For former Cubs coach Andy Haines, Wrigley Field never gets old


For former Cubs coach Andy Haines, Wrigley Field never gets old

Andy Haines still gets jitters walking into Wrigley Field. He got them as a kid growing up in southern Illinois. He got them last year as an assistant hitting coach for the Cubs. And that feeling was most definitely prevalent when he walked into the ballpark for the first time as Brewers hitting coach on Friday.

“I think any time you walk inside Wrigley Field, it's just a different type of feeling,” said Haines, who’s in his first year with manager Craig Counsell’s staff. “Last year I lived walking distance. You walk into Wrigley, I don't know what the right word would be, but you definitely have emotion walking in the building. It's a special place, it's unique. You get the same type of jitters and excitement and see a lot of familiar faces. I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be pretty special to be back.”

In early November, Haines took the Brewers job, leaving the Cubs after two seasons (he spent 2016 as a minor-league hitting coordinator). The shift from one NL Central team to another meant he was no longer tinkering the approach of players like Javier Báez, but it also afforded Haines the opportunity to work with another loaded offensive unit, including reigning MVP Christian Yelich. And though their on-field styles aren’t identical, the 42-year-old Haines sees a lot of similarities in the two players’ games.

“I think with both guys, with Javy and Christian both, you're dealing with guys who's skillset and overall talent is just immense,” Haines said. “It's like these guys are elite, two of the best players in Major League Baseball and they both care about the right things and they're very similar that way. Perception of them would probably be a lot different to the fans, their demeanor on the field but eerily similar as far as talent and ability.

"And then at this level, when you combine that talent level with caring about the right things, you're just unstoppable. And that's what both of them are right now. I think it's probably the most difficult thing to coach is a player that elite because they're so elite that when they get a little bit off, it's harder to see.”

Haines worked in the Marlins organization as a minor league hitting coach and manager from 2008-2015. In those early days with the organization, one player whose progress he was responsible for overseeing was a teenage Yelich. Their previous relationship made the reunion all the easier, with the All-Star informing Haines to not go easy on him.

“We're staying on top of it and that's what I told him at the beginning of the season; I told him 'I want you to stay on my [butt], don't let me get lackadaisical, or if you think something is wrong or something is starting to stray, tell me,’" Yelich said. “I told him if we gotta get in a fist fight in the cage and hug and make-up afterwards, then it's all good. That's the kind of guy he is and the kind of relationship I like to have. That's what I value with Andy, that's how it's always been. He cares a lot and as a player you can appreciate that.

“When you get a new coach it's not always like that because the familiarity with each other, we know each other. He's known me since I was an 18-year-old kid. There's familiarity there and a comfort level that allowed us to dive in right away in spring training and get up to speed quickly.”

Though there haven’t been any reported melees in the cages, Haines appears to be pushing the right buttons with the Brewers’ offense, which ranks fifth in the NL in runs scored entering Friday. Team OPS is sixth in the NL, its hard-hit rate is up more than 6 percent from last year and the walk rate is up nearly a percent as well. 

Individually, Yelich isn’t the only player benefitting from Haines’ tactics. Infielder Mike Moustakas is out to a fast start this year, with a slugging percentage that is 100 points better than 2018. The veteran appreciated Haines’ no-nonsense approach and believes it’s made a difference.

“I love Andy, Andy is incredible. He just laid it out to me flat out in what I was getting beat with and all that stuff, Moustakas said. “As far as the hitting coach goes, you have to individualize each person, you can't be a cookie-cutter mold of hitters. I hit different than [Yelich], I hit different from [Lorenzo Cain], and the thing Andy does great is he finds what works great for you and he works with that.”

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

On Saturday, the Cubs announced that they are placing starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day I.L.with right shoulder inflammation. 

Following Hendricks' injury, the Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick from Triple-A. Wick will be available on Saturday night and beyond, as the Cubs continue their four-game series against the Dodgers. 

This obviously a significant blow for the Cubs, as Hendricks is the team leader in innings pitched (88.1).

Prior to his loss on Friday night, Hendricks had won three straight outings, giving up less than 3 ER in each game. 

The Cubs have plenty of options to replace Hendricks for the time being. With an off day until Monday, they could keep their rotation intact. Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are options, and the Cubs could push Hendricks next start back to by going with a spot starter. 

Stellar pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is another intriuging option, and he is coming off of a great outing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On Fridaym he racked up 9 strikeouts, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER. 

The 24-year old Alzolay is ranked as the Cubs' fourth-overall prospect and the Hendricks injury could open the door for Alzolay to get called up.

The more likely scenario is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon chooses to use Chatwood. 

Chatwood is the only pitcher outside of the everyday rotation to have made a start this year and is the most obvious stopgap solution until we get further updates on Hendricks' status.