Felix Pena

Cubs closing out the regular season with a spring training approach


Cubs closing out the regular season with a spring training approach

Hector Rondon chopped Amir Garrett's offering about 15 feet in front of home plate and booked it down the line.

He was initially called out, but was so insistent he beat the play, he stayed on first base and went through the usual Cubs routine after a basehit — waving to the dugout with a bright smile on his face, cracking up his teammates.

Welcome to spring training in September.

Rondon's first career MLB hit was confirmed by a replay, altering the original call on the field by first base umpire Mike Winters.

Rondon's baserunning excursion lasted just one pitch as Rene Rivera — hitting leadoff — into an inning-ending double play. Rondon was then lifted from the game in favor of Brian Duensing for the eighth inning. Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't want to use any other position players in the game if he didn't have to, so he gave Rondon and fellow reliever Felix Pena an opportunity to hit for themselves Friday.

It was a fun, ridiculous moment in a game that featured a Cubs starting lineup consisting of three catchers (Kyle Schwarber, Alex Avila, Willson Contreras) to start, plus the insertion of Rivera (again, in the leadoff spot) and Taylor Davis (at third base). The starting lineup also featured three second basemen (Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella, Ian Happ) playing all over the place.

Happ started at third base for the first time in his professional career (he only had one inning at the hot corner prior to Friday) and moved to center field before giving the Cubs their 91st victory of the season with a three-run homer in the eighth.

Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward never made it into Friday's game. Those five regulars will likely be in Saturday's lineup however, after taking back-to-back days off Thursday and Friday.

Maddon talked to Bryant and Co. about playing Friday, but the players opted for a second consecutive day off, while Zobrist and Contreras wanted to get back into action after taking Thursday off.

The Cubs have nothing to play for, as seeding in the NL is already guaranteed and they locked up the division Wednesday night in St. Louis.

"Treat it more like spring training," Maddon said of the regulars playing Saturday, "maybe three at-bats. It doesn't have to be a full game. My plan is to talk to them during the course of the game — how ya feelin'? Do you need another at-bat? You good? Just like you do in spring training. No different than that."

Maddon also continued to treat his pitching staff with the caution and predetermined planning of Cactus League play.

Jose Quintana was perfect through the first 11 hitters of the game, but fell into trouble in the fifth and wound up exiting after only 4.2 innings and 81 pitches. Pena bridged the gap to Rondon in the seventh, who dialed his fastball up to the upper 90s and threw his fourth staright scoreless apperance since returning from a minor elbow injury.

Prior to Friday's game, Maddon telegraphed his managing style for the weekend, saying he hoped to get the main relievers out for an inning or two, but not wanting any guy to approach even 30 pitches.

Jon Lester also doesn't figure to work deep into Saturday's game while Jake Arrieta won't make Sunday's start, resting his ailing hamstring and turning the 2017 regular season finale into a bullpen day for the Cubs.

It's all in an effort to promote rest and limit wear and tear in a series of games that means nothing beyond ensuring the Cubs players are locked in and ready for their NLDS date with the Washington Nationals.

Ian Happ delivers instant impact as Cubs roll out another top prospect

Ian Happ delivers instant impact as Cubs roll out another top prospect

ST. LOUIS – During spring training, Cubs officials talked up Ian Happ as someone who could help the team this season. May 13 still would have sounded extremely early for his big-league debut. 
But things haven't gone exactly according to plan for the defending World Series champs and Happ might be the spark the Cubs need now. A wave of health issues forced the shorthanded Cubs to promote Happ from Triple-A Iowa and put the elite prospect second in their lineup and in right field at Busch Stadium.
"This is one of those situations where you might wake up tomorrow and not remember what happened," Happ said before Saturday's 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. "You just got to really slow everything down, enjoy it and be in the moment."
There's no chance Happ forgets this day, from his hard slide into second base drawing an interference call – and teeing up state-of-baseball rants from Joe Maddon and Jon Lester – to the Carlos Martinez slider he launched 413 feet over the bullpen in right-center field for a two-run homer.
Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft – looked like more than just a short-term solution while their regulars rest up and recover. As a switch-hitter who can move around the infield and the outfield, Happ profiles like an ideal Maddon player.
The manager delivered this message to Happ: "Enjoy the moment. You deserve to be here. I don't know if it's going to be a week or the whole season. I have no idea. But don't worry about that. Just go play."

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With so many question marks on the roster, the Cubs optioned reliever Felix Pena back to Iowa and waited for medical updates. Reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant is battling a stomach illness. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell is working through a sore right shoulder. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist is feeling a nagging stiffness in his back. Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward is on the disabled list with a sprained finger on his right hand. Back spasms knocked outfielder Jon Jay out of Friday's win over the Cardinals after one inning. 
The scouting-and-player-development machine the Cubs promised to build has now rolled out first-round picks from the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts onto the 25-man roster: Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Happ.  
"You just got to go out and play baseball," said Happ, who also struck out and drew a walk against Martinez and should have notched his first hit on a fifth-inning play that was ruled an error on Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter. "I'm here to help this team win and do everything I can.
"That's kind of been the M.O. of the team for the last few years, guys coming up and helping the club."
What had been a surplus of position players could also make Happ a trade chip by the July 31 deadline as the Cubs search for pitching help. Happ certainly marketed himself in the Cactus League, hitting .383 with five homers and a 1.191 OPS and working hard to erase some of the doubts about his defensive fit. 
That sense of momentum carried over to Iowa, even with a detour to the disabled list with a sprained left thumb. Happ put up a .298 average, nine homers, six doubles and 25 RBI through his first 26 games on the Triple-A level.  
"He made an awesome impression on everybody," Zobrist said. "He's got power. He's patient as a hitter. He's a strong kid and he can hit, so I think he's going to help us. I'm excited for him to help us."

Cubs make roster moves to create room for pitcher Eddie Butler

Cubs make roster moves to create room for pitcher Eddie Butler

The Cubs made a roster move Thursday, but the moves they didn't make could be more interesting.

Pitcher Eddie Butler was called up from Triple-A Iowa and will start Friday in St. Louis as planned.

Justin Grimm's seesaw journey continues as he was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Butler on the roster. Grimm — who hasn't quite gotten on track this season with a 7.53 ERA and 1.67 WHIP — was sent to the minors on May 5, only to be recalled two days later when Brett Anderson went on the disabled list.

Anderson's lower-back strain created the opportunity for Butler in the rotation.

Neither pitcher Felix Pena or infielder Jeimer Candelario were sent to the minors to make room for Butler and both players will get a shot to keep making the most of their opportunity in The Show.

Pena was first called up when Grimm was sent down and the 27-year-old righty has allowed four runs (two earned) and seven hits in five innings with the Cubs. He had a 4.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in nine innings with the club last season.

Candelario was called up as part of the Cubs' expanded roster for Tuesday's doubleheader and has remained with the big-league team through two roster cuts now.

The 23-year-old corner infielder is one of the team's top prospects and is 1-for-8 with a walk and his first MLB RBI in his first two big-league games this season in Colorado.

Butler, 26, was one of the game's top pitching prospects as recently as 2015 and sports a 6-16 record with a 6.50 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 36 big-league games (28 starts). He is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in five starts with Triple-A Iowa this season.