Daniel Descalso

Cubs place Daniel Descalso on 10-day injured list, activate newly-acquired Derek Holland

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USA TODAY

Cubs place Daniel Descalso on 10-day injured list, activate newly-acquired Derek Holland

The revolving door that is the Cubs second base picture continues to spin.

Saturday, the Cubs placed infielder Daniel Descalso on the 10-day injured list with a sprained left ankle (retroactive to July 24). In a corresponding move, the team added Derek Holland, whom they acquired from the Giants on Friday, to the active roster.

Descalso’s Cubs career got off to a solid start, as he hit .243/.338/.386 in 70 April at-bats. His playing time has decreased in each month since then, however, with Descalso’s offensive performance also declining as well. From May 1-July 23, he’s holds a .107/.224/.131 slash line across 84 at-bats.

On the one hand, it can’t be easy for Descalso — who's hitting .181 in 160 at-bats this season — to work through his struggles at the plate when he’s receiving such a limited number of at-bats. The 32-year-old last started on June 30 and has started 19 games since May 1.

On the other hand, Descalso’s offensive shortcomings have made him a less desirable starting second base option for the Cubs. This, combined with the fact that the Cubs have an absurd amount of players capable of playing the position. Descalso, Addison Russell, David Bote, Robel Garcia and Ben Zobrist have each made at least 10 appearances at second base this season.

Russell was sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday, but the Cubs recalled Ian Happ on Friday. Happ played 134 2/3 innings at second base with Iowa this season, and manager Joe Maddon said mentioned how it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Happ to play there with the Cubs.

"He asked a good question — he wanted to know, game-in-progress, 'would you ever put me in the infield?'" Maddon said on Friday in Milwaukee. "I said, 'I don't know that, but with five bench players right now, maybe not out of the chute. But like I also told him, if you're losing the game and you're trying to win the game, you'll do anything."

Happ will primarily play outfield with the Cubs, so he’s not necessarily jeopardizing Descalso’s playing time any more than the aforementioned players. However, Descalso was in a precarious position before Happ’s promotion. The latter’s presence doesn’t necessarily help his playing time situation.

Holland holds a 5.90 ERA in 31 games (seven starts) this season, but he posted a 0.68 ERA in 10 relief outings (13 1/3 innings) from June 24-July 18. After allowing a run on July 20, the Giants designated him for assignment the next day. He's joining the Cubs bullpen following a heartwrenching 3-2 loss to the Brewers on Friday.

The Cubs used Kyle Ryan, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop and Rowan Wick in the game, so there's a good chance Holland gets into Saturday's game, if the situation calls for it.

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Why the Cubs haven't given up on Daniel Descalso yet

Why the Cubs haven't given up on Daniel Descalso yet

Now that Addison Russell is back in the minor leagues, there's one less player in the mix for the Cubs second base picture.

So what does that mean for Daniel Descalso?

The veteran signed with the Cubs this winter to fill a valuable utility role and provide a boost inside the clubhouse. 

By all accounts, thing have played out exactly according to plan on the latter (for more on Descalso's impact on this team behind the scenes, listen to Kelly Crull break it down on our latest podcast), but the former hasn't gone according to script. Descalso has only started 38 games this year, all coming at second base, and his last start came nearly a month ago — June 30 in Cincinnati.

In fact, Descalso hadn't even seen an inning at second base since then until he was subbed into Tuesday night's game in San Francisco and stayed on the field as the contest went into extra innings.

In total, the 32-year-old has only 7 plate appearances in July as he's been banished to the bench amid his nearly three-month long struggles (he's hitting .107 with a .355 OPS since the end of April). 

"No question, it is difficult [to keep him involved]," Joe Maddon said Sunday as the Cubs wrapped up their homestand. "But he makes it less difficult. He's a professional — he's always working, he talks to everybody, he's there to support everybody else. ... He's outstanding as a person and as a teammate, so he's made it easier on everybody else, actually."

As the Cubs continue to struggle on the road amid a tight division race, it's become an everyday occurrence to see fans wondering when the team is going to designate Descalso for assignment or place him on the shelf with some phantom malady

The Cubs could clearly use another productive hitter in the lineup on a regular basis with the recent struggles from guys like Albert Almora Jr. and David Bote. Descalso came up with a bunch of clutch hits in April and posted a .762 OPS in more than 1,100 plate appearances over the three seasons prior to 2019.

Between that track record and the veteran presence Descalso provides, the Cubs have not yet reached a point where they want to give up on the left-handed hitter despite rarely using him over the last month.

Now that Russell is in the minor leagues for the near future, that might open the door to some more playing time for Descalso, though Robel Garcia has been impressive in limited duty. The trade deadline also looms as a potential shake-up to the roster of position players if the Cubs acquire another bat.

