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."

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.