Cubs

While they wait for Kimbrel, Cubs add another intriguing option to bullpen

While they wait for Kimbrel, Cubs add another intriguing option to bullpen

Craig Kimbrel could still make his debut before the current homestand is over, but in the meantime, the Cubs added another intriguing veteran to the bullpen.

Tony Barnette was activated off the 60-day injured list Sunday and Rowan Wick was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa. 

The 35-year-old right-hander has had an interesting career ever since was drafted in the 10th round in 2006 by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Arizona State University. He spent a couple years in the D-Backs organization but then went to Japan in 2010 to pitch for the Yakult Swallows for six seasons.

Barnette returned to the U.S. in 2016, signing a deal with the Rangers and putting up a 3.50 ERA in 125 appearances for Texas over three seasons. The Cubs signed him over the winter to add another arm to the bullpen mix, but he's been hampered by shoulder issues since spring training.

Barnette actually began a rehab stint with Triple-A Iowa in April initially, but made only four appearances before heading back to Arizona to hit the reset button on his recovery. He restarted a rehab assignment with Iowa on June 1 and has been lights out since — he's allowed only a pair of baserunners (1 hit, 1 walk) in 8.1 shutout innings while striking out 9. 

"Patience is a virtue," he said Sunday morning inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field. "It's hard to be patient in this game especially when you're expected to be logging innings at the major-league level. Patience was something that I really had to work on and stay with. Stay patient, trust the process, work with the training staff and make sure I was right and I am."

When the Cubs called Barnette over the winter, he said it was definitely a call he wanted to take — to join a team with World Series aspirations and play in front of the fans at Wrigley Field. Now he wants to answer the call out of the bullpen whenever he gets the opportunity.

Joe Maddon hasn't gotten a chance to see Barnette pitch live much due to the early injury in spring training, but the Cubs manager envisions utilizing the veteran righty as a weapon against opposing right-handed hitters. In his MLB career, Barnette has allowed only a .652 OPS to righties vs. a .780 OPS to left-handed hitters.

"He's a strike-thrower. He attacks the zone. He's kind of a fearless guy," Maddon said. "He's an assertive kind of a guy. He's an attacker, he can put the ball on the ground. He's an aggressive sort. Normally pitch-efficient.

"He's very confident right now. He's feeling really good."

When the Cubs signed him over the winter, Barnette was looked at as another potential under-the-radar option in the bullpen and now that the injury is behind him, he and the Cubs are hoping to make good on that potential.

But the Cubs pitching staff is also getting crowded, with Barnette joining a group of bullpen arms that includes:

Pedro Strop
Steve Cishek
Brandon Kintzler
Brad Brach
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery

At the moment, the Cubs have folded both Adbert Alzolay and Tyler Chatwood into a six-man rotation. But they also have Kimbrel's arrival on the horizon as well as the eventual returns of Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr.

It's unknown how all these pieces will fit together, but Barnette could emerge as a reliable piece for Maddon and the Cubs.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is there change coming to baseball's diversity problem?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is there change coming to baseball's diversity problem?

While trying to get the season going, the MLB and baseball as a whole are starting to address another problem: the lack of diversity. NBCS Cubs reporter Maddie Lee is joined by former Cub and professor Doug Glanville, Laurence Holmes and Eugene McIntosh of "The Bigs" to discuss ways MLB and baseball need to address the issues and how they can benefit from it.

(2:00) - Ian Desmond's comments really struck a chord in baseball

(12:06) - Youth baseball for young Black athletes

(26:09) - Glanville remembers being the only Black athlete on teams in MLB

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(30:14) - Current Black players in majors are still dealing with racism

(32:26) - Ways Theo Epstein is trying to help find solutions to the lack of diversity in baseball

Listen here or below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Race and baseball: For a young Doug Glanville, 'Baseball was diplomacy'

Race and baseball: For a young Doug Glanville, 'Baseball was diplomacy'

Doug Glanville remembers watching a teammate get kicked in the chest after a High School baseball game fraught with racial tension.

“Thank goodness my coach was really quick,” the former Cub said on the Cubs Talk Podcast this week. “The bus was right there. And all he could do was whisk people onto the bus because the last thing he needed was a brawl with young high school Black kids and this angry white mob of workers throwing N-words at us.”

Glanville shared the story as part of a round-table discussion on the declining number of African American players in Major League Baseball, and the sport’s access issues from the youth level on up. He, NBC Sports Chicago’s Laurence Holmes and The Bigs Media co-founder Eugene McIntosh talked about experiences from their playing days and sought solutions to the league’s diversity problem.

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Glanville grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. The town voluntarily desegregated its public schools in the 1960’s.

“I came along in 1970 and watched a town that was truly committed to inclusion,” Glanville said. “So, I had this integrated, diverse experience where my teammates were from different backgrounds and different walks of life. And we were sort of this sesame seed inside of a Bergen County that was mostly white suburbs with a lot of wealth.”

He and his teammates took pride in that. Not only were they playing to win, they were fighting in the name of diversity.

“Baseball was diplomacy in my world,” Glanville said. “And it was a diplomacy of seeing players of color, diversity, taking on mostly homogenous teams, catholic schools, and representing.”

During his sophomore year, against one such homogeneous team in what Glanville describes as a “blue collar town,” Glanville and his teammates endured heckling all game long. A spectator hurled a racial slur at Glanville’s teammate, and the teammate said something back.

The encounter grew so heated that Glanville’s team had to climb the football stands to get to the bus. At the top, Glanville said, one of the people in pursuit kicked the team’s captain, who was Black.

“But you know what was so powerful about that was our team bonded even more over that,” Glanville said. “… We were like, we are one family, and we’re not going to put up with this.”

Can MLB harness baseball’s powers of diplomacy? For more stories and analysis from Glanville, Holmes and McIntosh, listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast.

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