Cubs

Why Brett Anderson called Cubs fans ‘f------ idiots’ and loves the idea of pitching at Wrigley Field

Why Brett Anderson called Cubs fans ‘f------ idiots’ and loves the idea of pitching at Wrigley Field

MESA, Ariz. – On an October night where you could literally feel Wrigley Field shaking, Brett Anderson fired off a message on his personal Twitter account: "Real classy cubs fans throwing beer in the Dodgers family section. Stay classy f------ idiots."
 
The Cubs had just clinched their first National League pennant since the year World War II ended, beating Clayton Kershaw and playing as close to a perfect game as they had all season. Anderson kept up the entertaining commentary during the World Series, previewing Game 7 – "We can all agree that we're happy it's not Joe West behind the plate tomorrow" – and tweaking his future manager: "Aroldis (Chapman) might puke on the mound from exhaustion." 
 
In another generation, a veteran pitcher might walk into a new clubhouse and wonder about any awkwardness with a hitter he once drilled with a fastball or some bad blood from a bench-clearing brawl. But overall today's players share the same agents, work out together in the same warm-weather offseason spots and understand the transient nature of this business. When pregame batting practice is filled with fist bumps, bro hugs and small talk between opponents, it becomes trying to remember what you said on social media. 
 
"I'm kind of a sarcastic ass on Twitter," Anderson said Monday. "I kind of sit back and observe. I'm not a huge talker in person. But I can kind of show some of my personality and candor on some of those things.
 
"You look at stuff (when) you get to a new team. I'm like: ‘Wow, man, did I say anything about anybody that's going to piss them off?' But I think the only thing I said about the players is that Kyle (Hendricks) looks like he could have some Oreos and milk after pitching in the World Series. 
 
"But that's kind of the guy he is. Just the calmness that he shows is something that we can all try to strive for."
 
Anderson essentially broke the news of his signing – or at least tipped off the media to look for confirmations – with a "Wheels up to Chicago" tweet in late January. The Cubs guaranteed $3.5 million for the chance to compete against Mike Montgomery and see which lefty can grab the fifth-starter job. Anderson could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if he makes 29 starts this season. 
 
After undergoing surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, Anderson made three starts and didn't earn a spot on the NLCS roster.  
 
"I obviously wasn't in the stands," Anderson said. "Supposedly from what I was told – it could be a different story – but there was just some beers thrown on where the families were. I'm going to stick to my family and my side.  
 
"I wasn't calling out the whole stadium. (It wasn't): ‘Screw you, Cubs fans.' It was just the specific (incident) – whoever threw the beers on the family section. Everybody has their fans that are kind of rowdy and unruly.

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"That just happened to be a situation. But you like those people on your side. I played in Oakland, and they had some of the rowdiest fans. In the playoffs, it seemed like ‘The Black Hole' for the Raiders games.
 
"You have your bad seeds in every fan base. When people are rowdy and cheering on their team and have one too many beers, the next thing you know, you're throwing them.
 
"Just visiting (Wrigley), it's a fun crowd, because it's such an intimate setting and you feel like they're right on top of you and it's so loud." 
 
Imagine the matchup nightmare the Dodgers could've been if their pitching staff hadn't been so top-heavy and manager Dave Roberts could've confidently gone to someone other than Kershaw, Rich Hill or closer Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers had made Anderson the qualifying offer after a solid 2015 season – 10-9, 3.69 ERA, 180-plus innings, a 66.7 groundball percentage – and he grabbed the $15.8 million guarantee. 
 
Anderson turned around and did the knock-on-wood motion at his locker, saying he felt good after completing a bullpen session with catcher Willson Contreras at the Sloan Park complex. Anderson is a Tommy John survivor who's also gone on the disabled list for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.
 
"Yeah, it's frustrating," Anderson said. "When I'm healthy and able to go out there and do my work, I feel like I'm a pretty good pitcher. I don't think I've ever been able to put everything as a whole together in one season. I've had some good spots – and some good seasons here and there – but hopefully I can put it all together and have a healthy season and do my part."
 
The Cubs are such a draw that Shane Victorino signed a minor-league deal here last year – even with more than $65 million in career earnings and even after a fan dumped a beer on him while he tried to catch a flyball at Wrigley Field in 2009.   
 
Anderson wanted to play for a winner and understood the organization's pitching infrastructure. He saw his pitching style as a match for the unit that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year. He was even intrigued by Camp Maddon and the wacky stunts in Mesa.  
 
"It's obviously an uber-talented group," Anderson said. "(It's also) seeing the fun that they're having. I'm more on the calm and cerebral side, but I think doing some of the things that these guys have in store for me will hopefully open me up a little bit and break me out of my shell. 
 
