar outfielder to play for them. Washington likely won't be able to match some of the anticipated record-breaking deals expected to come Harper's way, which opens the door for teams like the Cubs. 

We're still about a month away from Bryce Harper and Manny Machado dominating the baseball conversations this off-season, but once the 2018 season comes to an end, expect the Cubs to make Harper a priority this winter. 

How both the Cubs and Cardinals could pop champagne at Wrigley Field on Friday

How both the Cubs and Cardinals could pop champagne at Wrigley Field on Friday

The Cubs face-off with their hated rival Cardinals this weekend as both clubs enter this week in position to nab a postseason spot. The Cubs are only five wins away from winning their 3rd straight NL Central division title while the Cardinals are clinging onto the final Wild Card spot in the NL. And with both teams gearing up to finish the season playing each, Gordon Wittenmyer from the Chicago Sun-Times broke down a scenario where the Cubs and Cardinals clinch Friday night. 

This scenario relies on the Cubs winning Friday night against the Cardinals, who have been a pesky thorn in the side of the Cubs winning 9 of the 16 meetings this season. But if the Cubs are able to prevail Friday, it would give both the Cubs and Cardinals the chance to celebrate at Wrigley Field, while also making the final two games of the season just rest days for the starters. 

As weird as it would be to see both the Cubs and Cardinals celebrating a postseason birth, I'm sure fans wouldn't mind the Cardinals have their moment as long as it means the Cubs are partying as well. Of course, all that partying would have to be done either late Friday night or Saturday because the Cubs and Cardinals play at 1:20 pm on Friday whereas Colorado plays at 7:10 pm.