Cubs

Hoyer knows Rizzo cant be the savior for Cubs

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Hoyer knows Rizzo cant be the savior for Cubs

Across the Twitter universe, the Anthony Rizzo to Wrigley Field rumors caught fire on Sunday night.

But that was just someone being overanxious and connecting the wrong dots on the official Iowa Cubs account. Rizzo left that Triple-A game with a sore right wrist after a swing and miss. He wasnt catching a flight to Chicago.

The initial X-rays in Memphis were negative, and the Cubs were still gathering information on Monday, describing the injury as nothing serious.

During their 12-game losing streak, the Cubs had been shut out twice, and only two times scored more than four runs. But at the moment, theyre not looking at Rizzo to generate a spark.

No young player should ever be viewed as the savior or the changer of a major-league offense, general manager Jed Hoyer said. We have a lot of veterans on this team and were going to get through this and get on the right track because of those veteran guys, not because of young guys coming up from the minor leagues.

Whether thats Rizzo, whether thats other guys, we cant count on those guys as saviors. Theyre big parts of our future, but thats not their role for us in 2012.

Hoyer will be guided by experience. Last June, the Padres needed a jumpstart. They werent getting enough offense out of Brad Hawpe, so Hoyer promoted Rizzo, then 21, from Triple-A Tucson.

In 52 games there, Rizzo had hit .365 with 16 homers and 63 RBI. It didnt translate to San Diego, where he hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats.

Rizzo has described that video as sickening to watch. Hes fixed his swing to the point where hes hitting .354 with 17 homers and 46 RBI in his first 48 games at Iowa.

Ive certainly taken the blame for bringing him up last year in almost an identical situation I might add when youre struggling to score runs, Hoyer said. We brought him up because we werent getting any production at first base. (And) as things sped up on (Rizzo), he had some mechanical flaws.

Hes worked hard to close those holes. It doesnt mean hes not going to have his struggles at times when he gets up here, like every young player. But I think weve liked what weve seen, his willingness to make adjustments and the way hes gone about his business in Triple-A.

Looking to add some power to his lineup, manager Dale Sveum said the front office could consider calling up Rizzo for road interleague series against the Twins (June 8-10) and White Sox (June 18-20), when the Cubs will need a designated hitter.

Everythings on the table this time of year, Hoyer said, but right now we got to get to the bottom of the reason he came out of the game (on Sunday). Were not going to bring him up until we feel like its his time to come up here and make those adjustments.

Were not bringing him up here as a changer of our fortunes. Thats not fair to him.

Team president Theo Epstein has implicitly downplayed the idea of major-league service time being at the center of this decision.

But the Cubs have obviously calculated that waiting until late June to promote Rizzo would preserve a year of club control and delay his free agency.

Were not going to rush him, Epstein said. Were going to wait until the time is right, his development being the primary factor.

So back to our regularly scheduled Rizzo Watch. Just dont believe every tweet you read.

I got to concern myself with Cubs standards, Epstein said. Its hard to also worry about journalistic standards sometimes, or whatever the heck happened down there. I guess it was our fault, or our affiliates fault. It happens. I understand it. Its part of the modern world.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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