Cubs

Taylor Davis' 'unlikely' hero moment lifts Cubs to huge win over Cardinals

Taylor Davis' 'unlikely' hero moment lifts Cubs to huge win over Cardinals

When the Cardinals chose to intentionally walk Kyle Schwarber to load the bases for Taylor Davis in the fourth inning Saturday, it seemed like a no-brainer move.

St. Louis had just jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the game in the top half of that inning and looked to have Yu Darvish — and the Cubs — on the ropes.

Davis was 0-for-6 on the season entering that at-bat and was not regarded as a big home run threat with 0 dingers in his 24 MLB at-bats and only 31 longballs over nine minor-league seasons. Couple that with the wind blowing in at Wrigley Field at 8 mph and nobody was predicting a game-tying grand slam in that situation.

Of course, you know where this is all going, even if you didn't watch the game or see the highlight. 

Davis smacked the first pitch into the left-field bleachers to tie the game and watched as the Cubs bullpen kept things even until Javy Baez's own hero moment in the bottom of the eighth inning. 

It gave the Cubs their sixth straight victory as they improved to 18-12 on the season and pulled within a half-game of the Cardinals in the division.

"That's so unlikely," Joe Maddon said of Davis' grand slam. "I'm not degrading him or anything, it's just unlikely. He crushed that ball. [Cardinals pitcher Michael] Wacha just made a mistake right there and he did not miss it. 

"Very unlikely event right there, but he's an outstanding defensive catcher, he's hit well in the minor leagues also and hopefully that's one of those things that can get this guy really rolling offensively. But he does a really good job receiving, calling a game, etc. And then to do that, it's quite a moment for him."

What's even more unlikely about Davis' Arya Stark moment was the fact it was only his second start since he was called up from Triple-A Iowa on April 12 to replace the injured Victor Caratini. Davis had notched only 6 plate appearances across a span of more than three weeks prior to Saturday afternoon.

But Maddon and the Cubs wanted to pair him up with Darvish again after the battery worked well together last weekend in Arizona. Plus, the Cubs need to give Willson Contreras a day off somehow coming up, so Saturday was as good a time as any.

The Cubs are in the midst of a 10-game homestand without an off-day and only have only one breather (May 13) between now and May 30, so there's no way Contreras would be able to catch every game during that stretch. In the three weeks since Caratini got hurt, the Cubs have had so many off-days that they've naturally been able to keep their star catcher fresh and haven't had to rely on Davis much.

Before the game, Maddon spoke about the importance of depth and then watched as the Cubs' little-used backup catcher gave his team a boost with the bat against a division rival even though he was in there more for his work behind the plate.

"We do have the depth there and he's been really touted loudly by the guys upstairs," Maddon said. "Analytical guys for years have really liked his work based on how well he receives the baseball."

Davis said the whole moment still hadn't set in for him yet but his phone was ringing off the hook after the game and he was informed the Cubs were able to retrieve the baseball for him as a keepsake. 

"Amazing," Darvish said. "I was watching from the dugout — that was, like, perfect. It looked like a movie."

Baez eventually played the hero alongside Davis as Saturday afternoon turned into evening, but the Cubs' shortstop actually celebrated his catcher's homer more than Davis did.

"I pimped it myself," Baez said. "I was at third base and as soon as the ball was hit, I knew it was going. The wind was blowing in, too. He really crushed that ball. It was a huge moment for him and his family and our teammates."

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As Craig Kimbrel takes another step forward, Cubs know he won't be their savior

As Craig Kimbrel takes another step forward, Cubs know he won't be their savior

Before Pedro Strop served up the game-winning homer to former top prospect Eloy Jimenez in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 3-1 loss at Wrigley Field, the Cubs got some good news on their bullpen as Craig Kimbrel took another step forward.

Kimbrel threw a perfect seventh inning in relief for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday, needing only 8 pitches to get his job done.

As he continues along the path to join the big-league bullpen, the Cubs also know they can't put too much stock in him to be the savior. After all, he can't help the offense and even had he been available Tuesday night, there's no guarantee he would've pitched in the ballgame and affected anything in that regard.

"We want him to come in and join us and help us win," said Cole Hamels, who was once again brilliant for the Cubs Tuesday as he also notched his 2,500th career strikeout. "If we're not winning right now, then it's just one little small piece. I think we all want to be a large piece and have him just fit right in and make it easier on him.

"I don't think we all the sudden want to turn to him hoping that he'll save us at the end of the day. We know who he is, what talent he is and what he's going to provide, but I think we all want to be a part of this team and helping win."

The Cubs have not been winning lately, as they are now 10-15 in their last 25 games. That has dropped them to 39-33 on the season and in second place behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.

Who knows how many save opportunities Kimbrel will have once he arrives in Chicago, but there's no doubt he will give the team a shot in the arm whenever he does walk in the clubhouse. The Cubs aren't saying exactly when that will be, as they haven't set forth an exact plan on what his next steps are, instead deferring to see how he feels after Tuesday's outing.

He will probably throw another outing in Iowa Thursday or Friday.

