Cubs

Duane Underwood's all-strikeouts season debut provides bright spot for Cubs

Duane Underwood's all-strikeouts season debut provides bright spot for Cubs

Tuesday’s game was ugly for the Cubs, but Duane Underwood Jr. was a very bright spot.

Underwood faced six batters and struck them all out after he came on for starter Jon Lester in the fifth inning. In doing so, he became the first Cub in the modern era (since 1900) to strike out every batter he faced and record six-plus strikeouts in the game.

“I didn’t know it was six until I got to the dugout and they said ‘Look at the board,’” Underwood said. “I thought that was pretty cool. I’m not trying to punch tickets. I’m just trying to get guys out. I’ve pitched to contact. I’ve struck guys out. Whatever gets the out is where I’m out.”

This was the 25-year-old’s first appearance of the season and second of his MLB career.

Underwood was 95-97 with his fastball and heavily used that pitch among his 29 pitches. He did get Mark Canha to strikeout swinging on a changeup for his final out.

“I know the score was not good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They got a different attitude as offensive players, I think, a little bit, but to punch out six and they have a pretty good lineup. That was impressive.”

After Lester gave up 11 runs in four innings, the game was out of reach, but Underwood showed he could be a useful piece for the Cubs bullpen.

Lester joked Underwood probably should have started the game.

“I’ve always been impressed with his stuff,” Lester said. “He’s one of those kids you see and you see him work hard and you hope that he figures it out. I feel like he’s been given opportunities and he’s done well with them.”

Underwood was used as a starter in the minors until late May of this season. He had a 6.46 ERA in 10 starts in Triple-A Iowa, largely due to a lack of control (28 walks in 47 1/3 innings). Since moving to the bullpen in Triple-A, Underwood has had a 2.83 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 2/3 innings.

He credited Iowa pitching coach Rod Nichols with helping him transition to the bullpen. He said Nichols told him to stay aggressive when he comes out of the pen.

“I feel like I’ve been doing that since I’ve made the transition and it’s helped all my stuff play,” Underwood said.

 

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Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto