Rip's return a process of patience for Bulls


Rip's return a process of patience for Bulls

CLEVELAND By the numbers, Rip Hamiltons 15 minutes on the floor in his second game back from his layoff in Wednesday nights win at San Antonio wasnt that impressive. But according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, the veteran shooting guard is making progress.

Hes doing fine. His shot didnt drop Wednesday, but I thought they were his shots, so as long as were doing that, were good and hopefully hes fine Thursday. The encouraging thing was he got up Wednesday and felt fine, so thats a good sign, said the coach. I liked his shots. San Antonios a tough team to get shots against. They know what theyre doing.

Because hes missed so much time, we just want to make sure that, from a conditioning standpoint, that he can handle it and well gradually build up as we go along, he continued. Hamiltons minutes are based on more what we read during the game, how he feels the next day and well just go from there.

It gives us another thing that we can go to with the catch-and-shoot and many of the same plays we run with Kyle, we run with Rip and the thing about Rip is, hes very unselfish, so whenever theres two on the ball, hes going to find the open man. The thing I really liked about the way he played is I thought that he didnt force anything. He just came in and played, and I thought that he was reading the defense well, made very good decisions and its something he can build on.

Hamilton, a 13-year pro concurred with Thibodeaus prognosis of patience.

It felt good to be out there, just to be out there competing and playing. From a rhythm standpoint, itll come with just being out there playing, but from getting to where I wanted to get to out there on the floor, I felt good about that, he explained. Rhythm, timing, I think thats the biggest thing anytime youre away from the game.

Hamilton loves the fact that the Bulls depth hasnt put pressure on him to be the nearly 20 point-per-game career scorer that he is, as reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer has proved to be a capable fill-in starter, sharpshooter Kyle Korver can pick up the slack from his missing marksmanship and Thibodeau has occasionally paired a backup point guard with Derrick Rose, all contributing factors to Hamiltons relatively low usage in the teams two games since the All-Star break.

Its great because it enables Thibs to play me the first eight minutes of the first quarter and the first eight minutes of the third and were still able to win, and thats huge because I dont have to be thrown into the fire. When youve got great teammates like I have and guys that are producing, its awesome for me, he said. The biggest thing with me is getting to different spots on the court and I feel good about getting to wherever I want to get on the court. Now, when I get there, my rhythm and my timing Ill get better as Im out there but the key thing with my leg is Im able to get where I want to get on the floor and thats the most important thing. Im happy with it. Its a gradual thing. Dont be so much in a rush and were winning, so thats the benefit. Thats the luxury that we have in this situation. Guys are really playing well and really stepping up so it enables it to be a slow process instead of a fast process.

Hamilton has already formed a bond with his younger teammates, something that has helped him cope with both his injuries and the recently loss of his grandmother.

Theyre my young fellas. They make the game fun for me. They want it and Ive been there before, and I think its a great opportunity. Theyre funny. They laugh, they joke, he said with a smile. It makes my life a lot easier, especially when I wasnt playing.

Now that hes back in the lineup, Hamilton admitted that hes heard the scuttlebutt that he was signed solely to help the Bulls make a postseason run and while worse things could be said about a player, he disputed that notion.

The regular season is a great time also. Its not just the playoffs. Theres situations in the regular season where you can get familiar with your teammates and you want to start rolling going into the playoffs, he explained. You dont want to just turn it on when the playoffs start. You want to be moving forward and playing well when the playoffs start.

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Yu Darvish cursed and snapped his head in frustration.

He had just spiked a fastball in the dirt to Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini as Tuesday morning's sim game was winding down.

A couple moments later, Darvish fluttered one of his patented eephus pitches way up and out to Caratini and again let an expletive slip out.

Darvish threw about 55 pitches in three "innings" worth of a simulated game (meaning he sat down and rested for a few moments in between each "inning") while facing Caratini and David Bote with a host of onlookers including a gaggle of Chicago media, Joe Maddon and his maroon Levi's and Van's kicks, Theo Epstein and a group of Cubs coaches.

"It was good," Epstein said minutes after Darvish wrapped it up. "He was competing well out there, spinning the ball really well. Maybe his best spin of the year. That was good to see.

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but seems like he's just about ready for the next step, which should be rehab games."

Nobody knows how many rehab outings Darvish may need at this point and there's still no timetable for when the Cubs will get him back in the rotation. 

