Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Kyle Hendricks is figuring out a way to win the battle against himself


Kyle Hendricks is figuring out a way to win the battle against himself

If you had to give one Cubs pitcher the ball in a must-win game in October, who would you choose: Kyle Hendricks or Yu Darvish?

Darvish spun another gem Tuesday night and has been on a historic run.

But Hendricks has been no slouch, posting a 2.63 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in eight second-half starts. He gets the ball Wednesday night in New York opposite Noah Syndergaard as the Cubs look to win their second straight road series (and first "true" road series since late-May). 

Part of Hendricks' success lately can be attributed to his increased curveball usage, a pitch Joe Maddon and the Cubs have wanted him to utilize more often in recent seasons.

On the whole, the 29-year-old right-hander is throwing his curve 8.9 percent of the time in 2019 and the off-speed pitch is coming in the slowest it ever has (71.6 mph). Both the velocity and the different movement adds one more thing for opposing hitters to think about and look at beyond his fastball and elite changeup.

"It's been huge for me just not being a two-pitch guy," Hendricks said after his last start in which he spun 7 shutout innings against the Giants. "When you fall into that pattern, there are a lot more foul balls, your pitch count gets up. So just to present another look and the command I've had with it this year has probably been the best so far. 

"I'm still trying to work on it and get better, but it's helped a lot."

Hendricks believes another key for him this season has been taking a page out of Jon Lester's book. Cubs fans have seen it often over Lester's tenure in Chicago: Even after a rough start to a game, the veteran southpaw is able to adjust on the fly and completely change the tune of the outing. 

Hendricks lauded Lester's lack of stubbornness and ability to throw a gameplan out the window quickly if it's not working.

Hendricks feels like he can be too stubborn sometimes, trying to stay with the pregame plan of attack even if it's not working or he's not feeling great with a certain pitch. But he's trying to improve in that area and it's something he's always talking about with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello.

"I think it's just experience and knowing yourself," Hendricks said. "I know that I do it and now these guys know it, too — Borzy and Tommy. I come in after the first or second inning and we look at each other, it's like we already know I'm doing it again or I'm trying to stick with the 2-seam fastball. It's like, 'OK, maybe let's try this,' incorporate the curveball or whatever needs to be done just to get through the start.

"It's not always going to go according to plan. [The hitters] make adjustments just as quick as we do, if not quicker. Being able to realize that and just know what you need to do quicker, that's what I try to learn from [Lester]. He does that better than anybody I've ever seen."

One thing that certainly hasn't gone according to plan this season: Hendricks is a totally different pitcher on the road than he is at home. 

Class is clearly in session for "The Professor" at Wrigley Field, but time away from the Friendly Confines has not been kind to Hendricks:

2019 Home

1.79 ERA
0.81 WHIP
.189 opponent AVG

2019 Road

4.76 ERA
1.41 WHIP
.288 opponent AVG

The good news for Hendricks and the Cubs is things have started to trend in the right direction away from home.

In his four second-half starts on the road, Hendricks has a 3.32 ERA and 1.25 WHIP and almost all of that damage was done in one really rough start in Cincinnati on Aug. 10 (7 runs, 12 hits, 3 homers in 2.2 innings).

Still, it's confounding Hendricks would have such drastic splits. This is the guy who started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in Cleveland and Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS in Washington D.C.

So what's been the issue this season?

"On the road, it's just depth perception, what does it look like?" Maddon said. "It's probably very comfortable [at Wrigley] when he looks into the catcher. When you pitch on the road, it's variable ballparks. He's pitched in some pretty high-leverage moments [on the road]. I don't know the answer.

"Listen, there's so many things about this year that it's really hard to evaluate or explain, whether it's the road record, what we do [at home], our day record vs. night, blah blah blah. And guys like him are outstanding and looks exactly the same from the side on the road or at home. It's just one of those years, man."

Heard that.

It's almost September and the Cubs still can't explain their head-scratching struggles on the road over the last few months. Why would Hendricks' big home/road splits be any different?

