Cubs

Worth the wait: Cubs promote Kris Bryant for Wrigley Field debut

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Worth the wait: Cubs promote Kris Bryant for Wrigley Field debut

The wait is over.

The Cubs are promoting Kris Bryant from Triple-A Iowa, according to a source familiar with the situation, and will unveil their biggest prospect on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field against James Shields and the San Diego Padres.

“Today I got to tell my family that my dream is coming true,” Bryant posted on his personal Twitter account late Thursday night. “Can’t really put into words what that feels like. So excited for this journey!”

So ends Bryant Watch, an entertaining back-and-forth involving super-agent Scott Boras, the Major League Baseball Players Association, commissioner Rob Manfred, Theo Epstein’s front office and what seemed like just about anyone with a Twitter account.

It got to the point near the end of spring training where $155 million Opening Day starter Jon Lester could get a Bryant question and say: “That’s not my decision. That’s above my pay grade.”

[Kris Bryant Tracker: The wait is over]

The timing certainly works for the Cubs, exactly crossing off the 12 days needed to gain an extra year of club control over Bryant, who can now play almost seven full seasons on the North Side before becoming a free agent after the 2021 campaign.

It’s just business. Boras Corp. will never forget that.

But baseball reasons also forced the issue now with Bryant, Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect. Third baseman Mike Olt is heading to the disabled list after an MRI revealed a hairline fracture of his right wrist, a team source said Thursday night.

What if Olt hadn’t been drilled by a 96-mph fastball last weekend at Coors Field? Infielder Tommy La Stella (rib cage) is already on the disabled list and the Cubs have been scrambling for third-base options.

Ideally, the Cubs probably would have liked to see Bryant, 23, debut on the road, in less of a circus atmosphere. (Think next week in Pittsburgh.) But these circumstances appear to have accelerated the timeline and provided some cover. Too bad the Wrigley Field bleachers aren’t open yet.

This lineup should get a jolt from Bryant, who put up 43 homers, 110 RBI and a 1.098 OPS last season in the minors. He then blasted nine homers in 40 Cactus League at-bats. But the service-time math essentially guaranteed he wouldn’t break camp with the big-league team.

[MORE: Joe Maddon will manage the great expectations for Kris Bryant]

That specific language in the collective bargaining agreement has really been the only thing that’s slowed down Bryant on his fast track to The Show.

“What I always do is put myself in the guy’s shoes,” manager Joe Maddon said as the Bryant hype escalated in spring training. “What was my brain like at that age? What was I capable of handling at that age?

“He’s got me beat by so much right now, what I would have done or how I would have been able to handle all this at that moment. It’s not easy. There’s so many things coming at you from so many different directions. I think he’s done a wonderful job.”

The Cubs drafted Bryant No. 2 overall in 2013 and gave him a $6.7 million signing bonus. At the University of San Diego, he had become a Rhodes Scholarship candidate and won the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s Heisman Trophy. That same year, he earned MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

Bryant grew up in Las Vegas, playing with and against Bryce Harper, a future All-Star for the Washington Nationals. Bryant’s father, Mike, had played minor-league ball for the Boston Red Sox, and would teach local kids what he learned from the legendary Ted Williams: Hit your pitch. Hit it hard. Hit it in the air.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Bryant hit a three-run homer during Thursday’s 10-7 win in New Orleans, where rain washed out the second game of a scheduled doubleheader. After the initial disappointment, he didn’t lose his edge or his focus with Iowa, hitting .321 with three homers and 10 RBI in seven games.

The Cubs went 5-3 during Bryant’s Triple-A holding pattern and are now tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. Wrigleyville will be rocking.

With Chicago hoping for deep playoff runs from the Bulls and Blackhawks, the city is talking about baseball again, expecting a new star to arrive.

Adidas had already ramped up the marketing campaign before Opening Night, putting his image on an Addison Street billboard across from Wrigley Field, promising Bryant will be “WORTH THE WAIT.”

Cole Hamels, Alec Mills and the Cubs' short-term rotation picture

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USA TODAY

Cole Hamels, Alec Mills and the Cubs' short-term rotation picture

Just a few weeks after utilizing a six-man rotaiton, the Cubs are considering dropping back to a four-man starting staff for a bit.

