Cubs

Mark Sanchez can co-exist with Tim Tebow, right?

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Mark Sanchez can co-exist with Tim Tebow, right?

From Comcast SportsNet
FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey (AP) -- The message was the same from the New York Jets' two quarterbacks: We can do this. And, not only that, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow think they're going to have lots of fun along the way. A brewing quarterback controversy? Not if you ask them. "I think we'll have a great working relationship," Tebow told the sea of reporters at his introductory news conference on Monday. "We talked about that, just supporting one another in our roles. I'm excited about that opportunity. I think we'll have a great relationship and hopefully we'll be able to thrive together." Sanchez, meanwhile, was nowhere near the Jets' packed practice facility. He was home in California -- and didn't even watch Tebow smile his way through his first New York close-up. "I heard he did a pretty good job," Sanchez said on a conference call five hours later. "How did he do?" Well, Tebow handled himself just fine in the spotlight, a situation Sanchez has been accustomed to during his first three NFL seasons. "As the quarterback of the Jets, I'm getting wins for this team," Sanchez said. "That's my primary focus. If Tim is going to help us win, I'm excited about that." They've known each other for a few years, and Sanchez even hosted Tebow at the University of Southern California on a recruiting trip. "He's a very classy person with a lot of integrity," Tebow said. "He's also fun to hang around. I think our quarterback room will be a lot of fun." Sanchez was equally as complimentary, dishing out the praise for his celebrity backup. "He's such a good guy, people don't want to believe it," Sanchez said. "There's no such thing as that good of a guy, but he is. He's a great guy, a great competitor, and he's going to make a great teammate." Both quarterbacks said all the right things about themselves, each other and the goal they share. "I would give my whole heart to be the best Jet I possibly can be," Tebow said, "and help this team win football games." Added Sanchez: "Our team goal is what's most important, and that's winning." Sure, it all sounds good, but is it realistic? Consider that Tebow is a confident and polished rock star who has been a winner on the field. Oh, and he walks in as the Jets' most popular player, thanks to a huge contingent of fans who have followed him from the University of Florida to the Denver Broncos and now to New York. "I really don't feel like it will be too much of a distraction because I honestly will try not to pay too much attention to it," Tebow said. "The reason we're doing this today is because I have bosses, too, and they wanted me to stand up and talk to all of you. I can blame it on them because they made me do it." He laughed a few times, grinned throughout and went out of his way to dismiss any speculation that this could be one potential sticky situation. But make no mistake: Tebow is a competitor whose desire is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. His shortcomings are well-documented with his flawed mechanics, questionable decision-making and 46.5 percent completion rate last season. Tebow also has a resume filled with stirring comeback victories and a playoff win -- all last season with the Broncos. The game plan -- at least for now -- is to have Tebow serve as the backup to Sanchez, who coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum insist is the unquestioned starter. If Sanchez slips up or struggles, that's when the real test will be. After all, the Jets committed to Sanchez when they signed him to a three-year extension a little more than two weeks ago. Tebow is also going to have plenty of playing time, in all kinds of roles. And, if that comes from under center, that sounds good to him. "I think, first and foremost, I'm a football player first and then a quarterback, although that is my dream, that's what I want to be," he said. "But however I can help the team, however I can make a difference, however they can use me, I'll be open to it and work as hard as I can." Ryan has suggested that Tebow could see as many as 20 plays a game, a massive amount for a backup quarterback. That means Sanchez will have to head to the sideline for a good handful of those, and that's something that doesn't exactly excite him. But, also not looking to stir any controversy, Sanchez chose his words carefully. "It's well-documented that I'm not thrilled about playing wide receiver or coming off the field," he said. "But that's just how I'm programmed, and any quarterback is programmed like that. The way I feel about the wildcat really is secondary. I'm a team guy and I'll do whatever it takes to win. If changing a few things up a couple times a game is what we need to do, I'm totally on board."

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

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USA TODAY

Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

Monday was a mixture of good news and bad news for the Cubs on the injury front.

Star shortstop Javy Baez was held out of the starting lineup Monday after suffering a heel injury in Sunday night's game, but manager Joe Maddon said he hopes Baez could be available to hit off the bench. 

Closer Brandon Morrow threw from flat ground (45 to 60 feet) Monday, his first day throwing since he suffered a setback earlier this spring in his return from offseason elbow surgery. 

That throwing session "went well," Theo Epstein said before the Cubs and Phillies faced off at Wrigley Field Monday night and Morrow will continue along a regular throwing progression from there, ramping up to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. The Cubs will evaluate along the way, exercising caution with the 34-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs also received encouraging news on Pedro Strop, who is recovering from a hamstring strain initially suffered in Arizona in late April. The veteran reliever threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, which went well, and is in line for another bullpen later this week. 

Then there was the bad news: Top prospect Nico Hoerner will miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist. 

Hoerner — playing for Double-A Tennessee — was hit in the wrist with a pitch on April 23 and has been sidelined since then. 

"He went to start his hitting progression; it didn't go great," Epstein said. "After a couple days, they did a CT scan and this time they did find a hairline fracture right where his forearm meets his hand, so right at his wrist essentially. 

"So he's gonna be in a splint for three weeks and get out of it and evaluate it from there. He'll be out at least a month, obviously, with this."

That's bad news for the Cubs, given Hoerner has already missed nearly a month and looked to be on the comeback trail just a few days ago. The young infielder has done nothing but hit since the Cubs made him the 24th overall pick in the MLB Draft last June and was slashing .300/.391/.500 with nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8) in 18 games this season.

Hoerner wasn't expected to impact the big-league level in 2019, but if he continued to flash the skills and production that made him the organization's top prospect all summer, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Cubs put him on the fast track to Chicago. That seems unlikely now that he'll miss at least two months of development. 

However, the Cubs will certainly take the good news on Morrow and Strop. Morrow was shut down in late April after a suffering yet another setback in his recovery and spent about a month without picking up a baseball. 

Any impact he can make on the Cubs bullpen later in the season would be a welcome addition after he saved 22 games with a 1.47 ERA in 35 apperances last year. But he didn't throw a pitch in the second half and is still a long way off from rejoining the big-league bullpen, even if he continues to show well healthwise.

Strop has been the Cubs' closer in Morrow's stead, though he's had a pair of hamstring injuries (last September and now again this spring). He last pitched on May 6 when he blew a save against the Marlins.

Even without Morrow (and now Strop, more recently), the Cubs bullpen has the best ERA in baseball (2.66) since the rough start to open the season.

"Since that first road trip, they've been — by the numbers — one of the best, if not the best in baseball," Epstein said. "So they've been doing a great job. We've had our hiccups along the way the way like every club will, but even under some difficult circumstances after some short starts, they've found a way to really put some zeros up there. 

"It's been impressive. It's been a group effort, which is nice to see. And Joe's done a great job picking the right spots for those guys, too."

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