Armed with a new pitch and pregame superstition, Yu Darvish keeps rolling

Armed with a new pitch and pregame superstition, Yu Darvish keeps rolling

If you see Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy running around in the outfield on the days Yu Darvish starts, it's not because he's trying to put out fires or urgently rushing a scouting report to somebody.

It's because Darvish asked him to join the pregame running routine.

A few starts back, Darvish asked personal catcher Victor Caratini to join in on the pitcher's standard warm-up run ahead of his starts. That developed into asking Hottovy to join along before Darvish's last start at Wrigley Field.

Maybe the next step is asking catching/strategy coordinator Mike Borzello or manager Joe Maddon to join the pre-start run. By the end of the year, the entire Cubs team might be out there. 

"We just go out there and it's time for us to relax," Caratini said. "We talk about anything other than baseball. Just take it easy, have a few minutes to ourselves to talk and get to know each other a little bit better. 

"I think one of the things that for him, when he doesn't feel the pressure of the game, that's when you see him at his best. It's just a matter of him being relaxed and I think you can tell that by his last few outings."

Whatever it is, it's clearly working for Darvish. He spun another gem Tuesday night in New York, playing stopper with 8 innings of 1-run ball in a game his team badly needed to win. It was his longest outing in a Cubs uniform and quite possibly his best start during his historic streak.

The last few outings for Darvish hasn't just displayed comfort — it's shown fans something they've never seen before. Since at least 1893, no pitcher in Major League Baseball history has ever had five consecutive starts without walking a batter while striking out at least 8 guys each time out.

That streak ended Tuesday when Darvish walked Todd Frazier to begin the fifth inning, but he still had one of the best Augusts the game has ever seen:

Couple that with the fact Darvish struggled mightily with his control earlier in the season and it's a mind-boggling turnaround for the 33-year-old right-hander who has really come into his own in his second season with the Cubs.

All those strikeouts and lack of free passes has typically led to a bunch of success for Darvish in his overall box score, but last week, he was tagged for 7 runs (6 earned) in 5.1 innings because he gave up 4 homers to the Giants on a humid night at Wrigley.

He also confused Statcast to some extent because he suddenly whipped a brand new pitch out of his toolbelt.

Entering the start against a San Francisco lineup packed with lefties, Darvish and the Cubs decided to mess around with a knuckle curveball — a pitch he hadn't thrown yet in 2019. 

The idea was to give the Giants hitters a different look, as the knuckle curve has more of a straight drop (imagine 12-to-6 on a clock) compared to his regular curveball that is essentially a 1-7 drop that more closely resembles his slider. 

Darvish's knuckle curve has tighter movement and a tick up in velocity, so the Cubs thought it could be a more efficient breaking ball for him in some ways.

So he was playing catch with it prior to his last start as he warmed up in the Wrigley outfield grass and bullpen and decided to take it into the game.

"After we saw some of the swings we got on it early, it just became more a part of the gameplan," Hottovy said. "A testament to him, who hasn't thrown that pitch all year. He'll throw his curveball, he'll throw his slider, he can manipulate the baseball in many ways. Just adding that [knuckle curve] that got him the velocity he wanted and the right movement he wanted for that particularly lineup, so that's the cool thing.

"He knows it's available to him anytime he needs it now."

He said he got two strikeouts on that knuckle curve Tuesday night:

So that means Darvish's pitch repertoire now includes:

4-seam fastball
2-seam fastball
Knuckle curve

Cartini's going to run out of fingers...

Imagine being a hitter in the box and trying to guess which pitch is coming in which spot. 

Oh yeah, and he's throwing all of those pitches for strikes right now.

"He's got an amazing ability to command his breaking ball," Maddon said. "It's incredible. ... He's got an incredible command of a variety of different pitches. I don't know if I've ever witnessed — we've seen Jake Arrieta's [2015] season, beautiful — but I'm just talking about purely commanding a baseball and being inventive.

"He's able to manipulate his hand and his arm in a way that most guys cannot. He's just a different level of talent."