White Sox

Cubs rotation picture coming into focus

702870.png

Cubs rotation picture coming into focus

MESA, Ariz. You cant do instant analysis here, not when some regulars are showered and out the door before the game ends.

But if you listen closely and observe, you can slowly see the picture coming into focus. The Cubs have two spots open in their rotation, and thats the biggest roster story still to be written this spring.

Staring down at the clubhouse carpet, Travis Wood was definitely feeling a sense of urgency after getting one out in Wednesdays 10-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 11,682 fans at HoHoKam Stadium.

Its typical to say its early, working out all the kinks, but its time to go, Wood said. I had two outings so far and neither one went as planned. So now its just time to get after it.

Wood is the promising 25-year-old left-hander acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Sean Marshall trade. He gave up six runs five earned on three hits and two walks. He didnt look particularly sharp in an intra-squad scrimmage (six runs) or a start against the White Sox.

These are absurdly small sample sizes, but its the middle of March and significant cuts will be coming after this weekends trip to Las Vegas. Major decisions will have to be made.

Randy Wells helped his cause by throwing three scoreless innings against the Brewers. He had also bailed Wood out of a bases-loaded jam against the White Sox last week by getting Paul Konerko to ground into an inning-ending double play.

You guys keep asking the same question, Wells said. For every guy, you cant really think about it. If you do, its going to eat at you and one bad outings going to get in your head. I dont think you can worry about that.

For the most part, these guys are pretty good talent evaluators. Thats why theyre in (this) position. If guys can go out and work on things and get better each day, then its going to be a tough decision on them. You cant sit here and really try to play a managerial game behind the scenes.

(When) its our turn to pitch, we pitch and see what happens.

Wells is used to having to fight for a spot in the rotation. There is a reasonable expectation of knowing what youd get as long as he stays healthy. Hes 27-30 with a 4.01 ERA in 500-plus innings in the big leagues, a very capable fifth starter whos probably been overlooked.

Deep down, the Cubs see so much upside in Chris Volstad (32-39, 4.59 ERA), whos 25 years old, 6-foot-8 and a former first-round pick. Hes already thrown six scoreless innings in the Cactus League. The South Florida native is viewed as a classic change-of-scenery guy after being traded from the Miami Marlins in the Carlos Zambrano deal.

Its also hard to ignore the glowing praise manager Dale Sveum has repeatedly used to describe Jeff Samardzijas game. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the Cubs feel like his bodys designed to handle 200 innings. He has swing-and-miss stuff and team officials think he can use last season (8-4, 2.97 ERA) as a springboard.

Quietly, Rodrigo Lopez has thrown four scoreless innings and worked on the slider that made him a 15-game winner with the Baltimore Orioles. The 36-year-old right-hander wound up being good insurance last season (6-6, 4.42 ERA) and the new front office made pitching depth a priority.

Outside of Samardzija who seems likely to be ticketed for the rotation Sveum has said that he doesnt think any of the starting candidates would fit at the back end of the bullpen as the second setup man.

That power-arm void isnt going to be used against Samardzija he will be given every opportunity to earn a job in the rotation.

Needs not going to dictate the decision, Sveum said. Anybodys need is always starting pitching.

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

moncada-419.jpg
USA TODAY

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

Yoan Moncada continued his hot start to the season with a leadoff home run in Detroit on Friday.

He finished with two hits and a bases-loaded walk in a 7-3 White Sox win.

Moncada’s base numbers are all up this season. He is hitting .325 with a 1.002 OPS and a team-leading six home runs. Beyond that, a deeper look at the numbers show why Moncada’s production is up.

Moncada didn’t show much, if any, improvement in 2018 from 2017. Most of his numbers across the board were similar or slightly worse.

Moncada was patient at the plate, but maybe too patient in his first two seasons with the White Sox. He led the majors with 217 strikeouts last season and 85 of those were strikeouts looking. So far this season, Moncada is yet to strikeout looking.