As the Cubs came out of the All-Star Break earlier this month, Maddon acknowledged he has been talking to Descalso often about the situation and knows it's tough for the veteran to stay sharp enough to even pinch-hit when he's only getting a couple at-bats a week.

"In spite of all this, the guy continues to contribute as a veteran player," the Cubs skipper said. "Not playing everyday, I watch what he does with conversation with guys. I know he's frustrated, but he really deals with it well. 

"I don't know when the breakout period's gonna come. You look back at spring training — he looked great. You look at the first part of the season — he looked great. And then he got hurt a little bit and came back and he just wasn't quite the same. I cannot put my finger on it. 

"But the guy's a professional. He's handled it as well as it could be handled or dealt with and we need to continue to work with him. ... I cannot speak more highly of him or what he's done behind the scenes with this group."

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Robel Garcia's 'intriguing' potential and where he fits on the Cubs in the second half

Robel Garcia's 'intriguing' potential and where he fits on the Cubs in the second half

By now, you've heard Robel Garcia's story.

It's more akin to a Hollywood script than a real-life situation, as Garcia spent six years playing baseball in Italy before returning to the U.S. That's where the Cubs found him last fall in Arizona.

With each passing day, it's looking more and more like they've discovered a diamond in the rough.

"He was playing on the backfields last fall and one of our amateur scouts happened to be scouting the Instructional League and saw this guy as a free agent," Cubs VP Jason McLeod said on the CubsTalk Podcast this week. "He started doing the legwork on him, getting the background and just said, 'Hey, this guy's really interesting — the ball's getting off his barrel really well, he looks like a good athlete.'

"That got the ball rolling. We saw him again a week or so later and we ended up signing him with an invite to spring training really with no guarantees. I mean, he had to come in and at the least, show that he could go to Double-A because he hadn't been around for six years.

"From Day 1, he just lit us up with his play on the field and how well he swung the bat in spring training. Things started from there and he hasn't stopped."

So now that Garcia is on the big-league team, what is his level of staying power and where does he fit as the second half of the 2019 season approaches?

The 26-year-old switch-hitter never even played above A-ball in America before this spring, but he's hit everywhere he's gone this year. That hasn't stopped in the big leagues, as he's clubbed 3 extra-base hits (including 2 homers) in his first 11 at-bats since last week's promotion.

"He's intriguing — there's no question," manager Joe Maddon said. "He could provide a lot for us. Don't forget — right now, he's just here for the first time. He's making his first impression; he's getting used to the situation."

Garcia started each of the Cubs' last three games before the All-Star Break and even with a roster filled with proven players, it's easy to see an avenue to consistent playing time if he continues to hit. That's mostly because some of those proven players are struggling to produce this season.

Garcia's glove may still be lagging behind his bat — he's already made a pair of errors in the big leagues — but with the Cubs struggling to get any consistent offensive production from the second base rotation of Daniel Descalso, Addison Russell and David Bote, maybe the journeyman from the Dominican Republic and Italy can be the answer.

In Sunday's 3-1 loss to the White Sox to wrap up the first half, Garcia provided the team's only offense with a seventh-inning solo shot off left-hander Aaron Bummer.

It's Garcia's left-handed swing that figures to be his best asset to the Cubs, but the fact that he can bring it right-handed is certainly a bonus. It also helps that he can play a variety of positions beyond just second base.

"Overall, he's made a great first impression," Maddon said. "From that right-handed side, I saw it in BP [Saturday] and I thought it was a really short [swing]. He hit that [homer] really well on a high-velocity fastball. I think he's really represented himself well coming from the background he has, showing up all of the sudden with a team that's a good team, but that's not playing as well as they can. And he's been able to step in there and be very helpful."

That home run Sunday was Garcia's 23rd of the season across three levels, including 6 in Double-A Tennessee to start the year before he mashed 15 bombs in 50 Triple-A games after that. 

Even when the Cubs were dreaming on what Garcia could be if everything played out right in 2019, they didn't envision this type of pop.

"No I didn't see that," McLeod said. "He was swinging the bat well in spring training and definitely showed early on that he could get to a fastball — that was the thing that stuck out right away in those spring training games. Yeah, there was some swing-and-miss as we've seen going into the season and now on offspeed [pitches].

"A lot of us watching him then, we were like, with how long he's been gone, with the quality of pitching he'll see, even if he makes the Double-A team, how's the swing gonna hold up? He's gone out and the ball's just carrying in general this year — as we've seen with both the home runs hit in the major leagues and in Triple-A. But that's not to take anything away from the great story this guy's been for the last three months now."

Everything about Garcia's season has been storybook, so why not add another chapter that features him as a valuable role player and potential spark for the Cubs in a hotly contested playoff race? 

What might've seemed impossible just a few months ago just may become a reality on Chicago's North Side this summer.

 

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