Cubs see a lot of 'fight' in Yu Darvish as he works his way back to rotation

Cubs see a lot of 'fight' in Yu Darvish as he works his way back to rotation

MILWAUKEE - Operation: Improve Yu Darvish's Image is in full effect.

The Cubs had their $126 million man in Milwaukee Tuesday, throwing a bullpen and meeting with the media as he tries to work his way back from a triceps issue onto a big-league mound to help this team toward a World Series.

Theo Epstein was in town for the Cubs wives/girlfriends charity softball game Tuesday afternoon and watched Darvish's bullpen closely along with manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Jim Hickey and assistant GM Randy Bush.

All reports from the bullpen were overwhelmingly positive and Darvish even cracked a couple jokes as he met with a large contigent of Chicago media.

When asked if he thinks Cubs fans hate him in Chicago, Darvish joked, "I gotta ask each one of them."

The 31-year-old Darvish said he never told catcher and friend Chris Gimenez he believes Cubs fans hate him and insisted the only discussion between the two teammates was about fans in Los Angeles after Darvish was shelled in a pair of World Series starts for the Dodgers last fall.

"The fans here are very supportive," Darvish said through a translator. "Even in my situation, they'll come up to me when they see me in town and say, 'Hey, thanks for the performance' and all that, so I really do feel the support."

Darvish hasn't started for the Cubs since May 20, when he allowed only a run in 6 innings against the Reds in Cincinnati. This is the second time he's been on the disabled list this season and has thrown just 14.1 innings since the beginning of May.

The Cubs believe his Tuesday bullpen was a sign of good things to come.

"The ball was coming out hot and it was going right where he wanted to throw it," Maddon said. "Good command. ... He looked really good. It was just a bullpen, but it was very encouraging to see him throwing that easily that well."

The Cubs president of baseball operations agreed.

"Today was a big day," Epstein said. "He let it go and he felt really good. That's usually a good sign about what's gonna come next."

There is no set timetable for Darvish's return and right now, there's nothing set in stone for when he would even throw off a mound again.

That could come Friday after Tuesday's bullpen tallying somewhere in the 30 pitch range.

The Cubs — and Darvish — are curious to see how the triceps feels Wednesday and Thursday after dialing it up off the mound.

Darvish said he has a little concern about the arm in his head after a history of Tommy John surgery but his MRI came back clean, so now it's just a matter of feel and building the strength back up.

Still, Darvish said his arm was not ailing him at all during his last start in Cincinnati and the triceps issue didn't manifest itself until the day after that outing.

Darvish insists he feels no pressure to get back to pitching in games and help live up to the six-year deal he signed in February.

"I had a lot of time to think through during the DL time," Darvish said. "So I try not to think too much under the pressure and rather just take it in a positive way. I think I can come out of the DL positively."

Maddon believes he's at a good point with Darvish in building the relationship and trust between player and manager and Maddon can give his opinion without any pushback from Darvish.

The plan is for the veteran right-hander to accompany the Cubs to St. Louis over the weekend and stick with the team from there as he continues his rehab.

For all the questions about Darvish's mental strength or intestinal fortitude, the Cubs are projecting a united front at the moment and insist they're doing all they can to make him feel comfortable and supported in the organization.

"Almost every free agent goes through [struggles]," Epstein said. "Some guys are lucky enough to have things break their way early and then it's not as big of an issue. But most free agents struggle. Maybe it's a month, maybe it turns into three months, maybe it's a whole season.

"But there's a point in time where you fight back and you develop a sense of new normal and comfortable in your surroundings and you establish yourself. ... As an organization, you just try to support him, make him feel as comfortable as possible and also make sure there's a lot of fight there. I think there is.

"Today was a great day. He didn't have to drive up here; he could've waited, met the team in St. Louis, but he pushed his schedule. He was feeling good; he wanted to come up here and throw, so it was a good day."

In a surprise move, Cubs option Ian Happ to Triple-A

In a surprise move, Cubs option Ian Happ to Triple-A

In a surprise move, Ian Happ will not be on the Cubs roster on Opening Day.

Joe Maddon told reporters on Saturday afternoon that Happ will begin the season with Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs have since made the move official. Happ debuted with the Cubs in May of 2017 and had been up with the Cubs ever since.

The move means the Cubs will likely start the 2019 season with Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber as the team's outfielders. Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant can also play in the outfield, but both are expected to be regular starters on the infield. With Addison Russell still serving his suspension, Zobrist is expected to start at second base. Bryant will occupy his regular spot at third, but can also play in the outfield with David Bote filling in at third as needed. Additionally, Daniel Descalso is expected to be ready for Opening Day after enduring a left shoulder injury and gives the team versatility on the infield.

Happ, 24, hit .253/.328/.514 with 24 home runs as a rookie in 2017. Last season his numbers dipped to .233/.353/.408, including .196/.313/.340 after the all-star break. He has played in 257 games in the past two seasons with the Cubs.

Happ has been struggling at the plate this spring. He is hitting .135/.196/.192 in 17 Cactus League games.

"We just want to make sure that he gets down there and really gets a lot of consistent at-bats, especially from the left side," Maddon said. "Obviously we consider him a huge part of our future, but just based on the conclusion of last year and what we're seeing at this point this year, we think it's really important."

Happ's move comes as a surprise, but it may not be a long-term move. With Happ being optioned to Triple-A, that gives the Cubs an extra roster spot that could be used for a reliever.

Additionally, pitchers Dillon Maples and Alec Mills and catcher Taylor Davis were optioned to Triple-A along with Happ. Two non-roster invitees, infielder Cristhian Adames and outfielder Johnny Field, were assigned to minor league camp.

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Former Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel announces retirement


Former Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel announces retirement

A notable member of the 2016 Cubs is hanging up his spikes.

Saturday, former Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel announced that he is retiring from baseball. Hammel, 36, was pitching for the Rangers in spring training.

The move is somewhat surprising, as the Rangers announced Friday that Hammel made the team's Opening Day roster as a long reliever. 

Hammel joined the Cubs ahead of the 2014 season on a one-year contract, and he pitched to a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts. However, the Cubs traded him and Jeff Samardzija to the Athletics that July for Addison Russell.

Following the 2014 season, Hammel re-joined the Cubs on a two-year contract. He proved to be a durable starter in 2015 (3.74 ERA, 31 starts) and in 2016 (3.83 ERA, 30 starts). He made just two postseason starts (both in 2015), though, surrendering a combined seven runs in just 4 1/3 innings.

The Cubs elected not to re-sign Hammel after their 2016 championship season, leading the right-hander to join the Royals on a two-year deal. He struggled with the Royals, finishing with a 5.59 ERA in 71 games (50 starts).

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