"He's trending in the right direction," GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. "Obviously he's feeling good, but we're not gonna rush him or make judgment on any one outing. We're just gonna take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the remainder of the season."

This was the first game action of any kind for Kimbrel since Oct. 27 when he appeared in Game 4 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. He signed with the Cubs nearly two weeks ago now and threw his first bullpen at Wrigley Field on June 8 before going to Arizona to throw another bullpen and face hitters in live batting practice.

As dominant as Kimbrel was in the one inning — Hoyer joked Kimbrel may have to purposely walk a guy next time out just to get more extended time in the rehab game — don't expect the Cubs to get aggressive and push him now. It's still hard to see any scenario in which he's in the big-league bullpen on this current homestand (that runs through June 27).

The Cubs didn't sign Kimbrel to rush him and risk injury when they want him to lock down the back end of the bullpen down the stretch in September and then in what they hope is a long playoff run in October. The original plan called for Kimbrel to throw in back-to-back outings in the minor leagues, and the Cubs haven't indicated any change to that.

"[I'm just looking for] good health," Joe Maddon said. "He felt good, velocity was there, the break on the breaking ball was good, the velocity on the breaking ball was very good. It's just about health. If the guy's healthy and ready to rock and roll, you put him in the ninth inning. That's pretty much what we're looking forward to."

Elsewhere in Cubs bullpen news, Brandon Morrow is still throwing as he works his way along the comeback trail that is approach the one-year mark.

Morrow — the former Cubs closer — has been out since last July, going on the shelf at that point with what was originally described as biceps tendinitis. It was later revealed to be a bone bruise and he actually had to undergo a minor surgery on his right elbow over the offseason. 

The Cubs knew they'd be without Morrow for at least the first month of 2019, but the veteran then experienced a setback and still hasn't gotten back in a game. But he's been throwing from about 135 feet, Hoyer said, and feeling OK at the moment.

"With Brandon, we've been down this road a few times where he feels good and he has a setback, so I don't want to be overly optimistic," Hoyer said. "I don't want to be pessimistic. This is where he is. Obviously getting him back would be such an incredible bonus for us at this point. 

"We just want him to be healthy. I feel awful for him. No one is more disappointed or more frustrated than he is. Hopefully this time through, it works for him.

"...It's hard — you have to build your way back up. You don't really get a true sense of what it's gonna be like until you throw in games or throw in live bullpens because that's when the real stress pitches come in."

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

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AP

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

Kyle Hendricks' shoulder injury isn't opening the door for Adbert Alzolay to make his way into the Cubs rotation.

Not initially, at least.

The Cubs will hand Tyler Chatwood the ball in Hendricks' normal spot Thursday evening against the Mets at Wrigley Field, keeping Alzolay in the minors for the time being. 

When Hendricks hit the injured list over the weekend, many speculated it could be the Cubs' top pitching prospect who gets the call, as Alzolay has been on fire in Triple-A (1.93 ERA, 40 K in 28 innings over his last 5 starts). But the Cubs have two veteran starting pitching options hanging out in their bullpen in Chatwood and Mike Montgomery and it would send a bad message inside the clubhouse to pass over those guys and call up a starter from the minors to take a turn in the rotation.

The Cubs also felt like Chatwood has earned the chance to start after dealing with last year's struggles and having a resurgent season out of the bullpen and in his one previous spot start.

"He's been pitching a lot better," Joe Maddon said of Chatwood. "We believe he's earned this opportunity to pitch in the situation. ... It's an earned situation."

The Cubs made sure Chatwood was stretched out, as they held him back in case of extra innings Sunday night in Los Angeles and then had him throw in the bullpen after the game to help build his stamina back up to join the rotation.

But even if Alzolay won't be joining the rotation this week, that doesn't mean his opportunity isn't right around the corner. The Cubs have been discussing the potential for a six-man rotation in the near future, as they just began a stretch of 17 games in 17 days before their next break on July 5. 

"That's been something we've talked about a lot," GM Jed Hoyer said. "This is really the third time we've had 2-3 weeks in a row [of games]. No doubt, the starters wear down after 2-3 times through the rotation on four days rest and we're aware of their age and mileage on some of these guys. We want to make sure we take care of them. In general, getting extra rest is something we've talked about going into the break."

The Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation before and after the All-Star Break in past seasons and it makes sense to do so again this year, even with Hendricks on the shelf. Montgomery and Alzolay are both options and then Chatwood, of course, though Maddon insisted the Cubs have not come up with a concrete plan for the rotation beyond Thursday's outing.

The big question looming over the rotation is how long Hendricks will be out. He was in some kind of groove before experiencing shoulder issues in his last start against the Dodgers.

"All the test confirmed what we thought — he's kinda dealing with an impingement," Hoyer said. "I feel like we got ahead of it. We're not sure how much time he'll miss. We'll try to take it slowly and take the length of the season into account."

It's still only mid-June and the Cubs are hoping they're going to be playing baseball for another four-plus months, so they know how important Hendricks is to the overall goal of a second championship. 

They'll practice patience with him in his recovery, but right now, they can't say whether or not Cubs fans will be able to see him pitch again before the All-Star Game.