Cubs

Cubs name Tommy Hottovy pitching coach, announce other coaching staff additions

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AP

Cubs name Tommy Hottovy pitching coach, announce other coaching staff additions

The Cubs' 2019 coaching staff is rounding into form as we enter the Hot Stove season.

Thursday, the Cubs named Tommy Hottovy as their next pitching coach, replacing the departed Jim Hickey. In addition to Hottovy, the team named ex-Cub Chris Denorfia as quality assurance coach and Terrmel Sledge as assistant hitting coach. The team also added "assistant pitching coach" to catching coach Mike Borzello's title. 

The Cubs also announced that Brandon Hyde will return as bench coach in 2019. However, a report recently surfaced that said Hyde will interview for the Orioles' managerial vacancy, so his status is pending.

Hottovy, 37, is a former big-leaguer who pitched in parts of two MLB seasons with the Red Sox and Royals. In a combined 17 appearances from 2011-12, he posted a 4.05 ERA (6.75 ERA in eight games in 2011, 2.89 ERA in 2012). He also pitched with the Cubs in Spring Training 2014, though the team released him that April.

Hottovy has been a big part of the Cubs' pitching infrastructure the last few seasons, working closely with catching coordinator Mike Borzello and bullpen coach Lester Strode.

Theo Epstein confirmed other MLB teams inquired about Hottovy for vacant pitching coach roles and the Cubs also interviewed other potential candidates before landing on their in-house option.

"We talked to a number of other people," Epstein said. "We just felt like there was great risk going outside and also losing some of what we had initially. The more we looked at it, the more we kept coming back to trying to empower Tommy, trying to empower Borzy, trying to empower Lester and it became clear the right answer was to go all in with those guys."

Hickey stepping down as Cubs pitching coach meant that the Cubs would have both a new hitting and pitching coach for the second-straight season. Unlike 2018, though, the two new coaches are not new to the Cubs organization, which is also true for Denorfia and Sledge.

Hottovy became the Cubs' run-prevention coordinator in 2015, while new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce spent 2013-15 as a Cubs special assistant to the General Manager.

Denorfia is a former outfielder who played 10 MLB seasons, one with the Cubs. He hit .272 in his career and .269 with the Cubs in 2015; his walk-off home run in Sept. 2015 against the Royals was one of many for the Cubs that season. 

Sledge is also a former outfielder that played in parts of four MLB seasons from 2004-07. He hit .247 in 291 career games with the Expos/Nationals and Padres; he did not play for the Cubs, but he spent 2015 as hitting coach for Single-A Eugene before becoming the Dodgers' Double-A hitting coach, a position that he held from 2016-18. 

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by the Cubs Postgame Live team of David Kaplan and David DeJesus to break down all the various redemption stories on the 2019 Cubs, ranging from Kris Bryant returning from an injury-plagued campaign to Tyler Chatwood becoming a legitimate weapon out of the bullpen (1:00). Then, the guys discuss how well Kyle Schwarber is performing out of the leadoff spot over the last week (11:45).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

After two seasons alternating table setters atop their lineup, the Cubs may finally have found a consistent leadoff hitter in Kyle Schwarber.

“It’s one of those things you have to believe it to see it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Reds. “And sometimes there’s other folks that have to see it to believe it. I just thought it was the right time.”

Schwarber started his 11th-straight game on Friday, hitting leadoff in the last nine games of that stretch. Unlike his abysmal tenure leading off in 2017, though, Schwarber is getting into a groove hitting first for the Cubs this season.

In 2017, Schwarber hit leadoff 37 times; not only did he slash a woeful .190/.312/.381 with seven home runs, but he walked 24 times compared to 48 strikeouts. The Cubs went with a leadoff-man by committee approach the rest of the season, as 10 other players hit leadoff at least once.

Schwarber has flipped the script as a leadoff hitter this season. Although the sample size is small, he’s slashing .265/.372/.618, (34 at-bats) with three home runs and seven walks compared to 12 strikeouts.

“Again, I liked it back then, I did. However, he did not react to it well in that moment,” Maddon said. “But if you look at his overall abilities as they stand right now, for me, that’s the perfect spot for him, especially in our lineup.

“He’s made some adjustments recently, he’s more mature as a hitter, he’s understanding it better. All of those things are involved. I like it; I could’ve done it earlier this year, but he really wasn’t doing what he’s doing right now earlier this year.

“I think this last three weeks or so, he’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be.”

Schwarber certainly has been trending upwards since the calendar flipped to May. In April, he slashed .211/.282/.338 with 25 strikeouts and seven walks. While he’s hitting .224 this month, he holds a stellar .389 OBP (.837 OPS), walking 19 times compared to 21 strikeouts.

“There’s things that he’s doing right now that are permitting him to be more consistent,” Maddon said. “Like the other day, that first at-bat walk against [Max] Scherzer in what was such a big at-bat. There was like four pitches all over the place and he didn’t swing.”

Schwarber walked in both of his at-bats against Scherzer on May 17 on a combined 10 pitches. He took four pitches out of the zone the first time around and four more the second at-bat. On the latter instance, the only strikes came on foul balls.

All of this is not to say that the days of Schwarber hitting for power are over. He has four home runs in May, three of which have come in the leadoff spot. And while RBI chances aren’t as prevalent for leadoff hitters, Maddon mentioned how Schwarber has room to grow.

“To this point, he hasn’t really been the RBI guy that you might envision. He’s been more the table setter,” he said. “I think as he learns his craft better, of course he can drive in runs more consistently.

"He’s on the verge of doing that right now. The benefit has been for him to set the table more than cleaning it up to this point, but I think he has the abilities to do both.”

Following the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds on Friday, Maddon reiterated his confidence in his latest No. 1 hitter. Schwarber went 1-for-4 with a home run, a walk and a strikeout.

“I like his at-bats right now in general,” he said. “That’s kind of why I did what I did, because I think that it’s become a more mature at-bat and the more the stays up there, the more comfortable he’s going to get.”

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