How Tommy Hottovy became a 'resource' for Cubs during COVID-19 pandemic

How Tommy Hottovy became a 'resource' for Cubs during COVID-19 pandemic

At the height of Tommy Hottovy’s illness, Cubs manager David Ross had to take over the pitching coach’s duties on his regular video conference with pitchers.

“When he spoke, he couldn’t get two words out without coughing,” Ross recalled Friday, before the Cubs’ first day of Summer Camp.

Hottovy, 38, battled the novel coronavirus for a month, while baseball was still on hold due to the pandemic. He finally got his first negative test back a few weeks ago. Hottovy was upfront about his condition with the pitchers, and on Friday Ross said he wanted Hottovy to speak in a team meeting.

“Just because he is such a powerful resource,” Ross said. “… He’ll be a god guy to go to if guys have questions.”

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Hottovy’s story includes a fever that kept him awake from midnight to 6am every night, viral pneumonia that required breathing treatments, a trip to the hospital that he packed a bag for in case he had to spend the night.

Hottovy was isolated from his family for a month, sequestered to a spare bedroom their house, and he still felt guilty for putting them at risk. Those precautions kept his wife and two young children from contracting the virus from him.

“It’s very scary, and it’s awesome for him to share his story with us,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of people unfortunately who have gotten this and were not able to tell their story, were not able to see their families for one last time. And it’s unfortunate. You can’t take days for granted.”

Utility man Ian Happ stayed in Arizona after MLB shut down Spring training in March. He lived with Cubs reliver Dakota Mekkes during that time.

“Dakota would be on the pitchers calls,” Happ said, “so you kind of got to walk the journey with Tommy a little bit and check in on him as he was going through it. And I think his experience, his story, it’s incredible. Not testing negative for 30 days and the impact that had on his family and everyone around him, I think it really puts it into perspective.

“It tells guys how serious this is and how cautious we need to be. Not just for ourselves, but for our teammates, their families and for everybody who’s working hard to be here for us.”

As far as COVID-19 testing goes, the Cubs opened Summer Camp on an encouraging note. League protocol restricts Ross from saying if any Cubs have tested positive, but he did say he expected all players who were scheduled to report Friday would be in camp. Two staff members did recently test positive at home and were expected to miss the beginning of camp, general manager Jed Hoyer announced earlier this week.

League-wide, only 1.2 percent of players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of intake screening, including 31 players. The league’s 101-page 2020 Operations Manual is designed to keep that number low. But the health and safety protocols are only as good as the clubs’ compliance.

“Every single person in the organization,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, “every player, ever staff member, everyone in uniform, out of uniform, we all have to make great decisions, exercise great disciple, hold each other accountable, collaborate, go into it with an open mind and exercise real personal and collective responsibility.”

If that message wasn’t already clear, Hottovy’s experience put it into sharp focus.



Cubs' Javier Báez flashes arm strength, throws out Brewers' Manny Piña

Cubs' Javier Báez flashes arm strength, throws out Brewers' Manny Piña

There's no such thing as growing tired of watching Cubs shortstop Javier Báez work his magic defensively.

For his latest trick, El Mago threw out Brewers catcher Manny Piña on a ground ball from shallow left field. As in, he was a good 10 feet from the edge of the infield dirt. Check it out:

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Cubs 2020 first-round pick Ed Howard broke down the play as it happened during an interview with MLB Network.

"He just has fun with it, man. He's so smooth, he makes it look so easy," Howard said. "That's just Javy doing what Javy does, right there, honestly. You can't teach that, you just gotta do it."

We all know Báez has an absolute cannon for an arm. We've seen it time and time again. And yet, for as easy as he makes these throws look, each time we're left with our jaws dropped.


Why José Quintana likely won't return for upcoming doubleheaders vs. Cardinals

Why José Quintana likely won't return for upcoming doubleheaders vs. Cardinals

Cubs manager David Ross hasn’t  yet named the starting pitchers for the team’s two doubleheaders next week.

“I don’t want to put myself too much in a box leading up to that,” Ross said. “The games leading up to that series will dictate how we play it."

But it’s unlikely that left-hander José Quintana will be ready to return by early next week. The Cubs are scheduled to play seven-inning doubleheaders against the Cardinals on Monday and Wednesday, making for five games in three days. Those two extra games will count as Cardinals home games, despite being played at Wrigley Field, as the Cubs and Cardinals make up their postponed series from last weekend. The third game of that series is scheduled as a doubleheader on Sept. 5.

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Quintana, who missed the beginning of the season after slicing his left thumb in a dish-washing accident, is scheduled to throw another simulated game on Sunday. This one is set for four innings, a frame longer than his last on Tuesday.

“Talking to him, I didn’t get the feel that he’s quite ready yet,” Ross said. “I think we’ll get a lot of feedback Sunday, but rushing a guy like that, that’s so important, just doesn’t make a lot of sense in this scenario to me.”

So, why does Ross need to see how the next couple days play out? In two words: Colin Rea.

“If he’s going to pitch big innings in a W here and give us a chance to win a game,” Ross said, “I don’t want to stay away from guys that we have now just for the possibility down the road. I want to try to win tonight’s game and then adjust.”

Rea has pitched in two games since the Cubs recalled him from South Bend two weeks ago. At Kansas City last week, he made his first major league appearance since 2016. Rea threw one no-hit inning and struck out two. Then, at Cleveland on Tuesday he tossed two scoreless innings.

He’d been a starter for most his career and is a pitcher Ross feels comfortable calling on to throw multiple innings. Other candidates can be be found at the Cubs alternate site.

“We definitely have guys down there (in South Bend) that are ready," Ross said, "and understand that Monday and Wednesday will be days that we’ll be able to grab pitchers from down there.”

The South Bend roster includes pitchers like right-hander Adbert Alzolay. The 24-year-old prospect made his debut for the Cubs last season. He had one glowing start, in which he allowed just one hit and one run in 4 2/3 innings. But then in his next start, he lasted less than three innings.

Left-hander Justin Steele is also back in South Bend, after the Cubs briefly recalled him earlier this month. The 25-year-old has yet to make his big-league debut but has been a starter in the Cubs farm system since the club drafted him in 2014.

Ross also mentioned Tyson Miller and Rex Brothers as pitchers in South Bend who can throw multiple innings.

An injury threw another wrench into the equation Friday. Tyler Chatwood was originally scheduled to start against the Brewers Friday, but he was a late scratch due to mid-back tightness. Instead, Alec Mills took the mound a day early.

As of Friday evening, the Cubs had not announced a starting pitcher for Saturday.