Epstein acknowledged that at this point in the season — with less than seven weeks left until playoffs begin — the Cubs have just one shot to make this work with Darvish. Any setback now is essentially the dagger in any hopes of a comeback.

You can get giddy about the spin rate all you want, but the real telling sign to the Cubs was Darvish's attitude. Instead of worrying about his arm or any lingering pain out there, he was getting pissed at himself for missing spots as he started to tire in the sim game.

It was a sign to both Epstein and Maddon that Darvish is getting back in the right head space to return to a big-league field in the middle of a tight pennant race.

"I think he wants it," Epstein said. "The guys that are around him every day feel like he's really eager to get out there and compete. Even in the sim game today, when Vic had a good swing on the fastball, he came back on the next one a little bit harder and was mixing all his pitches.

"He's going about his business like someone who's on a mission to come back and help this team."

Maddon concurred.

"Totally engaged, looked really good, was not holding back," the Cubs skipper said. "...We were all very impressed."

All that being said, the Cubs still aren't in a place where they feel confident enough to just plug Darvish back into the rotation for the final few weeks of September and into October (assuming they make it there). 

Darvish has said himself he feels like he turned a corner a couple weeks ago and is back in a good place physically.

Still, his journey back has already experienced several hiccups and there's no telling everything will be perfect from here.

At the end of the day, Maddon and his staff have no choice but to try to win ballgames with the guys who are on their active roster and can't worry about what "might be" with Darvish, Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow or even Drew Smyly.

Of course, getting those guys back healthy would be a heck of a boon to this Cubs team, but it's not something they can count on.

"I don't think you ever get to that point," Epstein said. "... Anytime a player's injured, there's a certain probability that he returns and on a certain timetable and there's a spectrum of outcomes when he comes back. From being significantly better than he was before he went down to performing the same to not being effective.

"None of us can predict exactly what the outcome is gonna be, so you have to be prepared for all the possible outcomes. You never want the performance of any one player to be the linchpin of the success of the club. Because if you are, you're being irresponsible and setting yourself up to fail.

"At the same time, you're never gonna be as good as you might be if one of your most talented players returns and returns in really good form. We're hopeful and we're trying to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed and right now, there've been a lot of good signs, which is certainly better than where we were six weeks ago."

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race


Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

At a time when the Cubs are missing their closer and continuing to hold their lead on the division anyway, the Brewers are in a very different place. 

Coming in to a short but weighty series at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee has dropped two games via bullpen meltdown in their last four. Corey Knebel, who saved 39 games for the Brewers in 2017 with a 1.93 ERA, has seen much more limited time in the closer's role this year. But getting him right will probably make the difference for Milwaukee down the stretch.

"It’s important that we get him going," Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters before Tuesday's game. "Getting Corey on track is probably the bigger equation in this that kind of normalizes the bullpen."

Last Thursday, Knebel loaded the bases in the 9th when Milwaukee was leading, 4-2, and eventually left for Joakim Soria after allowing a run on a single. This set the stage for Hunter Renfroe's grand slam that cost the Brewers the game. In his next appearance, Knebel pitched in the 5th inning against the Braves and gave up a run in Milwaukee's eventual 8-7 loss.

Without a reliable Knebel, the Brewers have had to play mix and match with their bullpen, a recipe that doesn't usually work. It's been successful so far for the Cubs in the absence of Morrow, but that hasn't been the case for Milwaukee lately. 

The Brewers acquired Joakim Soria from the White Sox on July 26 in hopes of shoring up their bullpen, but after giving up the grand slam to Renfroe last week, Soria hit the DL with a right quadriceps strain. Counsell said that it isn't likely for Soria to return very soon, however.

"We’re not going to be at 10 days, I’ll tell you that," Counsell said, adding that Soria is still only doing stationary bike work at this point.

But help might be on the way. Taylor Williams, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list on August 3, is eligible to return. For now, the Brewers opted to keep outfielder Keon Broxton on the roster, but Williams could prove to be a boon for the Milwaukee reliever corps. Before being shelved, he was averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

Otherwise, the Brewers have Matt Albers rehabbing in Biloxi, Mississippi, where they plan to let him appear in at least a couple games before activating him.

Milwaukee has a chance to cut the division lead to a single game these next two days, but without a reliable bullpen, that could prove especially difficult.