Cubs

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs pitching coach

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs pitching coach

The Cubs' coaching staff shakeup continued this offseason with pitching coach Jim Hickey leaving for personal reasons, according to a statement from the Cubs.

Hickey - a Chicago native - spent just the one year as pitching coach of the Cubs after serving in the same capacity with the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays for 11 seasons.

“Jim Hickey notified us yesterday of his decision to step down as pitching coach and leave the organization for personal reasons," Theo Epstein said in the team's statement. "We thank Jim for his season with the Cubs and his positive impact on our pitchers. Jim has our full support and we all wish him well.”

Hickey's departure from the Cubs has been rumored for weeks before he stepped down of his own accord three days before Thanksgiving.

Still, this is another surprising shakeup on the Cubs coaching staff after Epstein stressed the importance of continuity within the organization following the Cubs' final game.

Since being ousted from the postseason after the National League Wild-Card contest, the Cubs have already replaced their hitting coach - hiring Anthony Iapoce for the departed Chili Davis - watched their assistant hitting coach (Andy Haines) leave for a promotion with division rival Milwaukee and are now in the same boat on the pitching staff, creating a situation where there will be a third different voice coaching pitchers in the span of roughly a calendar year.

In Hickey's one year with the Cubs, the bullpen led baseball in ERA but faded down the stretch due in part to injuries and overuse. The rotation struggled in the first half, ranking 26th in the league in innings pitching as a unit, too often failing to pitch deep into ballgames. But the starting staff stabilized once the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels and was a major strength of the team for the final two months of 2018.

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Jon Lester will return from the IL on Thursday and start against the Dodgers

Jon Lester will return from the IL on Thursday and start against the Dodgers

As expected, Jon Lester will return from the injured list and start Thursday's game, the Cubs confirmed Wednesday afternoon. 

Lester will get the ball in the series finale against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lester injured his left hamstring running the bases in the second inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8. Prior to that, he turned in a quality start in each of his first two outings of the season.

The 35-year-old has been working out at Wrigley Field throughout the homestand, including a 45-pitch simulated game Saturday. 

The Cubs jumbled their rotation over the weekend, starting Tyler Chatwood on Sunday even though Jose Quintana was on regular rest. Chatwood had a fantastic outing Sunday and Quintana followed Tuesday night with one of his best starts in a Cubs uniform. 

Joe Maddon said Chatwood could possibly serve as a piggyback to Lester's start, as the Cubs are expecting about 75 pitches from the veteran southpaw Thursday.

"Realistically, I'd say 75 — almost like what we had set up for Chatwood the other day," Maddon said. "How he gets to that number - is it stressful? Is it not stressful? Does he have to leave the mound a lot on different plays? When he hits a double, how hard does he run to second base? Those kinds of things. We'll just monitor all of that. I'm saying 75-80 sounds like the right kind of number."

Cole Hamels threw Wednesday night and Lester will close out the series against a high-powered Dodgers offense that struggles a bit more against lefties than right-handers. Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Quintana will go in the three games in Arizona over the weekend.

2019 MLB Power Rankings: The Cubs are back! And the White Sox are treading water!

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NBC Sports Chicago

2019 MLB Power Rankings: The Cubs are back! And the White Sox are treading water!

With another's week worth of games behind us, things don't look too much different around baseball. The beefy, 1st place Mariners are still beefy and in 1st place. The Cubs pitching renaissance can't be stopped, and there's already booing and infighting in Philadelphia.  If this is just how this season's going to go, gotta say, very here for it. As for the other 27 teams, here's how their weeks played out: 

CLICK HERE FOR MLB POWER RANKINGS 7.0 

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