Bears

Kannapolis Sweeps Lakewood In Impressive Fashion

Kannapolis Sweeps Lakewood In Impressive Fashion

Sunday April 10, 2011
Posted: 6:50 p.m.
WHITE SOXKannapolis A
The Intimidators swept a doubleheader at Lakewood Sunday, taking a marathon before winning a sprint. Kannapolis won the opener, 2-0, in 16 innings before taking the conventional seven-inning nightcap, 4-1.

Michael Blankes one-out, two-run homer in the top of the 16th was the difference but only part of the story. Jacob Petricka, the clubs second-round pick in 2010 out of Indiana State, made his first South Atlantic League start and tossed six no-hit innings, striking out a career-high nine. Petricka appeared in nine games for Kannapolis last year but all were in relief.

Addison Reed allowed a two-out hit to Domingo Santana in the seventh but the Claws would manage only two more over the next eight innings before Blankes bomb decided it. Four relievers followed Reed with Steven Upchurch pitching the final 1 13 innings for the win. Blanke was one of three players to collect two hits.

Lakewood managed only four hits in the nightcap as Spencer Arroyo earned the win with a strong five-inning effort. Miguel Negron went the final two innings for the save.

The Intimidators scored three fifth-inning runs to snap a 1-1 tie. Brady Shoemakers two-run triple was the big blow after Jeremy Barnes throwing error from third base prolonged the inning and let in a run.
Charlotte AAA
The Knights swept a doubleheader from Norfolk on Sunday, taking both games by a 2-1 count behind a pair of spectacular pitching efforts. It marks the first time in franchise history that Charlotte has started the season at 4-0. The Knights are the only team in the Division to come out of opening weekend undefeated.

Freddy Dolsi earned the win in the opener, allowing only a first-inning a run on four hits. He went six innings before Brian Bruney came on to earn his second save of the season with a perfect seventh inning.

The Knights managed only four hits as well, but one of them was a Tyler Flowers two-run homer in the bottom of the first.

Pete Whisler got the nod in the nightcap and was no less effective, allowing two hits over five shutout innings. The Tides once again managed only four hits with the deciding blow being Alejandro De Azas solo homer in the third. He finished with two hits and two runs scored.
Winston-Salem A
Jared Mitchell cooled off but Jose Martinez remained hot, helping to lead Winston-Salem to a 4-2 victory over Kinston at Historic Grainger Stadium.

Mitchell, the Sox former top pick, had been blistering through the seasons first two games but went hitless in five at-bats, striking out four times on Sunday. Martinez, however, went 2-for-4, including a double, while driving in a run. He hit .615 in the season-opening series, which the Dash won. Ian Gac also contributed with a two-run homer that sparked a three-run sixth-inning. He is 2-for-12 this season with both hits being longballs.

Hecor Santiago started but didnt factor in the decision after allowing a run and striking out seven in four innings. Ryan Kussmaul picked up the win despite allowing a run over his two innings. Tyson Corley earned the save with two scoreless innings.
Birmingham AA
The Barons suffered their first loss of the season, dropping a 4-3 decision at Montgomery. Kyle Cofield suffered the loss. Brandon Short drove in a pair for Birmingham.
CUBSPeoria A
The Chiefs blasted a trio of homers, including a three-run shot by the red-hit Greg Rohan, to romp by Cedar Rapids Sunday afternoon at OBrien Field.

Rohan, who has hit safely in three games, had a pair of hits, including the homer, and is hitting .429. Hes served as a catalyst in the middle of the batting order. Rubi Silva and Richard Jones also went deep as the Chiefs used a five-run fifth inning to blast by the Kernels. A throwing error by Kernals third baseman Jesus Campos fueled the fifth inning after Silvas one-out homer. The homer was Silvas first of his career.

Jeff Antigua 1-0 earned the win in relief of Cam Greathouse, who allowed four runs in 4 13 innings. Antigua allowed two runs on three hits in 2 23 innings. The first road game of the season will be played on Monday at Burlington at 6:30 p.m. Graham Hicks will start for Peoria while Jacob Brown starts for the Bees.
Iowa AAA
Tony Campanas four-hit effort paced Iowa on Sunday afternoon as they bested Round Rock at the Dell Diamond, 8-6, to take three of the four games in the opening series. The I-Cubs collected at least 15 hits for the third time in the series.

Campana scored twice and drove in a run and is hitting .467. He was at the heart of almost every Iowa rally, closing out the scoring with a run-scoring double in the eighth. Lou Montanez had three hits and drove in four runs and is batting .500.

Justin Berg earned the victory in relief. Right-hander Ramon Ortiz was added to the roster and will start Monday at Albuquerque. The 37-year-old Ortiz made 16 appearances (eight starts) with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and also made stops with triple-A Buffalo in the New York Mets system and triple-A Durham in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. He was 3-5 with a 5.31 ERA in 28 games (14 starts) between the stops.
Tennessee AA
Brett Jacksons seventh-inning grand slam powered Tennessee to an 8-5 victory Sunday afternoon at Chattanooga.

