Cubs

Explaining the roster move as Cubs switch backup catchers

Explaining the roster move as Cubs switch backup catchers

Chris Gimenez is in.

Victor Caratini is out.

Gimenez will not be Yu Darvish's personal catcher.

OK, we all caught up?

It's a lot more complicated than that, but those are the three main takeaways from the Cubs' early roster moves Saturday afternoon as they optioned Caratini back to Triple-A Iowa, recalled the veteran Gimenez and designated first baseman Efren Navarro for assignment to make room for Gimenez on the 40-man roster.

Then, roughly 45 mins before Saturday's game was to start, the Cubs announced they were placing Darvish on the disabled list with right triceps tendinitis.

Gimenez, 35, has been friends with Darvish since he was the pitcher's personal catcher with the Texas Rangers in 2014.

Darvish's last two starts have been solid but overall he's struggled since signing a $126 million deal with the Cubs prior to the season. Many have thought Gimenez could help make the dynamic starting pitcher feel more comfortable.

The Cubs were also faced with losing Gimenez on June 1, the date of the opt-out in his contract if he were not called up to the big leagues by that point. So the Cubs were on the clock.

"It has nothing to do with [catching Darvish]," Maddon said. "I can sit here and try to explain that and I think there'll be skeptics. It has nothing to do with that at all. It's all about Caratini's development.

"This is something we talked about in spring training. Not to say that Gimmy might not catch him in the future, but this move was purely based on Caratini and the fact that Gimenez is available, veteran, can sit on the bench in a manner that you don't feel like you're injuring their development."

Maddon managed Gimenez with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012-13 and knows he can trot the journeyman out in the outfield, first base or even on the mound.

Gimenez also has 9 career appearances as a pitcher, including 6 last season with the Minnesota Twins where he allowed 4 runs in 5 innings.

He's not sure yet how he'll be used, but is ready for anything, including lending moral support to the injured Darvish.

"From top to bottm, this is a class organization," Gimenez said. "Nothing but class. They treat you with respect, with dignity and it's just fun to be able to get to experience that up here now. It's still your dream, it doesn't matter how old you are.

"Any day you get to spend up here is a blessing and I'm just thankful for it. I'm excited to do whatever the heck they want me to do. I'll be a cheerleader, I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Of course, he's been watching every single one of Darvish's starts in a Cubs uniform.

"I wouldn't be a good person if I haven't. ... I'll text him a few things here and there and apparently it hasn't worked very good," Gimenez joked. "Hopefully I can cheer him on and he'll work through it. He'll be just fine.

"I know it's almost June now, but I think there is that little bit of that grace period that we all don't wanna have, but you kind of have to have it - getting to know guys. Spring training is one thing, but when you get out here in the real deal, it's a little different.

"I think eventually it's gonna turn around for him and he'll be fine. I'll be here to make fun of him to do it."

The Cubs believe they have the most talented catcher in baseball in Willson Contreras, so it was difficult to sit him and find time for the 24-year-old Caratini.

Caratini started just 8 games at catcher this season and 5 at first base when Anthony Rizzo was injured last month. He's had just 69 plate appearances and only 13 trips to the batter's box since May 8.

With the extra off-days added into the schedule this season plus the unexpected days off due to rain, the Cubs have been able to lean on Contreras more than they anticipated in spring training.

This week is a perfect example, where the Cubs were off Monday and Thursday, then a day game Friday, a night game Saturday and then a night game Sunday, so Contreras could play all 5 games the Cubs had this week while also getting plenty of rest.

The Cubs don't have much catching depth in the system beyond Contreras, Caratini and Gimenez and it would've been silly to let Gimenez leave the organization given his background with Darvish and the high chance of injury catchers face on a regular basis.

Gimenez has 9 years of experience in the big leagues with 361 games under his belt, but he said he had no trouble staying patient waiting for the call to Chicago.

"Really, you take it a day at a time and if it happened, it happened. If it didn't, I understood that, too," Gimene said. "I'm sad for Vic because I don't feel like he deserved it and I feel like he's done a great job up here. 

"But kinda knowing that coming into it that was something that could happen and it's just gonna further develop his career."

The Cubs have raved about Caratini's at-bats, attitude and work ethic, but they also don't want one of their top prospects (who hit .342 with a .951 OPS in Triple-A last season) just rotting away on the bench as they try to live up to the World Series expectations bestowed upon this team.

"Not playing Caratini enough really bums me out," Maddon said. "That bothers me a lot. And he needs to play, so we gotta get him out playing again. Something will occur here where we're gonna need him on a more consistent basis.

"You know that it's likely to happen or if it doesn't, to just lose a year of development for him is just really sinful. So we wanted to get him out there to play and knowing he's gonna be back here relatively soon."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

schwarber-1207.jpg
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

Subscribe:

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.”

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