Cubs

Cubs coach Mike Napoli back with team after recovering from COVID-19

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USA TODAY

Cubs coach Mike Napoli back with team after recovering from COVID-19

Cubs quality assurance coach Mike Napoli is back with the team. The 38-year-old missed Summer Camp and the start of the season after testing positive for COVID-19 at home in Florida.

Cubs manager David Ross said Napoli tested negative for the coronavirus twice at home and went through the intake process in Chicago, getting cleared Friday. The club disclosed Napoli’s positive test last week.

“He’s here, smiling, has a fresh haircut,” Ross said Friday. “It looks like he’s rocking the mullet for us. He’ll bring us a little edge. It’s nice. Nap’s got an energy about him that’ll be nice for the group.”

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who trained with Napoli during baseball’s shutdown, called the 38-year-old’s return a “nice shot of energy.”

RELATED: David Ross confident in Cubs' protocol compliance as MLB grapples with COVID-19

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“I feel like our team has been very energetic and upbeat, and through all of this craziness, it’s been pretty fun coming to this clubhouse and engaging with all of our guys and teammates,” Rizzo said. “Nap’s been around for a long time. He understands hitting, he understands the grind. 

“For us to be able to pick his brain from here on out will be a nice addition for us going forward.”

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Why Cubs’ Alec Mills became first pitcher to hit since MLB added universal DH

Why Cubs’ Alec Mills became first pitcher to hit since MLB added universal DH

Thursday’s Cubs-Royals game was one-sided, with Kansas City taking an early lead and never looking back in a 13-2 victory. Despite the loss, the Cubs made some history in the ninth inning.

Cubs pitcher Alec Mills became the first hurler to have a plate appearance since Major League Baseball implemented a universal DH. 

“I told him to look intimidating and I think he did,” Cubs manager David Ross said with a smile after the game.

The Cubs forfeited the DH in their lineup in the seventh inning, when they moved Victor Caratini (Thursday’s starting DH) to first base and Ian Happ from first to right field among several innings worth of moves that emptied their bench.

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With the DH gone, reliever Dan Winkler entered the lineup in the seventh in place of Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, a move Ross said postgame was to get Heyward off his feet. When that spot came up in the ninth, Ross sent Mills to the plate. He struck out looking, as Ross asked him not to swing.

“Alec was fine with going up there. I asked him not to swing,” Ross said. “Every part of my being knows that’s probably the wrong thing to do, is take the competitiveness out of a player. He’s been pitching so well for us; I don’t want anything dumb to happen in that type of game.”

Reds two-way player Michael Lorenzen is the only pitcher credited with entering a game on offense this season. He pinch ran on July 26.

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Cubs quick takes: Tyler Chatwood rocked, Cubs rolled by Royals

Cubs quick takes: Tyler Chatwood rocked, Cubs rolled by Royals

Tyler Chatwood for closer? Um, hold that thought.

The bigger issue for the Cubs’ right-hander on Thursday night in Kansas City was that after two impressive starts to open the season, he took less than three innings to look like the rotation’s weak link.

That might sound harsh in a long season, but it’s not a long season. And the rotation was far and away the Cubs’ strength during a 10-2 start — including a six-game winning streak that went up in the smoke of Thursday’s blowout loss.

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Quick takes from that 13-2 loss:

Chat-worst

How bad was the worst start of the season so far for the rotation?

The eight runs Chatwood (2-1) allowed not only exceeded the number of outs he recorded (seven) on this night, but also were twice as many as the rotation allowed total during the six-game winning streak — which included 39 2/3 innings by the starters.

"The stuff looks fine from the side," manager David Ross said. "Just one of those nights."

Chatwood didn’t walk a batter, but he was rocked for 11 hits worth of hard contact, including two-run homers by Whit Merrifield in the second and Maikel Franco in the third, and four doubles.

"I made good pitches; they hit them. I made bad pitches; they hit them," Chatwood said. "I think my stuff was all still there, maybe not as sharp as I wanted to be with the sinker. But I still feel good. I feel like I was attacking, trying to execute a game plan and gave up hits on good pitches and bad pitches."

Q and A?

A few hours before Chatwood took the mound, Jose Quintana took a big step closer to returning from his thumb injury to rejoin the rotation — using all his pitches in a 35-pitch, two-inning game simulation in South Bend.

Barring a setback, he’ll extend during another sim game Tuesday and could be scheduled for his return soon after that.

That’s where starts like Chatwood’s on Thursday start coming into play when the Cubs start looking for the right arm to move to the bullpen when Quintana is back.

"Coming into this game this guy was one of our best pitchers," Ross said of Chatwood. "This guy was dealing. You're gonna have some nights that things just don't go your way. They took advantage of the mistakes he made. That's just baseball."

Speaking of the bullpen…

The Cubs couldn’t have picked a worse day for a short-start clunker in the early part of the season.

Thursday was roster cut-down day, when the Cubs sent relievers Rex Brothers and Justin Steele to the alternate site in South Bend to reduce the overall roster to 28, which now includes nine relievers.

Four were used to cover nearly six innings of work Thursday, although only Duane Underwood Jr. (13 batters, 51 pitches) is certain to be unavailable when the Cubs open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday. In fact, Ryan Tepera needed only 15 pitches in a four-up, four-down performance.

Perhaps most noteworthy was the mopup eighth that struggling closer Craig Kimbrel pitched, opening the inning by allowing a triple, walk and single before retiring the final three he faced.

Bats out of hell?

Even if Chatwood had kept it close, the Cubs’ winning streak might have been in jeopardy because of the way Royals starter Brad Keller looked in his return to the rotation after having tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Last year’s Opening Day starter for the Royals made quick work of the Cubs in five innings pitched — striking out seven and limiting the Cubs to three singles and two walks.

By the fifth, the Cubs started pulling the regulars from the lineup with the score 9-0.

By the end of the two-run ninth, Cubs pitcher Alec Mills took a turn as a pinch-hitter.

Where they stand 

With the loss, the Cubs' record drops to 10-3. But the Twins, who shared the best record in the league with the Cubs, also lost on Thursday. (The Marlins are 6-1).

On deck

The Cubs head to St. Louis for a three-game series. The Cardinals are set to return to the field after 13 players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the postponement of their four-game series against Detroit this week.

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