This season, Moncada is swinging at more pitches both in the strike zone and overall, which is leading to a lower strikeout rate. A look at the advanced stats from FanGraphs shows Moncada swung at 63.9 percent of pitches in the zone in both 2017 and 2018 (these numbers are before Friday's game). That number is up to 69.1 percent this season. On top of that, Moncada is making more contact on those swings on pitches in the zone (up to 86.5 percent this season after 77.5 percent in 2017 and 79.8 percent in 2018).

His strikeout rate (32 percent in 2017, 33.4 percent in 2018) is way down at 24.1 percent. Strikeouts were the biggest red flag for Moncada last year. By being more aggressive this season, Moncada has been able to cut way down on that number.

His power has gone way up as well. He already has 12 extra base hits (in 82 plate appearances) and his home run on Friday was an absolute bomb. Moncada took it deep for 458 feet. That’s the longest White Sox home run of the season and is tied for the eighth longest home run in the majors this season.


He later showed that despite being more aggressive, he still has that plate discipline that was such a big part of what made him a coveted prospect in the first place. He drew a five-pitch bases loaded walk in which he did not swing the bat.

No matter how it's happening, Moncada’s turnaround has been one of the most important things in the young White Sox season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Hendricks figured it all out. 

It appears Friday was that day. 

The 29-year-old right-hander was off to a slow start to the season, surrendering 24 hits and 8 earned runs in 13.1 innings across his first three starts, good for a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. 

Things looked a little better last time out — only 2 earned runs allowed on 6 hits in 5 innings last Saturday against the Angels — but even after that start, Hendricks admitted he still feels like he's fighting himself and searching for his fastball command.

"You can't rush it," he said after that outing. "You can't rush the process. But it definitely gets frustrating. I need to do a better job and give the team a better chance to win when I'm out there regardless. And set a better tone — be more aggressive with my fastball and set a better tone for the game. You want it to come quick, but at least I'm seeing something, so I just gotta stick with what I'm doing."

Whatever he was seeing with his mechanics came to pass in Friday afternoon's 5-1 Cubs win, as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks in a brilliant performance — 7 shutout innings, permitting only 3 singles while striking out 11. It was his first double-digit strikeout game since he whiffed 12 Cardinals on Aug. 13, 2016 en route to his ERA title that season.

"Yeah, like I said, you kinda always want it to come, but I didn't think it was gonna come this quick," Hendricks admitted after Friday's game. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah it helps the confidence a lot. It solidifies the things we've been working on, so I just told the guys this was just one good day, so tomorrow, gotta get right back at it with another good work day and hopefully get on a roll here."

It was also the Cubs' third straight appearance from a starting pitcher of 7 shutout innings, after Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana turned the trick in the final two games in Miami earlier in the week.

The one pitch Hendricks felt good about last time out — his changeup — was his bread and butter Friday, too. He threw it 30 times out of his 100 pitches and induced 8 swings and misses.

"That was kinda classic Kyle," Joe Maddon said. "Great changeup, again. A lot of called strikes, pitching on the edges. ... That first inning or so, still seeking and then once he found it, he got into a nice groove."

Part of the success of the changeup was due to Hendricks' command with his fastball, which he apparently figured out — for one start, at least. He threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes throughout the game and 35 of his 56 fastballs went for strikes. 

"From the get-go, I just felt more comfortable in my mechanics, so it just freed everything up," Hendricks said. "From there, I just used my fastball a lot better — kinda like what I was talking about. Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else worked off that and it just had good action today. Kept it down, made a lot of good pitches, so it worked out."

Hendricks even saw 17 pitches at the plate despite an 0-for-4 performance, as the Cubs offense put 19 runners on base throughout the course of the afternoon.

However, his day was not without negatives. He took a 110 mph liner off the left leg in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game and finished off the last two hitters he faced.

He also snapped his fascinating personal streak, as he threw his first wild pitch since Sept. 5, 2016 — a span of 6,662 pitches:

"I had no idea; I came in the clubhouse and someone brought that to my attention," Hendricks said, laughing. "Time to start a new streak."

In all, Hendricks picked up his first win of 2019 and lowered his season ERA to 3.54 and WHIP to 1.67 with his performance. He also helped pitch his team back to the .500 level (9-9) for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.