"'Uncomfortable' is a good word, especially for me. You don't want to get complacent. You don't want to get used to rehab. You want to go out there and do new things and try new things and meet new people and have new experiences. All things considered, the Cubs offered the best mix of everything."

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.

RELATED: Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

“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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Cubs, MLB face daily reminders of COVID-19 risk, decision to keep going

Cubs, MLB face daily reminders of COVID-19 risk, decision to keep going

Long after the Cubs finished their three-inning, Fourth-of-July vacation from the pandemic Saturday, manager David Ross returned by himself to the field, where he spent a few minutes of mostly quiet time, a few grounds-crew members working on the mound and batter’s boxes in the background.

“Just taking a minute, trying to enjoy what I get to do, what this whole process is,” said Ross, who walked around and gazed at the Wrigley Field green expanse and out at the scoreboard with the U.S. flag against the blue sky, then snapped a picture.

“Everybody was gone, just finished a workout and I had a minute,” he said, “and it just looked cool, on the Fourth of July. Just a little moment for me.”

The rare moment of calm amid the COVID-19 storm that rages with renewed force across much of the country and that roars against everything baseball is trying to build this summer was gone almost as soon as it began — Ross pulling the mask back across his face as he headed back indoors toward his office and eventually home.

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By the time the Cubs got together again Sunday, it was time for another round of coronavirus testing and another wait to see if they’ll remain one of only two teams without a known case among the players.

In between, they played five more innings of baseball and wondered how long 30 teams in 28 cities can keep their training camps functional and a 60-game season in play.

“We had meetings, and everybody knows what’s at risk,” said fourth starter Tyler Chatwood, who pitched three innings Sunday. "My wife is pregnant, and I have a two-year-old at home. So, I think the toughest part for me is not seeing them, but this is what I want to do.

“We all want to stay as safe as possible and we all want to get the season in.”

If Chatwood, Ross and the rest of the Cubs weren’t sure how persistent the micro-commitments and significant the undertaking of this 1,700-player effort, they have been bombarded with reminders each day — from Sunday’s testing to the news that high-profile pitchers Felix Hernandez and David Price and Cleveland bench coach Brad Mills have opted out of the 2020 season over the risk, to Giants star Buster Posey and Phillies $118 million pitcher Zach Wheeler telling media they might yet make the same decision.

Ross reiterated the day-to-day nature of evaluating the landscape and risk and navigating the protocols and emotions.

“Everybody definitely has their radar up and wants to know we’re doing everything possible,” he said. “Our guys are extremely bought-in. But everybody has a little bit of a pause as you come to the park and what each day’s going to be like.”

Sunday was only Day 3 of a 21-day training camp before a season would open on July 24.

It was only Day 2 for some other teams. And some teams, such as the Oakland A’s, postponed Sunday’s scheduled full-squad workout because their intake testing hasn’t been completed. Sean Doolittle of the Nationals told media the team in the nation’s capital is short on some basic PPE supplies, such as masks, and he remains concerned about the league’s ability to pull this off safely.

And a few miles to the south, the White Sox on Sunday said two of their players have tested positive.

MORE: White Sox announce two players test positive for COVID-19

“This not a small undertaking, trying to get a season up and running and then manage it for a 60-game season,” said Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who suffered through a frightening, painful month-long bout with COVID-19. “I think we’re giving it the best chance to be successful.”

In addition to Hottovy, Royals manager Mike Matheny also revealed over the weekend, he battled the virus about a month ago.

As news continues to surface about positive tests, and stars as big as Mike Trout of the Angels openly talk about whether they might opt out, the Cubs mask up in their clubhouse, continue to wash and distance and ask their own questions.

“Guys are doing a great job,” Ross said. “We’re doing everything possible. But for sure, there’s a lot of pause around the league, and rightfully so.”

Not that anyone in baseball is judging anyone who chooses to opt out. In fact, far from it, Ross said. 

“These are serious issues that to a man everybody has to look at their situation individually and make a tough choice,” he said. “This is an extremely difficult environment for these players to be in. They’re having to alter their routines, continue to have other things on their mind, other than performing baseball, and still trying to make it fun.”

Hottovy said he had to make his own tough choice to return after talking about the concerns with family. Ross said some Cubs have family members at home with high-risk conditions for severe reactions if infected by the virus.

So far, the Brewers and Cubs are the only teams that have not reported any positive tests among its players.

MORE: David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

“It doesn’t mean somebody’s not going to test positive through no fault of their own,” Ross said “We’re at the mercy of this virus.

“But I’m super proud of our guys, how serious they’re taking it and how they’ve come in so far.”

And so far, they’ve stayed together. Whatever doubts might persist. Whatever might be around baseball’s next corner.

Said Hottovy: “How it’s managed, how we handle it on a day-to-day basis and manage it not only as an organization but across baseball is going to determine how this thing goes in the long run.”

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