White Sox

Fire welcome back Johnson, Friedrich

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Fire welcome back Johnson, Friedrich

A two-week break from league games this early in the season may not be ideal, but itll be useful for the Fire in the aftermath of its first loss of the Major League Soccer campaign.

The Fire (1-1-1) didnt play its best in a 2-0 road loss to the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, and coach Frank Klopas wont likely be fielding the same team in the next match -- against the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park on April 15.

During the break the Fire will get two key players, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and German defender Arne Friedrich, ready for action. Neither has played in a game yet, though both proven players have been in training for at least a week.

Johnson had a busy offseason, training with English Premier League member Everton for 12 days prior to joining the U.S. under-23 team on its failed attempt to qualify for the Olympics. While Johnson, who had a promising second season as the Fires starting netminder in 2011, went through some high-quality training sessions, he didnt see much game action. Klopas didnt want to rush him into that against an MLS opponent.

Friedrich, who has played 82 matches for Germanys national team, figures to be a mainstay central defender once hes ready to play. Like many European-based MLS players, Friedrich was competing on a different calendar than MLS players and needed time to round into game shape. Klopas didnt want to risk injury to a 32-year-old player by putting him in meaningful combat too soon.

Both Johnson and Friedrich, though, figure to benefit from low-key matches before Houston comes to town. Johnson played all 90 minutes of Mondays reserve team match in Denver, which was won by the Rapids 2-1.

Friedrich didnt play in that one but could see action when the University of Louisville tests the Fire in a friendly at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the Toyota Park practice field. Another reserve match is on tap for April 10 at Sporting Kansas City. Once those matches are completed, Johnson and Friedrich figure to be ready to go and right back Dan Gargan, who didnt make the trip to Colorado because of a left toe injury, should be healthy enough to return to the starting 11 as well.

Johnson figures to replace Paolo Tornaghi, who was decent overall in the first three games but not in top form at Colorado. Friedrich could make his Fire debut as a replacement for Jalil Anibaba.

Klopas moved captain Logan Pause to Gargans spot at Colorado and gave Colombian newcomer Rafael Robayo his first start in the midfield. Robayo was also the first man subbed out, with Daniel Paladini taking over for him in the 61st minute. Pause didnt go the route, either. Orr Barouch, seeing action for the first time this season, took over for him in the 83rd as Klopas looked for an offensive spark that might produce a tying goal. Barouch couldnt provide it this time, as he had in several games last season.

Klopas other sub was new Uruquayan forward Federico Puppo, who scored the Fire goal in Mondays reserve team match. He couldnt help on Sunday, however.

"That game was there for the taking," lamented Pause. "It was really an unfortunate result, starting the game off well and coming into halftime at zeros. In the second half we kind of lost our shape and discipline and ended up getting punished."

Klopas didnt like what he saw, either.

"It really wasnt a great game -- sloppy on both sides," he said. "For the first half we looked sluggish. On top of that we gave up two goals that weve never given up. Its a game we need to look at, forget and move on."

Getting whipped in Denver shouldnt be a surprise to the Fire. This loss was eerily reminiscent of games in the past. The first Colorado goal was scored by Omar Cummings, his sixth in seven career matches against the Fire. The Fire has won only once in six matches (1-2-3) in the Rapids current home at Dicks Sporting Goods Park and has only three wins in 18 games played between the teams in Denver (3-9-6) since the Fire entered MLS in 1998.

Reports: Tim Anderson to receive suspension for role in benches-clearing incident that stemmed from bat flip

Reports: Tim Anderson to receive suspension for role in benches-clearing incident that stemmed from bat flip

According to multiple reports, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson will receive a suspension from Major League Baseball for his role in Wednesday's benches-clearing incident with the Kansas City Royals.

The entire brouhaha was sparked by Anderson's celebration of his home run earlier in the game, a monster shot that he "pimped" by launching his bat toward the White Sox dugout and yelling at his teammates in an effort to energize them.