Cole Hamels threw a bullpen Wednesday morning at Wrigley Field and reportedly felt great, but he's still at least a week or so away from returning to the Cubs rotation.

Couple that with the four days off for the All-Star Break last week and regular off-days coming up (three more still in July), the Cubs don't have an actual *need* for a fifth starter more than once between now and Aug. 3, as their four mainstays will be able to go on regular rest.

"We're gonna discuss that internally — things we want to do," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "We have the ability to go with a four-man [rotation] for an extended period of time with those off-days."

Hottovy acknowledged a four-man rotation is the Cubs' preference rather than keep Alec Mills in the rotation long-term, but there are many factors to consider.

"Our guys are feeling good, so we don't want to push the envelope with all these off-days and [tell the pitchers], 'you're still gonna be on a five-day rotation,'" Hottovy said. "So we gotta all talk and communicate about how guys are feeling and make that decision."

The Cubs have been cautious with their pitchers coming out of the break, too, given they've all been thrown off their normal rhythms and routines. It's also worth noting that Kyle Hendricks is still working his way back up to full strength after a shoulder injury cost him much of June.

When the Cubs opted to go with a six-man rotation last month, the whole idea was to rest these guys and make sure they're feeling fresh for the second half and down the stretch. The team had a pretty brutal stretch — 52 games in 54 days — before the All-Star Break.

But if everything continues to progress with Hamels and his oblique injury, the Cubs may not need a four-man rotation for long, even if they opt to go that route. 

After Wednesday's bullpen, the Cubs are going to give Hamels a couple days to recover and will plan another bullpen for this weekend (likely Saturday). Just like with Hendricks' recovery, the first bullpen is more for a gauge to see where the guy is at physically and then the second one will be more of a normal routine and getting back into rhythm mechanically, etc.

Following that weekend bullpen, the Cubs don't know yet whether they're going to have Hamels throw a simulated game or go on a rehab assignment as the next step. They'll evaluate all that this weekend and thanks to the regular time off coming up, they know they don't have to push it.

"If he feels good, we also don't want to slow-play Cole Hamels," Hottovy said. "He's a guy we want in the rotation."

The Cubs are off Thursday but then play six straight games and they will need a fifth starter for that stretch (next Tuesday in San Francisco).

As of right now, it sure looks like that guy could be Mills, who rebounded nicely after a rough first inning during Tuesday night's victory. 

Mills — a 27-year-old right-hander — has only pitched 11 career games in the big leagues, but he's been a nice depth option for the Cubs the last couple years. Including Tuesday night, he has a 4.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 24 big-league innings for the Cubs the last two seasons.

"I have a lot of confidence [in him]," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's definitely a big-league caliber pitcher. I don't think he's a 4-A guy; I think he's more than that. He just needs opportunity."

Both Maddon and Hottovy mentioned Mills' last start with the Cubs last August when he gave up a first-inning grand slam to the Mets before settling in to throw 4+ innings of solid ball from there.

Tuesday night, Mills got two quick outs (thanks in large part to Albert Almora Jr.'s defense) and then served up a solo homer to Eugenio Suarez, who absolutely kills the Cubs. From there, it was back-to-back hit batters and then a groundball basehit that went right to where third baseman Kris Bryant would've been standing had he not broke for the bag to cover on a steal attempt.

Mills was inches away from getting out of the first inning with only 1 run allowed, but he also only eventually escaped the jam when Almora threw a runner out at home plate on a double off the wall — or else there could've been even more damage.

After that, Mills held the Reds scoreless for the next five innings to notch the first quality start of his career.

"He regrouped well," Hottovy said. "Millsy's a pro. The guy's been mostly a minor-league guy, but I still consider him kind of one of those veteran guys. He's smart, he's poised. He comes in after that inning and he's like, 'Yeah, I thought I did this well, I didn't do this well.' And then we talked through it and he's able to wipe it clean and then reset. 

"It was such a good job by him to be able to do that with a good hitting team — to come back and set the tone. It's easy to have that inning and then kinda let things keep escalating. He was able to go right back down the next inning and shut 'em down and that really set the tone."

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.