Jason Kipnis: Playing for Cubs is a 'mindf*** at times' after Indians tenure

Jason Kipnis: Playing for Cubs is a 'mindf*** at times' after Indians tenure

Jason Kipnis joined the Cubs last winter after nine seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and sometimes, he finds himself feeling a strange way.

In 2016, Kipnis and Cleveland lost the World Series to the Cubs in seven games. A fan pointed out on Twitter how surprising it is to see Kipnis in Cubbie Blue a few years later, and the 33-year-old's reaction was nothing short of genuine.

RELATED: Jason Kipnis airs concerns over challenges players will face when MLB returns

Kipnis is a native of Northbrook and grew up a Cubs fan, and as he points out in his tweet, it's a lot of players' dreams as kids to play for their hometown teams. Still, the sting of losing the Fall Classic three years ago hasn't gone away. And, heck, it may never go away. It's not easy to get to the World Series, let alone win it. 

Can't blame the man for that. Make no mistake, though, Cubs fans. Kipnis is ready to help his new team win.

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

How Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks strengthened his case to start Opening Day

How Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks strengthened his case to start Opening Day

The Cubs haven’t yet announced their Opening Day starter, but Kyle Hendricks made a strong case for himself Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage was the closest the Cubs have had come to a real game all Summer Camp. An MLB umpiring crew joined the team on the field. The Cubs played eight innings, two more than they’d reached before. And Hendricks was dominant.

The right-hander threw over six scoreless innings. With the flexibility of an intrasquad setting, Kyle Schwarber’s fly out to right was the third, but not the final, out of the sixth.  News rippled through the field that they were staying out for one more batter.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Hendricks had thrown 66 pitches – a number the Cubs could work with on opening day – but even an extra batter didn’t mar his outing. Jason Heyward grounded out to first base.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has put extra emphasis on in-game recovery during this three-week Summer camp.

“Obviously we want to get the pitch count ramped up,” Hottovy said this week, “but getting those up and downs too is equally important to see how your body recovers in between innings and how you feel.”

In that area, Hendricks has progressed further than any other Cubs pitcher.

Yu Darvish started for the opposite team Tuesday and is the other obvious candidate to start on Opening Day. But Darvish threw less than four innings and gave up a home run to Willson Contreras—it was the catcher’s third homer of Summer Camp. Darvish also walked two batters, including leadoff hitter Kris Bryant in the first inning.

Still, nothing is decided.

“We might have a pending test in two days and have to shuffle our entire schedule and rotation,” Hottovy said Monday. “A lot of this is going to be how we get through this next week healthy, with the testing protocols in place. And then we can start really lining up what we want to do when it starts.”

The Cubs open the season against the Brewers at Wrigley Field on July 24.


Why these Cubs look more equipped than most to handle coronavirus season

Why these Cubs look more equipped than most to handle coronavirus season

Houston Astros general manager James Click said this week that “whichever team has the fewest cases of coronavirus is going to win.”

Not that his thinking is new. Baseball people have been beating that trash can for weeks when it comes to what it’s going to take to successfully navigate a 60-game season and playoffs during a pandemic.

What’s more, his point doesn’t quite hit the mark. Because winning the attrition battle doesn’t matter if enough attrition in other places derails the league.

But assuming Major League Baseball can actually pull off a nine-week season starting next week and that the Astros’ pandemic algorithm applies at all by mid-October, the Cubs might be far better positioned to still be playing than they seemed to be in before COVID-19 wiped out most of the season.

“There are certain advantages to us being a veteran team,” right-fielder Jason Heyward said. “There are certain advantages to us playing together for a number of years.”

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

And that could be a key for any team during this MLB experiment — not only in terms of collective maturity and willingness to buy-in to health and safety protocols, on and off the field, but also to stay focused enough to perform during the daily strangeness.

“The understanding of what championship baseball looks like for a lot of these guys and having a veteran group in the type of environment that we’re having to deal with on a daily basis is a huge, huge bonus,” manager David Ross said. “I don’t need to hold their hand for anything.”

Ten current members of this team, including the first-year manager, were among the players in the room the night in Cleveland that Heyward called that famous 10th-inning, rain-delay meeting before the Cubs finished off their historic Game 7 victory four years ago.

They’ve had three winning seasons together since then, including two more playoff runs. And even before the pandemic shut down sports across the country in March, the urgency of a win-or-blow-up-the-core scenario was an open discussion.

Fast-forward four months.

“This is not a normal setup, and we know we can’t take any moment for granted,” Heyward said. “This group has done a great job of that over the years, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we carry that into a situation like this. Because I’ve seen us do a lot of great things in a short amount of time, when our backs are against the wall.”

It might not be a coincidence that the Cubs have been the only team in the league without a player or coach testing positive since intake testing began two weeks ago.

“That veteran kind of leadership has helped as well because it’s not normal,” said outfielder Steven Souza Jr., a veteran grizzled by a severe knee injury that wiped out his 2019 season and the long rehab battle that has brought him to full physical capacity on the brink of this truncated season.

MORE: How the MLB shutdown helped Steven Souza Jr. get ready for the season

“I’m away from my family, and then for the most part we’re just trying to stay to ourselves because nobody wants to accidentally or asymptomatically contract this virus because that means 14 games regardless,” Souza said. “So I think you’re watching guys handle their business like complete pros.”

Ross, Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks — they all won together in 2016 and remain invested in each other.

But even the newcomers such as Souza, reliever Jeremy Jeffress, second baseman Jason Kipnis and relievers such as Casey Sadler, Dan Winkler and Ryan Tepera bring a combination of veteran maturity, adversity-tested perspective and something to prove.

“You look at the amount of years that guys have played that have been added here,” Souza said, “and I think in times of distraction as a veteran, you’re able to refocus and reshape what you’re able to do to be successful.”

Listening to the holdover Cubs talk since arriving for summer training camp, the messages have sounded almost identical, whether about the buy-in with safety precautions or the trust in teammates to help keep each other safe — and even accountable away from the ballpark.

“You’re not worried about relationship-building in the middle of all this,” Ross said. “These guys have a background with each other. They’ve done special things with each other. That’s a big bonus for us.”

He said he considered the backgrounds of all the newcomers with something to prove another bonus.

“I’m just speaking for myself,” Souza said. “But when I was young, it’s easy to see the distractions and kind of focus on those things, and it’s just a lot harder to stay in the moment. With this group, those 10 set the tone really well. And it just feels like business as usually with this group.

“And I think that’s going to pay dividends.”