Cubs

One and done: Anthony Rizzo says he's never pitching again

One and done: Anthony Rizzo says he's never pitching again

Sometimes it can be hard to find the silver lining in a 7-1 blowout loss, but that wasn't the case Monday night when Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo finally made his MLB pitching debut. Rizzo had been begging manager Joe Maddon to let him pitch in Friday's blowout loss to the Cardinals, in which Maddon responded by pulling him from the game.

The first baseman has made it known to just about everyone he wanted his shot to pitch. After the dismal first inning starter Luke Farrell had, allowing five runs, it became clear Rizzo might get his shot.

"Oh he's been on me forever," Maddon said after the game. "So I said, 'That's it, this is your shot."

Rizzo entered the game in the top of the ninth, with two runners already gone thanks to Victor Caratini's double-play ball that Rizzo referred to as a sinker — hard to say what the pitch really was. But nonetheless, it allowed Rizzo the moment he's been desperately begging for.

"I was just giving (Joe Maddon) 'the eye' when he was coming out," Rizzo said with a grin. "Been working on that for six or seven years now with (assistant coach Mike Borzello) pretty much every day during BP. It was pretty crazy stepping on that mound."

Rizzo stepped to the mound to face Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock, who finished the night 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored. The Cubs' first baseman only needed two pitches to get Pollock to pop up, wasting no time strutting off the field as if he was walking away from some massive explosion in an action movie.

And rightfully so, after making Cubs history Monday night.

When asked if he thought Pollock's ball had a chance to leave the yard, he instantly shot down the idea, pointing out the wind blowing in from center field. But as much fun as Rizzo had on the mound, he acknowledged this would be his first and last appearance as a pitcher. 

"It was a lot of fun and I have a career zero ERA," Rizzo said. "But barring any crazy playoff game, I'll be sitting at the end of the bench not wanting to pitch anymore."

Rizzo didn't give a straight answer on why he was done, it just felt like the Cubs superstar had finally scratched an itch he had been waiting over six years to scratch. And two pitches was all it took for Rizzo to be satisfied with himself. 

Sometimes, it's just one of those nights where nothing goes your way. Maddon knew from the first inning it was going to be tough to overcome a short outing from Farrell with a bullpen already on the verge of being overused. But thanks to his creativity, the Cubs relievers got some much-needed rest.

And Rizzo, who already set a few obscure records Monday, told Maddon he has some lofty aspirations for himself this season.

"He said he's going after the greatest leadoff hitter and relief pitcher in the same season."

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.