Bulls

LaHair feels like he can do some damage

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LaHair feels like he can do some damage

As Alfonso Soriano surveyed the scene, a big smile crossed his face: Yeah, babe, swagger.

Inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium, a pack of reporters moved toward Bryan LaHair. The 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound first baseman filled up the space in front of his locker.

LaHair is measured and polite, and answered questions about the Adam Wainwright fastball he lifted over the left-field fence and into the Cubs bullpen. That grand slam on April 13 helped ruin the day the Cardinals raised their World Series banner.

Swagger may not be the right word, at least not after 230-plus big-league at-bats. But theres an inner calm to LaHair. At the age of 29, he believes he belongs, that hes in the right place at the right time.

You saw it late Monday night at Wrigley Field against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. LaHair fouled off six straight fastballs that were clocked between 95 and 98 mph. That 12-pitch walk in the bottom of the ninth set in motion a 3-2 comeback victory.

I just dont have any fear, LaHair said. Im real confident with two strikes. Sometimes when youre struggling, thats when you lose confidence. But I just feel like I can do damage with two strikes, as much as I can with no strikes.

In that kind of situation, you just got to relax and just breathe and let the anxiety go.

This is what Theo Epstein means when the Cubs president talks about grinding out at-bats. LaHair grew up a Red Sox fan and played high school hoops for J.P. Ricciardi a Moneyball figure and the former Blue Jays general manager at Holy Name in Worcester, Mass.

Entering Tuesday, LaHair had seen 4.11 pitches per plate appearance, second among Cubs regulars and trailing only David DeJesus (4.16), who ranked 11th in the National League.

LaHair has reached base safely in his last 14 games, and hit three of the teams six home runs. He knows he will strike out often, and doesnt expect to walk all that much. Hes just looking for a good pitch to hit hard.

LaHair believes the sample sizes are too small to read too much into the splits against right-handers (13-for-30, .433 average) and lefties (0-for-6 with five strikeouts until Tuesday's heroics).

Im not afraid of left-handers, he said. I feel like any time I come to the plate I can do something. (But) Im onboard. I have a role right now (and) we just accept it and be part of the team.

Nothing against LaHair, but pretty soon fans will want to see Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman of the future whos hitting .373 with seven homers and 19 RBI in 19 games at Triple-A Iowa.

Ive been following him, LaHair said. I know hes doing really well and thats expected. (The) kid can really hit. Theres no doubt about it. I know down there hes been working on some things and trying to make some adjustments for the big-league level.

Ive been there before and hes going to figure that little part out (and) Im sure hes going to have success.

Thats not quite Ryan Theriot having a little fun and telling Starlin Castro: Come and get it. And Rizzo talked in spring training about wanting to be in the same Cubs lineup with LaHair.

Two left-handed bats, a lot of power, (seeing) a lot of pitches, LaHair said. (Thats) definitely a good combo. Its just whenever the right time is.

LaHair hasnt practiced at all in the outfield this year, but thinks it would only take him a few days to get back up to speed if the Cubs ever make that decision (and somehow move Soriano).

But Epstein believes that players whove hit at every level can do it in the big leagues. Its time to see what sort of asset LaHair can become across the next few months.

The guy who last season won the Pacific Coast Leagues MVP award and then went to play winter ball in Venezuela will act like hes been here before.

This is my opportunity, LaHair said. This is something Ive been visualizing my whole entire life. So its like Ive been there a million times. Ive been seeing myself do this for awhile.

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson only played one season together with the Bulls. But oh, what a memorable campaign it was.

And it produced a friendship that still lasts to this day. Cupcakes and snacks will do just that.

Boozer retold a story to NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday of Robinson and his daughter, Navyi, baking cupcakes for Bulls players on road trips.

"We had so much fun. Me and Nate hit it off right away," Boozer said. "We're both very animated, we're both very loud, we talk a lot, we're great teammates. We love playing passionately, we compete.

"Nate is one of the best teammates I ever had. I played my whole life, I've been playing a long time and he's the only teammate that would bring snacks to every flight. And we'd travel on the road, he would bake us cupcakes for every road game. I never had that before.

"Him and his daughter, Navyi, would bake the cupcakes before every road game. So every road game we'd get to the plane and Nate would hook us up with cupcakes.

"Just a great teammate. He'd go through a brick wall for you, never complained, practice every day, play every day, ready to come and give it his best."

Boozer and Robinson will face off against each other during the Big3 Tournament, which begins this weekend in Houston. The league will travel to Chicago and the United Center on June 29.

"I'm looking forward to being in Chicago," Boozer said. "We've got a lot of great fans out there. I miss the (United Center), miss that Chicagotime summer weather and looking forward to getting back out there in a couple weeks."

Boozer's Ghost Ballers and Robinson's Tri-State team won't square off against one another until Week 5 in Miami. But it's sure to be a fun matchup for the two friends and snack buddies.

"He's one of my brothers, one of my closest friends," Boozer said. "Nate has been training like an animal and he's gonna use this platform to show everybody how much skills he has, also to get back into the NBA. Nate's a great talent and I'm looking forward to seeing him get down."

Boozer's team includes co-captains Mike Bibby and Ricky Davis, which gives them a pretty solid trio heading into the event. But no teammate, NBA or Big3, can match Nate Rob and his cupcakes.

Check out more on the Big3 right here.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”