The Royals didn't see it that way, and pitcher Brad Keller fired a pitch at Anderson's behind during his next at-bat. Anderson and the Royals exchanged plenty of words as he circuitously made his way toward first base. The benches cleared, and though Anderson was quickly sequestered away from the on-field get together by Jose Abreu and Joe McEwing, he was among those ejected, along with Keller, White Sox manager Rick Renteria and Royals coach Dale Sveum.

After the game, Renteria and Anderson both said they didn't know why Anderson was ejected by umpire Joe West.

The incident has once again brought the never-ending argument over the old-school and new-school approaches to on-field celebrations and the game's "unwritten rules" to the fore. Major League Baseball's social-media accounts have continued the use of their marketing slogan "let the kids play" in apparent defense of Anderson, a curious approach if the league intends to hand down a suspension. Of course, no one is suggesting that the same folks sending out tweets are the ones making disciplinary decisions.

Certainly bat flips aren't against the rules. Anderson wasn't involved in any physical altercation with anyone from the Royals during Wednesday's on-field antics. So the only thing he could possibly be suspended for is what he said after he was hit by Keller's pitch.

That is the reasoning, according to a report from ESPN's Jeff Passan.

We'll find out if that's the case if and when Major League Baseball announces a suspension.

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The Cubs are mixing up their rotation as Jon Lester nears return

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USA TODAY

The Cubs are mixing up their rotation as Jon Lester nears return

The Cubs don't actually need a fifth starter until April 27, but they're going with one anyway, handing Tyler Chatwood the ball for the finale with the Diamondbacks Easter Sunday.

Thanks to an off-day Thursday and another one on Monday, the Cubs could've gotten through until next Saturday with only a four-man rotation and everybody still working on regular rest. Thanks to last Sunday's snowout at Wrigley Field (when Chatwood was slated to start), that may have allowed them to weather the storm without needing anybody to take Jon Lester's place in the rotation after he injured his hamstring during the Cubs' home opener on April 8.

Speaking of Lester, he's doing "really well," manager Joe Maddon said Friday and the rotation's ace is close to throwing a simulated game. 

However, the Cubs are going to play matchups and roll Chatwood out on Sunday and push back Jose Quintana to face the Dodgers in the first game of that series Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Maddon said the Cubs wanted to keep Chatwood involved and there's the added bonus of giving Quintana, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish an extra day (or two) off to help keep them fresh throughout a long season.

But there's also a matchup advantage, in that the Diamondbacks struggle more vs. righties than lefties and the Dodgers — while still a prolific offense no matter who's pitching — are a bit worse against lefties. So tossing Chatwood Sunday means the Cubs throw a trio of righties against the Diamondbacks and now line up two lefties against the Dodgers (Quintana-Hamels-Hendricks).

The Diamondbacks lead the National League in many offensive categories off lefties — including runs, homers, total bases and batting average — and are slashing .304/.349/.532 (.881 OPS) off southpaws. They're hitting only .248/.322/.436 (.758 OPS) against righties. 

The Dodgers' disparity isn't as large — .825 OPS vs. LHP, .884 OPS vs. RHP — but many of their top hitters (Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson) are left-handed and struggle against southpaws. 

As for Chatwood, he hasn't pitched since April 10, when he threw an inning of relief against the Pirates in a loss. He has walked 5 batters in 6 innings this season and his outings have never gone longer than 36 pitches, so it's fair to wonder how long he'll be able to throw in Sunday's game. 

However, he got some work in the bullpen before going out to the mound for that April 10 appearance and he threw a lot in Miami earlier this week, Maddon said. 

"He really believes he can throw 75-plus pitches, which I don't doubt," Maddon said. "It's just a matter of how tough the outs are — if the outs are tough and he has to work too hard, it can be different.

"But if he keeps throwing like he has been throwing, it's reasonable to expect at least 80 pitches. We'll just watch it and let him go and he'll let us know just by observation."

Even if Chatwood can't give the Cubs much length, this lines up well in that the bullpen had Thursday to rest and another off-day Monday to recover if they're needed to pick up the slack on Sunday.

Chatwood has not started a game since Aug. 18 last year, when he lasted just 2 innings and allowed 3 runs on 3 walks and 2 hits. 

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