The Smokies had trailed 5-2 heading into the seventh before Jackson, who finished with two hits and two runs scored, gave them a lead they would not relinquish. Tennessee tacked on runs in the eighth and ninth innings to end any doubt as to the games outcome. DJ LeMahieu added three hits.

Trey McNutt started and pitched 2 23 hitless innings for the Smokies but left after facing only 10 batters. Despite giving up three runs in his only inning, Ryan Buchter earned the victory.
Daytona A
The Cubs rallied from a five-run, first-inning deficit to defeat Brevard County, 11-7, at Space Coast Stadium and remain undefeated in the Florida State League action.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

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USA TODAY

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears desperately need more from Jordan Howard, which may sound greedy given that he has been one of the only offensive sparks of the last two seasons. And they may be getting it.

Through the early practices in Bears Camp ’18, the nascent offense of coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich has been ... interesting. The intensity and conditions can be posited as factors, but the fact remains that the defense has intercepted a half-dozen passes and the pass rush has had Mitch Trubisky and the other quarterbacks frequently scrambling after coverage locked down their intended receivers.

Amid all that, something decidedly positive and mildly surprising was unfolding.

Rush-and-cover combos force check-downs to shorter routes, in particular running backs. If this were the Kansas City Chiefs offense under Nagy last year, that would have been Kareem Hunt, who caught 84 percent of the 63 passes on which he was targeted. If this were the Bears from 2008 through 2015, that would have been Matt Forte, who never caught fewer than 44 passes in any of his eight Chicago seasons.

But those were thens, this is now, and the featured back in the Chicago offense is Howard. That qualifies as a question for the developing Bears offense, an iteration of the West Coast system that is predicated on positive plays and ball control using the pass.

The reason is that Howard has developed two competing personas through his first two NFL seasons. One was that of a workhorse running back, the first in Bears franchise history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. A model of consistency at 4.6 yards per carry.

The “other” Jordan Howard was the model of inconsistency — a running back among the worst pass-catchers at his position, low-lighted by the drop of a potential game-winning touchdown pass against the Atlanta Falcons last opening day. Howard dropped six of his 29 targets last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The year before he was determined to have dropped seven of his 50 targets.

An emerging 'new' Howard

But maybe that latter was then and this training camp is now.

The defensive pressure has, by chance or by choice, sent Trubisky passes toward Howard. The third-year tailback has responded with both efficient pass-catching and occasionally light acrobatic work, turning off-target throws into positive plays.

The results qualify as a significant positive from early camp. Howard is getting a clean-slate start from Nagy and running backs coach Charles London, and the hope is for a three-down back in the Hunt/Forte mold, which Howard can only be if he is an effective third-down option. His head coach thinks he is.

“Obviously, there’s this façade out there, there’s this notion that (Howard) is just a first- and second-down back, and I don’t believe that,” Nagy said. “Jordan can play all three downs. We’re going to do that. We’re going to use him. And we’re going to use other guys on first and second down when we need to.

“For us, it’s important for Jordan to know and for everybody on our offense to know that he’s a big part of this. This kid’s had a very successful career so far. We’re crazy as coaches and as offensive coaches if we don’t understand it and if we don’t use that to our advantage.”

Wanting Howard to be a three-down force and achieving that are two different things. For his part, Howard has worked to effect what can become a tidal shift for the offense.

“Definitely it’s important to me, just building my confidence more and more with catching the ball and working my body,” Howard said. “It’s definitely important to me. ... I definitely have improved my hand placement. I used to have my hands all over the place, but now coach London is working with me on my hand placement and looking the ball in.”

Possible impact on Howard

The impact of a multi-dimensional Howard cannot be overstated, and it could be overlooked in the buzz of all the other “weapons” the Bears brought in this offseason. It shouldn’t be.

Neither should the effect his enhanced skillset can have for Howard himself.

When the Bears’ offense broke out under Marc Trestman in 2013, finishing second in scoring, Forte caught 74 passes while posting his career-high 1,335 rushing yards on an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Hunt as a rookie last season led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while being the Chiefs’ third-leading receiver in both catches and targets. Howard was the only of the top eight leading rushers in 2017 with fewer than Leonard Fournette’s 36.

Tarik Cohen delivered 53 receptions. But Cohen is not a three-down back with the capability of the 200-plus carries that 17 of the top 19 running backs logged last year.

A critical element projects to be Howard’s conditioning and ability to take on a larger and more diverse workload. That limited him in his rookie season, when his usage in fourth quarters dropped at times because he simply wasn’t in requisite shape. The Bears hope that issue and the drops are behind Howard.

“He’s a patient running back,” Nagy said. “I think he as good vision so he’s patient, has good vision, and when you combine that with the power that he has, he finds ways to get yards. The nice thing for us is that we can move him around and do different things.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here: