17 9 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Jake Arrieta nears a no-no again

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — With self-confidence you don’t see often in the frustrating game of baseball, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta has risen to the top of the team’s pitching staff. Any lingering doubts about his abilities — if there were any — were vanquished in a masterful one-hit, one-walk, 7-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

“It’s nice to finally shake the catcher’s hand at the end of the game,” Arrieta said of going the distance for the first time in his career. “I was able to come out and pound everything down in the strike zone. When I missed, I missed out of the strike zone and not over the heart of the plate.”

Except once.

Arrieta’s lone blemish was a ball he left up in the zone to Brandon Phillips in the top of the eighth inning. Phillips hit it to the wall in left center, but not before a streaking Matt Szczur attempted a diving catch with just five outs to go for Arrieta’s first no-hitter.

“It was close,” Szczur said. “I was about four inches off. It was close. I would have run through the wall if I had to. It’s a shame I couldn’t come up with it.”

We’ve seen this act before with Arrieta, as he’s now taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning twice this season. He also has flirted with perfection into the middle innings several times. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he’s retired the first nine batters to start a game five different times this year. That’s the most in baseball.

“Today was as good as he’s been all season,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “His pitch count was very well in check. His stuff was pretty electric.”

Arrieta only needed 109 pitches to get through nine innings. He flew through some of the middle frames using his devastating array of pitches. Simply put, when he’s been on this year, he’s been unhittable.

And now he’s the unquestioned ace of the staff. There’s no denying that.

“It’s not going to frighten me if that’s what you’re wondering,” Arrieta said of that notion.

Arrieta trusts his stuff like he never has before. Several times in the bullpen before a game, including on Tuesday night, he hasn’t felt he’s had much to work with. But each time he gives pitching coach Chris Bosio a knowing nod, as if to say, “I got this.” Then he takes the mound and proves it.

“He’s turned a big corner,” Renteria said. “His maturity has definitely improved. He has a trust in his stuff.”

And the Cubs should trust he can carry over what he’s learned this season. Arrieta has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse as much as he’s emerged on the mound. He didn’t flinch when asked how close the Cubs are to winning.

“We’re right there,” he said. “It’s obvious for the guys in the clubhouse.”

Arrieta acknowledges adjustments have to be made, as he knows “the transition to the major leagues from Triple-A is the biggest in sports.” While his teammates continue to absorb and learn, Arrieta is already there. His ERA sits at 2.65, with one or two starts remaining.

Maybe he’ll get that no-hitter.

“It was a little easier having those experiences earlier in the season,” he said. “I kind of tried to just put it in the back of my mind.”

ESPNChicago.com

Schwarber committed to catching

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs are all-in for 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber continuing his career behind the plate. At the very least, they’re going to give it their best shot.

"Ultimately, for us, that’s where the greatest impact lies," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "When you can put that left-handed bat behind the plate, that’s something we have to try."

Schwarber was the No. 4 overall pick this past June, and he quickly acclimated to the professional ranks, as he produced a composite .344 batting average to go with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs at three different levels of the minor leagues. Even so, the Cubs were unsure if they would leave the former Indiana Hoosier at one of the tougher positions to master. His bat is nearly major-league-ready, so it might take some time for his defense to catch up.

The easier route would be to have him play left field. He played both catcher and outfield this summer, but he wants to continue his career behind the plate.

"It’s my job to prove that I can," Schwarber said. "I have a passion for catching. I feel like if I can do that, I can help out in a lot of different situations. I’ll do whatever they want me to do."

Schwarber and his family were guests on the field during batting practice before the Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, and the stocky lefty took some swings with his future teammates.

"It was fun," he said afterward. "Happy to be out there [and] getting to know the guys."

The luxury of a dangerous, left-hitting catcher would be a huge asset for the Cubs. It would leave the outfield open for others while putting a big bat behind the plate. Not many teams have that, so the benefit of trying outweighs the downside of any delay to the start of Schwarber’s major-league career. Epstein said Schwarber proved it was worth a shot with his improvement behind the plate throughout the summer.

"He probably had more catching instruction as a pro than he had in a long time," Epstein said. "This will be a catching crash course for him in [instructional league]. [We] think he’ll respond to it well."

Instead of going to the more competitive Arizona Fall League, Schwarber will report to the instructional league for hands-on training. It’ll be a controlled environment in which he’ll learn the craft of catching, from calling a game to blocking balls in the dirt.

There were signs of progress throughout the summer.

"Once you show that, then it’s in there," Epstein said. "It didn’t necessarily come out all the time, but once you show that physical ability, it means if you work hard and get the right coaching and improve, it’s in there. And it can come out."

Said Schwarber: “I feel like I made tremendous strides between college and this offseason.”

Two things Epstein has been certain of since the December is Schwarber’s bat and makeup. In some ways, he has been more sure of Schwarber in the clubhouse than on the field.

"Players are drawn to him," Epstein said. "He has leadership qualities and a big personality. And a special bat. He sees the ball incredibly well."

Like any top pick in his situation, Schwarber is just taking it in. He took pictures on the field with his parents and roped line drives in batting practice. He’ll give catching a real shot this fall, and then next year — most likely at Double-A — see where things fall.

"I know they have the best interests for me and everyone else," Schwarber said. "That’s what I truly believe. Whenever they tell me to come on up, I’ll be more than ready. They knew what the talent was, but they believed in me as a person."

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Reds 0

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs shut out the Cincinnati Reds 7-0 behind Jake Arrieta’s one-hitter.

How it happened: The Cubs broke open a 1-0 game with five runs in a sixth inning that included two bases-loaded walks. Chris Coghlan’s three-run double was the big blow in the inning. Jorge Soler homered in the seventh, but the story of the night was Arrieta. Once again, he came close to perfection; he gave up just one walk and one hit — a Brandon Phillips double in the eighth — while striking out a career-high 13.

What it means: Arrieta has been flirting with no-nos all season long, but he left a pitch up on Phillips, and Phillips didn’t miss it. Once again, Arrieta’s array of pitches was masterful, as the Reds were off balance all night. Arrieta is the only pitcher this season — and just one of four over the past five years — with multiple no-hit bids into the eighth inning or later. It took him only 107 pitches to produce the Cubs’ first complete-game shutout of the season. He improved to 9-5 while lowering his ERA to 2.65.

Jackson to start: Edwin Jackson is set to start Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers with lefty Eric Jokisch scheduled to follow him, if needed. Jackson has missed time with a lat strain since ineffectiveness saw his ERA balloon to 6.09.

What’s next: The Cubs go for the sweep on Wednesday when Kyle Hendricks (6-2, 2.38 ERA) faces Daniel Corcino (0-0, 5.19).

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo, Alcantara out of lineup

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo wasn’t in the starting lineup against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, as the Chicago Cubs are playing it cautious with his back one day after he returned and hit a game-winning home run.

“He’s been down three weeks,” manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday afternoon. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s like a rehab schedule.”

Rizzo missed 18 games with a sore back but returned Monday and promptly hit a walk-off blast in the Cubs’ 1-0 win over the Reds. After the game Rizzo said he would see how he felt in the morning, but Renteria said the plan going forward is to take it easy on the Cubs first baseman either way.

“I would say I still plan on giving him every other day and then increase his playing time to two days in a row, maybe three,” Renteria said. “But I have to let it play itself out before I decide where he’s at.”

The Cubs also are without center fielder Arismendy Alcantara after the rookie ran into the wall while making a game-saving catch in the eighth inning Monday. He injured his right hand in the process.

“He’s a little sore,” Renteria said. “Right now, it’s just soreness.”

Alcantara had an MRI, but the results weren’t known before the game. He was seen with a wrap around his right wrist and hand. Renteria declared his status day-to-day.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs leave Daytona, unsure of Kane County

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – While announcing an affiliation change at the high Class A level of minor league baseball, Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein said the organization is still unsure if it will return to Kane County with its low Class A team.

“They’re making a push to do some things,” Epstein said. “We’re looking around at the best fit for development purposes. Big part of that is facility. Location is big, so is facility.”

The Kane County Cougars won the Midwest League championship over the weekend, but that didn’t stop the Cubs from officially cutting ties with them, though they still can sign a new agreement after exploring other opportunities. Kane County issued a press release recently that said they were upgrading their facilities with the Cubs in mind. It remains to be seen if those changes are enough for the Cubs to return.

“Sometimes it can get sticky, but we have to do what’s best for our players,” Epstein said.

Meanwhile, the Cubs officially moved their High A team from Daytona to Myrtle Beach.

“We had a lot of weather issues,” Epstein said of Daytona. “That was the crux of it for us.”

Rain delays and cancellations were the norm in Daytona. The switch means the team will move from the Florida State League to the Carolina League, a move Epstein thinks is better for the organization.

“Myrtle is the type of franchise you jump to get in there,” he said. “They were looking for a team with a national brand for them. Carolina league is the best High A league for developmental purposes.”

The Cubs also cut ties with their short season A-ball team in Boise. Epstein wasn’t sure when an announcement would come on the two teams looking for new homes.

ESPNChicago.com

GM: Cubs’ needs include veteran leadership

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer gave insight Monday into the team’s offseason needs — other than pitching — in saying that veteran leadership will be a priority.

“We need to add some guys to our roster that can help provide that,” Hoyer said before the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds. “We also have to lengthen out our position-player group.”

As much as Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have taken over leadership roles, the Cubs still think they need help. It wasn’t that long ago that the two All-Stars were finding their way themselves. In fact, they still are.

“They probably need some guys around them that can teach them the right things to do,” Hoyer said. “I’ve talked to them both individually about that and they want to do it, but I don’t think right now they have enough experience, or I don’t think they’ve been around enough guys that are real clubhouse leaders that have taught them the ropes. I think we need to provide that for those guys.”

So who can the Cubs bring in and where would they play? Hoyer said many starting jobs will be filled by young prospects, some of whom have already made their major league debuts this season.

“That takes up a fair number of positions,” Hoyer said, “but we wouldn’t rule out adding a starting player or two that can help there as well.”

Going around the infield and outfield as it’s currently constituted, there would seem to be only a couple of openings for a true starter unless the Cubs are going to push a young player aside. Hoyer said it wasn’t a sure thing that the franchise’s minor league player of the year, Kris Bryant, would begin the season as the Cubs’ starting third baseman, but the team has a good stopgap in Luis Valbuena. Left field is a possibility — Chris Coghlan has had a nice season there but could be an extra outfielder or platoon player when it’s all said and done.

How does a player with championship experience such as Jonny Gomes sound? That’s the kind of leadership the Cubs are undoubtedly looking for, though he wouldn’t necessarily be an everyday player. But remember, there aren’t a lot of players in their prime who become free agents these days. Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz will be available after a huge year, for example, but he comes with the baggage of having served a PED suspension last season. So a quasi-starter who has winning experience might be the best option.

Looking at the current incumbents, the only other possible positions the Cubs might explore are center field and catcher. Hoyer praised Welington Castillo for his hard work, but, reading between the lines, he left the door open for a replacement behind the plate considering Castillo hasn’t had the best of years.

“Early this season he really didn’t capitalize on the big second half he had last year,” Hoyer said of the 27-year-old. “Everyone’s hope was he would springboard off that big second half and go right into this year. That didn’t happen, but at the same time he’s been better in the second half.”

Again, while saying the Cubs want to see more, there was still plenty of praise for Castillo.

“His name doesn’t get mentioned a lot when we talk about our established young veterans, but I think he can be in that mix as well,” Hoyer said. “He’s shown glimpses of being a front-line guy.”

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs can’t do better. Castillo is still behind the eight ball when it comes to calling a game and getting the best out of his pitchers. The Pirates’ Russell Martin is the biggest of the catching names that will become a free agent at year’s end, and he could check all the boxes in terms of offense and defense. A young pitching staff sometimes screams for a veteran catcher. John Baker has helped on the defensive end, but doesn’t have the bat to play — and lead — every day.

Center field could be in play as well. Arismendy Alcantara showed great instincts when he was first called up, but he’s had some growing pains and his plate discipline could be a concern; he’s produced a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the big leagues so far.

That’s not to say Alcantara will be pushed aside, but the Cubs might want to bring in a veteran to show him the way. And it remains to be seen if he’s the leadoff hitter the Cubs will employ when they are ready to contend. But expect Alcantara to be given every chance to be the man in center … at least until prospect Albert Almora is ready. That doesn’t mean Alcantara can’t still move around the diamond again. He’s that versatile.

Some more depth should come from within as the Cubs have developed possible role players in Logan Watkins or Matt Szczur, but they don’t fit the veteran need Hoyer discussed. A dangerous lineup of young talent, mixed with some experience and understanding of how to get on base, is the Cubs’ ideal.

“When you do accomplish it, it’s really hard on the pitchers,” Hoyer said of a good Nos. 1 through 8 in the order. “They’re not used to it over here [National League] as much.”

So while keeping an eye on where free-agent-to-be pitcher Jon Lester is going to sign, also watch some veteran position players. The Cubs are bound to grab at least one.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs want Schwarber to prove he can be a frontline catcher

By Patrick Mooney

Kyle Schwarber is built like the All-Ohio linebacker he used to be at Middletown High School. He’s got a thick neck and a 6-foot, 235-pound frame. The Cubs still believe he could be their catcher of the future.

A group of team executives came out to see Schwarber take batting practice before Tuesday’s 7-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. The Cubs aren’t really worried about his offense after drafting him No. 4 overall out of Indiana University and watching him hit .344 with 18 homers and 53 RBI in 72 games at three different minor-league affiliates.

But after a whirlwind start to his professional career, Schwarber won’t be playing in the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs want him to go to instructional league and get a crash course in catching.

“I’m going to get the opportunity to catch,” Schwarber said. “It’s my job to prove that I can. I got a passion for catching, and I feel like if I can do that, then I can help out in a lot of different situations. But basically it’s up to them. I’m willing to do whatever they want me to do. That’s the bottom line.”

The Cubs envision Schwarber as a big personality who can become a glue guy in their clubhouse. They want that big bat in the middle of a lineup that should include some combination of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and/or Addison Russell. They just don’t know where Schwarber’s going to play yet.

“He’s a team-first guy,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “All he cares about is winning. He’ll do whatever we ask. I think on a visceral, personal, emotional level, he wants to show everyone that he can catch.

“He enjoys being locked in and being involved in every pitch. If he ends up going out to the outfield, so be it, he’s still going to rake. (But) he wants to be behind the plate. And ultimately for us, that’s where the greatest impact lies, when you can put that kind of left-handed bat behind home plate. It’s something we got to try.”

CSNChicago.com

After near no-hitter, Arrieta comfortable being Cubs ace

By Patrick Mooney

After watching the replay, Matt Szczur estimated he was four inches away from making the spectacular catch that would have preserved the no-hitter. Brandon Phillips posed for a moment and tossed his bat aside after driving a ball into the gap in left-center field.

“I was going to do anything to try and save that,” Szczur said. “I was planning on running through the wall if I had to.”

Szczur sprinted from center and dove headfirst toward the bricks and ivy, just in front of the 368 mark, showing the speed and athleticism that once made him a legitimate NFL prospect at Villanova University.

At first glance, it looked like Szczur had no chance, and then suddenly it landed just out of reach, making it a double for @DatDudeBP.

“You’re on your toes for every pitch,” Szczur said. “You’re on your toes ready for the ball to get hit to you. You want to make the play for (Arrieta). He’s up there battling. We got to battle for him, too.

“I had a great jump, a great read on the ball and I thought I was going to catch it as soon as I took my first couple steps.

“It’s a shame that I couldn’t come up with it, but I made the best effort for it.”

Do we really need a news alert when Arrieta flirts with a no-hitter? If he keeps pitching like this, he should break through eventually.

Arrieta already took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Reds on June 24 at Wrigley Field. That still looked like riding out a hot streak during an up-and-down career that saw him spend time on the Triple-A level in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Arrieta got a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Fenway Park during his next start against the Boston Red Sox. Stephen Drew broke up that no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning, and Arrieta had to settle for a 2-0 victory over the defending World Series champs.

Whatever happens in the next rebuilding phase, there’s no doubt Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA) is comfortable with Cubs fans and the Chicago media labeling him as the ace of this team.

“It’s not going to frighten me, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Arrieta said. “I’ve overcome a lot of things in my career and started to establish myself and put myself in a position like this. That’s kind of the territory that I’m in, and I welcome it.”

Arrieta could overanalyze things, and he faced enormous expectations with the Baltimore Orioles before getting that change-of-scenery trade to the Cubs last summer. But the guy doesn’t exactly lack for confidence, walking through the clubhouse or into the interview room wearing a tank top, ready to speak in full paragraphs.

It almost became a running joke when Arrieta reported to spring training with right shoulder tightness. It seemed like whenever the Cubs mentioned starting the season on the disabled list, Arrieta had different ideas about his timeline.

“He wanted the ball,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We were hard-pressed to try to rein him in a little bit.”

Arrieta didn’t join the rotation until May 3. He’s allowed one or zero earned runs in 14 of his 24 starts. He’s put up 17 quality starts in his last 21 outings.

This one took only two hours and 36 minutes. Cubs catcher Welington Castillo erased Billy Hamilton when he tried to steal second base after a leadoff walk in the fourth inning. Other than that, the Reds (71-81) only managed the Phillips double.

“I knew it was going to be close,” Arrieta said. “But it’s one of those things where he hit a ball well enough in the gap. It just split our defense. There’s really nothing you can do there, other than make a little better pitch. But that’s the way it goes. It’s an exciting night. It was a lot of fun. It will be one I remember for a long time.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs leaving Kane County’s future up in the air

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs are shopping around for a new Class-A affiliate, seeing if they can find a better deal than their partnership with the Kane County Cougars.

Kane County’s future remained up in the air on Tuesday night, even after the Cubs announced a new two-year player-development contract with advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, and an extension with Triple-A Iowa through the 2018 season.

“Nothing’s been decided yet,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said.

It’s about 45 miles from Wrigley Field to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in the western suburbs. It gives prospects a taste of the Chicago market. It makes it easier for injured major-leaguers to go on rehab assignments, and for club officials to evaluate players.

That proximity drove the Cubs to Geneva, ending a long relationship with the Peoria Chiefs that stretched from 1985 to 1994 and from 2005 to 2012. That decision alienated part of their downstate fan base.

This looked like a done deal on Sept. 2, when Kane County’s official team website posted a news item that ran almost 700 words under this headline: “Cougars Announce 2015 Capital Improvement Projects.”

Cougars owner Dr. Bob Froehlich was quoted on the website: “Our players and coaches, as well as our parent club Chicago Cubs, will enjoy a climate-controlled batting cage, as well as a weight room and video room that will be custom-built exactly to their specifications.

“We’re confident that these projects will be warmly received by our fans, our players and the Cubs organization as we look towards Opening Day 2015. This announcement shows that the Cougars organization is committed to the community as well as the Cubs organization.

“These projects will elevate what is already viewed as a premium facility.”

Epstein’s response: “There are some things that we’ve been asking for – for awhile now – and then I read that press release, too. They’re good people. They’re making a push here to do some things to help. But, again, it just comes back to what’s best for the players.”

The Cubs honored the Cougars on Monday night at Wrigley Field after the team won 91 games in the regular season, swept three playoff series (7-0) and captured the Midwest League title. More than 420,000 fans attended Kane County games this season.

“We’re looking around at the best fit for development purposes, and a big part of that is just the facilities,” Epstein said. “Location’s big, and facilities are important, too.”

Two Midwest League franchises in Indiana – the South Bend Silver Hawks and Fort Wayne TinCaps – are also in the shuffle looking for new agreements. The Cubs have also ended their short-season Class-A affiliation with the Boise Hawks.

“The only thing that’s happened is the procedure has been followed to allow us to look around, to open it up,” Epstein said. “That window continues where we can talk to our existing affiliate and we can look elsewhere as well. We’re just going through the due diligence.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs moving Class-A from Daytona to Myrtle Beach

By Tony Andracki

The Chicago Cubs are moving their Class-A affiliate from Daytona to Myrtle Beach, the organization announced Tuesday.

The Cubs have stationed their Advanced Class-A team in Daytona for the last 22 seasons. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have only been around for the last 16 minor league baseball seasons.

“We are excited to reach an agreement with Myrtle Beach and begin working with Chairman Chuck Greenberg and General Manager and Vice President Andy Milovich,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President, Scouting and Player Development. “Myrtle Beach is a well-respected franchise that will serve as a beneficial destination for our young players. We look forward to developing a successful relationship with the franchise and community.”

“We would also like to thank Daytona for the organization’s dedication and professionalism in the past 22 seasons,” McLeod said. “We appreciate all their efforts and have the utmost respect for Andy Rayburn, Josh Lawther and the entire Daytona front office.”

Myrtle Beach was previously affiliated with the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.

“The Cubs are an iconic national brand,” said Pelicans General Manager and Vice President Andy Milovich. “The success of our business is determined by fan interest, the quality of baseball and the impact on Myrtle Beach from a tourism perspective. In each of these instances, the Chicago Cubs clearly offered the most upside. The Cubs strengthen the Pelicans brand in a way that few, if any, other major league franchises could. Cubs fans can now visit their future stars in one of the iconic vacation destination spots in the U.S.”

Myrtle Beach figures to get a bunch of players from the Kane County Cougars roster that just completed a 98-win season with a Midwest League Championship.

CSNChicago.com

MLB names Anthony Rizzo Cubs nominee for Roberto Clemente Award

By Tony Andracki

Major League Baseball named Anthony Rizzo the Cubs nominee for the 2014 Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet, Tuesday.

The annual award is handed out to the MLB player who best “represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”

Each team in the league nominates one player for the award.

Rizzo’s work through his foundation - the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation - to raise money and awareness for cancer research has helped boost his name as one of the more charitable players in the MLB. His foundation has raised more than $500,000 for cancer research since its inception in 2012.

Carlos Beltran won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2013 and Clayton Kershaw took home the honors in 2012.

Sammy Sosa was the last Cubs player to win the award, coming back in 1998. Rick Sutcliffe also won in 1987.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs extend PDC agreement with Triple-A Iowa through 2018

By Tony Andracki

The Cubs and Triple-A Iowa reached an agreement Tuesday to extend the Player Development Contract two years through the 2018 season.

The current PDC agreement was set to expire after the 2016 agreement. The 2018 season will mark 38 years of partnership between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa.

“We are pleased to reach a PDC extension with Iowa,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President, Scouting and Player Development. “We thank Michael Gartner, Sam Bernabe and the entire Iowa Cubs family for their commitment to providing a great experience for our Triple-A players. The players who have come through Iowa speak of their positive experiences in Des Moines and appreciate their great fans, and we are thrilled to continue this long-standing partnership.”

”Our long-standing relationship with the Chicago Cubs is a source of pride for our organization and our community,” Iowa Cubs President/General Manager Sam Bernabe said. “We are very pleased with Chicago’s commitment to their minor league system and our fans enjoy seeing the exciting young players on the field at Principal Park. This extension shows that the Cubs appreciate the work our staff does to provide a top notch facility and operation to support their players and staff members throughout the year.”

The team in Des Moines, Iowa, was a hotbed for the Cubs’ top prospects this season, featuring names like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks in addition to lower-profile guys like Logan Watkins, Matt Szczur and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Manny Ramirez joined Iowa as a player-coach in June, bringing a different dynamic to the Cubs’ minor-league affiliate as he rejuvenated his baseball career.

Chicago Tribune

Jake Arrieta posts 1st shutout, a 7-0 one-hitter

By Mark Gonzales

After Brandon Phillips’ drive barely eluded the outstretched glove of diving center fielder Matt Szczur on the warning track Tuesday night, Jake Arrieta resumed his mastery.

Losing a no-hit bid in the eighth inning for the second time this season wasn’t about to ruin Arrieta’s ascent to the ace of the Cubs staff. Phillips’ double with one out was the only blemish in a dazzling 7-0 victory at Wrigley Field.

"He has turned a big corner and worked hard to maintain himself," manager Rick Renteria said after Arrieta struck out a career-high 13.

Arrieta (9-5) crossed the finish line for the first time in his promising career with a blend of dominance and efficiency. He struck out the side in the first and needed only six pitches to retire the side in the second. He possessed command of a 95 mph fastball, a sharp slider and snapped off a 79 mph curve to Brayan Pena in the seventh.

That mastery furthered Arrieta’s acceptance as the staff ace after the midseason trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

"It’s not going to frighten me, if that’s what you’re wondering," said Arrieta, 28, who became the first Cubs pitcher to throw a one-hit shutout since Jon Lieber against the Reds on May 24, 2001, and notched their first shutout since Samardzija against the White Sox on May 27, 2013.

"I’ve overcome a lot of things in my career. I’m starting to establish myself and put myself in a position like this, and that’s the territory I’m in, and I welcome it."

Arrieta lost a no-hit bit against the Reds on June 24 when Billy Hamilton singled to start the seventh and another on June 30 when the Red Sox’s Stephen Drew singled with two outs in the eighth.

After Phillips’ hit, Arrieta sported a half-smile and slowed the pace to his liking. It paid off as he struck out three of the final five batters in a 109-pitch effort.

"It’s nice to shake the catcher’s hand at the end of the game," Arrieta said after his 96th major league start. "That’s something I wanted to do for my entire career"

Szczur said he missed Phillips’ drive by 4 inches.

"I would have run through the wall if I had to," Szczur said.

Arrieta’s performance is another boost of confidence for the Cubs’ future.

"We’re right there," Arrieta said. "It’s obvious for the guys in the clubhouse. A lot of the young guys know there are adjustments that have to be made, which is part of it.

"The transition from Triple A to the big leagues is the biggest jump in all of sports. Things are magnified when guys get here, but that’s the way it goes."

Minor league shuffle: After striking a two-year agreement with Myrtle Beach after ending a 22-year association with Class A Daytona, the Cubs continue to explore options for their low Class A affiliate that still includes ultra-popular Kane County.

"There are some things we’ve been asking for a while now," said Epstein, who said he was aware of Kane County’s public efforts to accommodate the Cubs with a temperature controlled two-tunnel batting cage, an expanded weight room and modern video room designed to the Cubs’ specifications.

"They’re good people. They’re making a push to do some things to help us. This comes back to what’s best for the players. We’re looking around at the best fit for development purposes, and a big part of that is the facilities. Location is big, and facilities are important."

If the Cubs don’t re-sign with Kane County, South Bend looms as an option.

Epstein described Daytona as a “great partner” but cited weather issues as the main reason for looking at other options.

"It came together quickly in Myrtle, but Myrtle is the type of franchise where you jump at the opportunity to get in there," Epstein said. "They were looking for a team that would represent a national brand for them, and it came together very quickly, and we’re glad to be there. But we’ll miss Daytona."

Epstein claimed that the Carolina League, where Myrtle Beach plays, is the best high Class A league for developmental purposes.

"These are tough decisions," Epstein said. "In the end, it comes back to what’s best for our players."

Myrtle Beach managing partner Chuck Greenberg is the father of Jeff Greenberg, the Cubs’ coordinator of baseball operations.

The Cubs and Iowa also reached a two-year extension through 2018.

Extra innings: First baseman Anthony Rizzo received a planned rest for his back, and Renteria said Rizzo will play every other day for a while. Center fielder Arismendy Alcantara didn’t start after hurting his right throwing hand while trying to brace his body from crashing into the wall in right center Monday night. … Edwin Jackson will start Friday against the Dodgers in his first appearance since suffering a lat strain near his right shoulder on Aug. 21. Rookie left-hander Eric Jokisch is expected to follow Jackson.

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday’s recap: Cubs 7, Reds 0

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

Jake Arrieta pitched 7 1/3 no-hit innings before Brandon Phillips ripped a double that eluded a diving Matt Szczur on the warning track in left center. Arrieta also came close to a no-hitter June 30 at Boston when Stephen Drew singled with two outs in the eighth.

Arrieta pitched to the minimum 22 batters before Phillips’ hit. Until Phillips’ hit, Arrieta’s only blemish was a walk to Billy Hamilton to start the fourth.

Arrieta struck out a career-high 13 in the one-hitter, his first-ever complete game and shutout.

At the plate

Chris Coghlan capped a five-run sixth with a three-run double, and rookie Jorge Soler hit a towering home run in the seventh.

On the mound

Arrieta struck out the side in the first and struck out Todd Frazier three times.

In the field

Catcher Welington Castillo was credited with throwing out speedy Billy Hamilton on a steal attempt in the fourth after a review.

The number

1 – Complete-game shutouts for Cubs starters this season.

The quote

Center fielder Matt Szczur: “It’s all there. We’re putting pieces together, for sure. We just have to catch a couple of breaks, and we’ll be good. We’ll be fine. It’s exciting time for everybody — for the players, coaches … the fans. It’s going to be great upcoming years.”

The quote II

Manager Rick Renteria: “(Arrieta) has very good stuff, an electric arm. His pitches have life. This year he has shown resilience. There have been instances where an inning might start to open up, and he has been able to keep them calm and get through it.”

Up next

Reds (Corcino 0-0, 5.19) vs. Cubs (Hendricks 6-2, 2.38), 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Kyle Schwarber determined to be Cubs regular catcher

By Paul Sullivan

The question of whether Kyle Schwarber will wind up as a regular an everyday catcher in the major leagues is one the Cubs don’t have to answer for a while.

But it’s one everyone keeps asking, especially after Schwarber proved what he can do offensively in his first half-season in the minors.

In the long run, it’s more important to get Schwarber’s bat in the Cubs’ lineup than trying to force-feed him into a position he may never play. As for now, however, the Cubs insist he will get a realistic shot at catching.

"With his make-up, aptitude and work habits, we are going to give him every chance to stay behind the plate," President Theo Epstein said. "I wouldn’t bet against him."

The Cubs’ first-round draft pick, No. 4 overall, from last June hit .344 in 72 games with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs at three stops.

He believes he was born to be a catcher, and fervently hopes to stay one.

Schwarber recalled a car ride as a kid with his late grandmother, Mercy Schwarber, that he said could be prophetic.

"I’ll never forget this story," he said. "I was a catcher in Little League because I had ADHD and couldn’t really pay attention anywhere else. Only catching would keep me in the game. She’s like, ‘You know, I want you to be the next Johnny Bench.’ I’m like, ‘Who’s that?’ She says, ‘Oh, he’s the best catcher to ever play the game.’

"She was telling me all the stories about him and that became kind of a motivational thing for me. Hopefully I get there and make her proud one day."

The Cubs aren’t looking for Schwarber to become the next Johnny Bench. They gladly would settle for the next Joe Mauer. They haven’t had any great catchers since Gabby Hartnett in the 1920s and ’30s, and have not had much success developing catchers since Jody Davis made a couple of All-Star appearances in the 1980s.

Joe Girardi was an National League All-Star in 2000, but it was in his second go-around with the organization. Geovany Soto was named NL Rookie of the Year in 2008, but never came close to repeating that season and was traded to Texas in 2012.

Josh Donaldson, the 48th pick of the 2007 draft, caught 97 games in the low minors before being dealt to the A’s in 2008 in the Rich Harden deal. The A’s used him as a corner outfielder and infielder in the minors before Donaldson became at All-Star third baseman.

Current catcher Welington Castillo, 27, has improved defensively, but regressed offensively in 2014. Cubs management says it believes believe in him, and it’s doubtful the Cubs will throw big money at a 32-year-old free agent like Russell Martin, who figures to get a lucrative deal. If Schwarber can grow into the position and make it to the majors by 2016, there’s no reason to block his path with someone with a long-term deal.

Some boys grow up wanting to play for the Cubs. Schwarber’s dream began several months ago at 20. He and Indiana University teammate Sam Travis were visiting the Cubs’ spring training complex in February before a Big Ten-Pac 12 tournament in nearby Surprise, Ariz., when he had a chance to sit down with Epstein and senior vice-president/scouting Jason McLeod.

According to the Ohio native, it was love at first sight.

"It’s funny how it kind of works out now," he said. "I want to be a Cub. As cool as it would’ve been to be a Red, deep down I really wanted to be a Cub, just from that conversation — that and the rebuilding process.

"I know what it’s like going through a rebuilding process because at Indiana we were just an average baseball team and we ended up going to the College World Series (in 2013), the first time in a long time a Big Ten team went there. The Cubs believing in me as a person, that was the big thing that really got my attention. They really believed in me, and I believe in them."

The Cubs didn’t know they would select Schwarber with the fourth pick of the draft, and few predicted he would go that high. But Epstein said the meeting laid the groundwork, and Schwarber’s bat the rest of the college season did the rest.

"He impressed immediately with his big personality, genuine nature, advanced understanding of hitting, passion for the game, leadership qualities and blue-collar work ethic," Epstein said. "He’s a really good player who other players want to be around. It was easy to project him being not only in the middle of our lineup someday, but also in the middle of our clubhouse dynamic."

He was part of it briefly Tuesday when he and his parents visited the Cubs and he took some batting practice./

Schwarber said he had “no clue” whether the Cubs would draft him, but said he told his adviser “I wanted to be a Cub, so if you can make it work, make it work.”

He wound up signing for $3.125 million, around $1.5 million below the slotted $4.621 million for the fourth pick, helping the team sign some lower picks.

"There was a big emphasis on (signing quickly), to go out and get your feet wet, get some pro at-bats in me and see where it goes," he said. "I’m lucky to have some success so far. I just have to build on it and keep taking care of my body."

Schwarber caught only 20 of 72 games in his three minor league stops, including nine of 44 at Class A Daytona, where manager Dave Keller had him catch only once every five games, pairing up with starter Rob Zastryzny, a second-round pick in the 2013 draft.

Keller cited the marathon season, the rain delays in Florida and the overall grind of Schwarber’s season.

"We still want him to catch once in a while, so I thought what better way to do this than to put him with ‘Z,’" Keller said. "That was a big reason why ‘Z’ has turned things around with his pitching. That has given him a chance to catch every five days, and the other days he DH’d or plays left.

Can Schwarber buck the trend?

"He can probably play anywhere he wants to within reason," Keller said. "I don’t see any reason why this guy can’t play left field or catch. Obviously when you look at what he does offensively, if that can translate into anything close to what it is now, as a catcher, how valuable is that guy?

"From the neck up, he’s very, very aware and has a very good instinct of handling pitchers. … The bottom line is he’ll be able to tell us probably in two years where he’s going to play. If he sticks with the catching, gets after it, then we’ll find out if he can go do that."

Schwarber will report to the Instructional League in Mesa, Ariz., for a couple weeks after the season to work on his catching skills, but won’t play in the Arizona Fall League, as first-rounder Kris Bryant did last year.

Schwarber knows there’s some skepticism, but is looking forward to proving himself.

"They’re giving me an opportunity to catch because I have a real passion for it," he said. "I feel I have the traits for it, and if I can clean up some things I’ll be just fine. Trust me, I know I have some things to work on catching-wise and there’s always room for improvement offensively. I just want to go down there and attack defense, defense, defense. … Bear down on defense and make it happen, because that’s what I really want to do."

If Schwarber continues to hit as he has, he could follow Bryant’s footsteps and likely be in the majors as soon as 2016. He’s grateful for the chance.

"Having a full season at Indiana, and losing on the walk-off home run in the regional and getting drafted four days later, signing right away, then heading out to Boise, ending up in Kane (County) and then ending up (in Daytona), it has been a whirlwind," he said. "I’m lucky to be a Cub."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs extend agreement with Iowa through 2018

By Mark Gonzales

The Chicago Cubs extended their player development contract agreement with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs through the 2018 season.

The two-year extension assures the Cubs and Iowa of a partnership for at least 38 years.

This marks the eighth-longest current agreement between a major league team and a minor league club.

"The players who have come through Iowa speak of their positive experiences in Des Moines and appreciate their great fans, and we are thrilled to continue this long-standing agreement," Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of scouting and player development, said Tuesday in a statement.

The Cubs, however, are exploring their options after terminating their agreements with Class-A Daytona, Class-A Kane County and short-season Class-A Boise. A source said that Myrtle Beach, S.C., is viewed as a potential replacement for Daytona.

Chicago Tribune

Rizzo out of Cubs’ lineup

By Mark Gonzales

If Anthony Rizzo provides any heroics Tuesday night, it will be in a reserve role.

Rizzo, who hit a walk-off home run Monday night after missing 18 consecutive games because of lower back stiffness, will return to the bench when the Chicago Cubs face the Cincinnati Reds and 18-game winner Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field.

Chris Valaika will start at first base in place of Rizzo. Manager Rick Renteria said Rizzo’s status would be monitored for the rest of the sesaon and that it would not be uncommon for him to have an occasional game off.

Also out of the Cubs’ lineup is Arismendy Alcantara, who shook his right hand after running into the ivy-covered brick wall in right center after making a running catch to end the eighth inning. Matt Szczur will start in center field in place of Alcantara.

Here’s the Cubs’ lineup:

Coghlan LF

Baez SS

Valbuena 3B

Soler RF

Castillo C

Valaika 1B

Watkins 2B

Szczur CF

Arrieta P

Chicago Sun-Times

Jake Arrieta flirts with no-hitter, pitches first career shutout

By Gordon Wittenmyer

On a meaningless mid-September date on the Cubs’ schedule that looked like just another day for far-off promises, Jake Arrieta had a message for anyone tuning in:

Never mind when Kyle Schwarber — the prized draft pick taking batting practice Tuesday in front of the front-office big shots — might get to the big-leagues. Forget the sideshow of the day that was Charles Barkley hanging with the owner before the game.

As far as Arrieta is concerned, the future the Cubs have been selling since Theo Epstein and his posse took over three years ago is now — with the main event already underway.

On this night, it was the no-hitter Arrieta took one out into the eighth inning before finishing off a one-hitter to beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-0 at Wrigley Field.

His message — his vision — also looks like outfield prospect Jorge Soler’s fifth home run in 14 major-league games, in the seventh inning Tuesday. It looks like Anthony Rizzo making his first All-Star Game this year and hitting his 31st homer for a walkoff win Monday night.

‘‘We’re right there,’’ said Arrieta, who struck out a career-high 13 in his first complete game and faced the minimum until Brandon Phillips’ double on an 0-2 pitch with one out in the eighth. ‘‘I think it’s obvious for the guys in the clubhouse.’’

What was obvious is that Arrieta is this team’s ace — and might be next year even if Epstein and Co. land a big arm in the offseason.

‘‘He was as good as he’s probably been all season,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘Pretty dominant. Pretty electric.’’

It was the third time this season — and the second time against the Reds — that Arrieta took a no-hitter into the seventh, the first Cub to do that since 1950. It was the second time he took one into the eighth (also 7 2/3 innings at Boston on June 30). And it was the sixth time he’s gone at least one out into the fifth without allowing a hit.

‘‘Oh, my God, his stuff was tremendous tonight,’’ said rookie Matt Szczur, who had an especially good view from center field and came surprisingly close to reaching Phillips’ line drive with a dive. ‘‘Everything he threw was for a strike. I feel like the guys really didn’t have a chance.’’

Szczur was the one who looked like he had no chance at Phillips’ drive until coming up inches short.

‘‘If he was left-handed, he would have had it. It was that close,’’ marveled backup catcher John Baker, who watched the replay several times. ‘‘I won’t name names, but a lot of outfielders would have pulled up and let it go to the wall.’’

The Cubs haven’t played especially well in recent weeks, with All-Stars Rizzo and Starlin Castro sidelined with injuries and rookies filling the lineup daily. Cy Young winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw loom Thursday and Friday as the National League West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town for four games.

But Arrieta sounds confident going forward as the front man for the rotation, even for a guy who has yet to produce a 200-inning season.

‘‘It’s not going to frighten me, if that’s what you’re wondering,’’ he said. ‘‘I think I’ve overcome a lot of things in my career and started to establish myself and put myself in a position like this, and that’s kind of the territory I’m in. And I welcome it.’’

And welcomes what next year might bring after some of the rookies settle in.

‘‘If you can stay even-keeled and stay the same guy on a daily basis and put your work in,” Arrieta said of young players, ‘‘with the ability we have, the talent, it’s going to pan out.’’

‘‘It’s all there,’’ Szczur said.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs end Daytona affiliation in favor of Myrtle Beach

By Gordon Wittenmyer

On the first day of minor-league-affiliate ‘‘free agency’’ Tuesday, the Cubs wasted no time in announcing a deal with the Myrtle Beach, S.C., franchise to move the Cubs’ advanced-A affiliate to the Carolina League, officially severing a 22-year relationship with Daytona of the Florida State League.

Closer to home, the Cubs’ two-year affiliation with nearby Kane County of the Class A Midwest League remains in jeopardy as the Cubs shop for alternatives, particularly South Bend, Ind., according to reports.

This despite Kane County ownership planning a capital-improvements project this offseason to meet the Cubs’ demands for facilities upgrades.

‘‘Nothing’s been decided yet,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the relationship with Kane County, which was heralded two years ago as a coup for its proximity when the Cubs cut ties with another long-standing affiliate in Peoria.

Regarding the Kane County facilities, ‘‘there are some things that we’ve been asking for for a while now,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘They’re good people. They’re making a push here to do some things to help. This goes back to what’s best for the players. . . . Location’s big, but facilities are important, too.’’

The Daytona/Myrtle Beach decision was primarily about rainy weather in the Florida State League that continually disrupts schedules. That makes pitching plans involving prospects especially tough.

The Cubs also are looking at options to replace short-season-A Boise (Idaho). They extended their Class AAA agreement with Iowa for two more years.

‘Rehab’ plan for Rizzo

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit the winning home run in his return Monday after a three-week back injury, was on the bench Tuesday as the Cubs ease him back under a plan ‘‘a little like a rehab schedule,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.

Barring a setback, Rizzo is expected to play every other day at least through the weekend before testing his health with back-to-back games.

Jackson in action

Edwin Jackson, the $52  million right-hander who’s been on the disabled list for four weeks with a strained lat, is scheduled to make his first start since Aug. 20 on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw.

Rookie Eric Jokisch, the lefty from Northwestern, will be made available for long relief of Jackson, who will be on a tight pitch count. That would put each in play for a possible start the final week of the season.

† Rookie Arismendy Alcantara, hurt Monday crashing into the wall in center, had a brace on his right hand and wrist and was out of the lineup pending results of an MRI exam.

Daily Herald

Miles: Cubs’ Arrieta masterful again in near no-hitter

By Bruce Miles

If there’s been one revelation on the Cubs this season, it’s Jake Arrieta.

Hitting prospects Jorge Soler and Javier Baez have provided the “oohs,” “aahs” and “oomph” with their power.

Arrieta has been the flip side to that coin, shutting opposing hitters down time after time. He was at again Tuesday night in a 7-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

For at least the third time this season, Arrieta looked like he had the stuff for a no-hitter. Brandon Phillips broke up the bid with one out in the eighth on a double to the gap in left-center field. Cubs center fielder Matt Szczur made a diving attempt, but the ball just got past him.

Arrieta had a no-hitter until two outs in the eighth inning at Boston on June 30. On June 24 at Wrigley, the Reds’ Billy Hamilton broke up Arrieta’s no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the seventh.

"I was able to kind of slow the game down a little bit more in this type of situation, having couple of situations similar to this, one at home, one at Fenway," said Arrieta, who tossed the Cubs’ first complete game of the year and struck out a career-high 13 in the 1-hitter. "So, yeah, I tried to really put it in the back of my mind. Everyone knows what’s going on.

"It’s an exciting night. It was a lot of fun. It will be one I remember for a long time."

The speedy Szczur thought he had a shot at catching Phillips’ double.

"I was going to do anything to try and save that," he said. "It’s no different if he had given up 4 or 5 hits, I’d have done the same thing. It was close. We watched it on the replay, and I was about four inches off. I was planning on running through the wall if I had to."

Arrieta is 9-5 with a 2.65 ERA, and he became the No. 1 starter after the July 4 trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. More remarkable, Arrieta was a question mark from the get-go as he reported to spring training with a shoulder ailment and spent the first month of the season on the disabled list.

"Me seeing him for the first time as a component of the team, he’s turned a big corner," manager Rick Renteria said. "He’s worked very, very hard to maintain himself, and he’s grown a lot. His maturity has definitely improved. I think now he’s got the trust in his stuff, and he uses it."

The Cubs are 67-84 as they surpassed last year’s victory total. They’d like to add more pitching this off-season to go with Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and others. Either way, Arrieta sees good things ahead.

"We’re right there," he said. "I think it’s obvious for guys in the clubhouse. I think a lot of the young guys know there are adjustments that have to be made moving forward, which is part of it. The transition from Triple-A to the big leagues is the biggest jump in all of sports.

"I think things are magnified once guys get here for the first time, but that’s kind of the way it goes. You’re going to take your lumps … With the ability we have, the talent, it’s going to pan out."

• First baseman Anthony Rizzo got Tuesday off after hitting a walk-off homer Monday. Rizzo missed 18 games with a back ailment, and the Cubs want to ease him in. … Center fielder Arismendy Alcantara had an MRI on his right wrist, one day after crashing into the wall making a catch. Full results weren’t known, but Renteria said Alcantara had only soreness … First-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber took batting practice with the Cubs.

Daily Herald

No Cubs-Kane County resolution yet

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs wasted little time Tuesday renewing one minor league affiliate and coming to terms with another.

The Kane County Cougars were not one of them, and that situation may take a few days to play itself out, with the Cougars appearing to be no better than an even shot to remain the Cubs’ Midwest League affiliate.

The Cubs announced they had renewed their agreement with Class AAA Iowa for two more seasons and that they had left Class A Daytona in the Florida State League for Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League.

The Daily Herald on Monday reported it was only a 50-50 chance the Cubs would renew their Player Development Contract with the Cougars, who last Saturday won the Midwest League championship.

The Cougars have been the Cubs’ Class A affiliate for the past two seasons, and the arrangement seemed like a match made in heaven, with Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva being within an hour’s drive of Wrigley Field.

Cubs management members are able to get to Kane County quickly to watch prospects, and they’ve been able to send major-league players there for injury-rehab assignments.

However, sources have said the Cubs have wanted improvements made to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Cougars earlier this month put out a news release announcing a capital-improvement project that would add covered batting cages and expanded video and weight rooms. Cubs president Theo Epstein made his first public comments on the subject Tuesday. His thoughts on the proposed improvements were interesting.

"Nothing’s been decided yet," Epstein said. "There are some things we’ve been asking for, for a while now. I read that news release, too. They’re good people. They’re making a push here to do some things.

"It just goes back to what’s best for the players. We’re looking around for the best fit for development purposes. A big part of that is the facilities."

The Cougars’ release states that the baseball-related improvements will be “built to Cubs specifications,” but that phrase may be open to interpretation.

The Cubs also terminated their contract with Boise of the short-season Class A Northwest League. They may return to either Boise or Kane County, but they now have the option of seeking other affiliations.

The Cubs seem unlikely to return to Boise. If they don’t renew with Kane County, the other leading option may be South Bend, Indiana, where the ballpark is getting a major makeover.

As for Daytona, Epstein cited weather problems, in the form of frequent rain, as one reason for switching to Myrtle Beach.

"The Carolina League, in our opinion, is the best high-A league for development purposes," he said. "These are tough decisions. In the end, we just coming back to what’s best for our players, for our minor league players and their development.

"That’s what it’s about. Sometimes it can get sticky. We just have to do what’s best for our players. We think the Carolina League and Myrtle in particular is a great spot for our players."

Daily Herald

Arrieta flirts with no-no as Cubs beat Reds

By Bruce Miles

Jake Arrieta had a no-hitter until the Reds’ Brandon Phillips doubled with one out in the eighth inning Tuesday night, and the Cubs went on to beat Cincinnati 7-0 at Wrigley Field. Arrieta pitched all 9 innings for the Cubs’ first complete game of the season. He gae up only the 1 hit while striking out a career-high 13.

Phillips hit a drive to deep left-center field. Cubs center fielder Matt Szczur made a diving attempt for the ball, but it got past him for a clean double. Arrieta, who began the season on the disabled list with a shoulder ailment, ran his record to 9-5. He became the No. 1 starting pitcher in the Cubs rotation after the July 4 traded that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

"It’s pretty good all season long," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Arrieta before the game. "He’s got really good stuff. He’s got an electric arm. His pitches obviously have some pretty good life. This year, he’s shown some resilience where an inning might start to open up a little bit, and he’s been able to keep it calm and work through an inning and get himself out of jams. It’s been something he’s been able to sustain."

The Cubs scored the first run of the game in the third, when Arrieta led off with a double to left-center. He later scored on a forceout by Jorge Soler.

A 5-run sixth broke it open as the Cubs chased Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, an 18-game winner. The key hit of the inning was Chris Coghlan’s bases-loaded double with two outs. Soler hit a solo homer, his fifth of the season, in the eighth.

Arrieta has flirted with no-hitters earlier this season. On June 30 against the Reds at Wrigley Field, he didn’t give up a hit until Billy Hamilton singled leading off the seventh inning.

In his next start, June 30 at Boston, Arrieta tossed hitless ball until the Red Sox’ Stephen Drew singled with two outs in the eighth. He was removed from that game after that hit.

Cubs.com

Brilliant Arrieta flirts with no-no, fans 13 Reds

Righty tosses 7 1/3 no-hit innings before allowing double to Phillips

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The third time was nearly the charm for Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning Tuesday, only to have it broken up by Brandon Phillips with a one-out double, as the Cubs posted a 7-0 win over the Reds in front of 33,812 at Wrigley Field. Chris Coghlan drove in three runs and Jorge Soler drove in two to back Arrieta, who struck out a career-high 13.

"It’s an exciting night and a lot of fun and one I’ll remember for a long time," Arrieta said.

Arrieta, who tossed his first career complete game and shutout, almost threw a no-hitter six years to the day of the last Cubs’ no-hitter on Sept. 14, 2008, when Carlos Zambrano shut down the Astros in a game relocated to Miller Park because of Hurricane Ike in Houston.

This was the first one-hit shutout by a Cubs pitcher since Jon Lieber did so May 24, 2001, also against the Reds.

It was a perfect night to pitch at Wrigley with the game-time temperature at 60 degrees and a gentle wind from the east at 10 mph.

Arrieta struck out Jay Bruce to start the Reds eighth, but Phillips lined an 0-2 pitch into the gap in left-center for the first hit, although center fielder Matt Szczur made a great attempt to catch the ball.

Arrieta’s reaction to another end to his no-hit bid?

"Frustrated isn’t really the right word," Arrieta said, "but I was able to take a deep breath, and let it out, and say, ‘All right, it’s over now, so let’s try to get a few more outs.’

"I think it was a little easier having those experiences early in the season," he said. "I was able to slow it down and take it one pitch at a time, and I know that’s as cliche as it gets, but in those situations that’s what you have to do."

The Reds’ Billy Hamilton had spoiled Arrieta’s bid on June 24 when the right-hander had a perfect game into the seventh. Hamilton led off the seventh that day with a single. In Arrieta’s next start against the Red Sox, he had a no-hitter through 7 2/3 innings. Arrieta is the first Cubs pitcher to take no-hitters into the seventh inning three times in a season since 1950.

"I was able to slow the game down a little bit more after having a couple experiences similar to this one," Arrieta said of Tuesday’s outing. "I kind of tried to really just put [the no-hitter] in the back of my mind. Obviously, everyone knows what’s going on."

Hamilton could’ve been the spoiler again. He led off the seventh on Tuesday, but Arrieta was prepared this time and got the Reds center fielder to fly out to left.

"Before the inning, I knew he was coming up, and replayed that in my head a couple times," Arrieta said. "I wanted to continue to do the same thing and try to keep him honest inside and try to get him to maybe roll something over or pop something up. He’s a tough hitter. He’s a tough out. He battles, and obviously when he gets on base, he can do some damage. It was nice to keep him off the bases."

The right-hander has been stingy this season, giving up one or no earned runs in 14 of his 24 starts. He’s thrived at Wrigley Field, and now is 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA in 11 starts, giving up 13 earned runs over 73 innings.

The Cubs have been careful with Arrieta’s pitch count all season after he reported this spring with tightness in his right shoulder. Manager Rick Renteria said there wasn’t much discussion about whether to send Arrieta out for the ninth.

He’s been the most consistent of the Cubs starters.

"He’s got really good stuff and an electric arm," Renteria said. "His pitches obviously have really good life. I also think this year he’s shown some resilience in that there have been instances where an inning opens up and he’s been able to keep calm and work through it and get out of jams. That’s been part of his growth this year. That’s been something he’s able to sustain."

It’s the second straight night the Cubs have blanked the Reds, who lost 1-0 on Monday.

"To his credit, he was sharp in the zone," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Arrieta. "I thought he did a great job of working ahead. He used both sides of the plate. It was a very, very difficult matchup, and it would’ve been a difficult matchup for any club when he’s locked in like that."

Cubs.com

Szczur’s hustle play nearly preserves no-no

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Matt Szczur snared a line drive for the last out of Chris Rusin’s no-hitter on May 7 when the two were together at Triple-A Iowa. On Tuesday night, the rookie outfielder nearly preserved a no-no for the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta had a no-hitter through 7 1/3 innings when Brandon Phillips lined an 0-2 pitch toward the gap in left-center that dropped just past an outstretched Szczur for the Reds’ first and only hit.

"I was planning on running through the wall if I had to," Szczur said. "It’s a shame I couldn’t come up with it. I made the best effort."

He was close.

"He closed the gap on that ball pretty well," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I think off the bat, I don’t think anybody thought he had a chance. He must have come within a foot of that. It was a great effort by that young man. That’s one of the traits Szczur brings to the table is that energy and effort, and that’s what carries him a long ways."

Arrieta could only shrug. It’s the third time he’s taken a no-hitter into the seventh, yet come up empty handed.

"There’s nothing you can do there other than make a little bit better pitch," Arrieta said. "That’s the way it goes."

Catcher John Baker and Szczur watched a replay of the near-catch several times after the game.

"I told him that if he was left-handed, he would’ve caught it," Baker said. "That guy went for it and was disappointed he didn’t get it."

Szczur was miffed.

"I was going to do anything to try to save that," Szczur said. "It was no different if he’d given up four or five hits, I would’ve done the same thing. It was close — I was watching on the replay and I was about four inches off.

"I had a great jump, a great read on the ball," he said. "I thought I was going to catch it when I took the first couple steps."

Cubs.com

Rizzo’s work on and off field earns Clemente nomination

Cubs slugger and cancer survivor one of 30 finalists announced by MLB

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo, a cancer survivor who has made it his foundation’s mission to help other families battling the disease, was named the Cubs’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet. Major League Baseball announced the 30 finalists on Tuesday.

The award recognizes a MLB player who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement. Rizzo will be honored prior to Wednesday’s game against the Reds.

The nomination is an effort to pay tribute to Clemente’s achievements and character by recognizing current players who truly understand the value of helping others. Wednesday will be the 13th annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by MLB to honor his legacy and officially recognize local team nominees.

Clemente, a 15-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

In 2012, Rizzo began the nonprofit Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation to raise money for cancer research and provide support to children and their families battling the disease. He knows firsthand the impact it can have after being diagnosed in 2008 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Through fundraising for research and providing support for pediatric cancer patients and their families, Rizzo’s foundation aims to give every family a fighting chance against cancer.

Since its inception, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has raised more than $500,000 through its “Walk-Off for Cancer” in Florida and the “Cook-Off for Cancer” held in Chicago. The third annual 5K “Walk-Off for Cancer” will be Nov. 16 at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla.

The organizations currently selected as beneficiaries of Rizzo’s fundraising include Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Family Reach Foundation, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and The Lymphoma Program at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Health System.

In addition, Rizzo makes monthly visits to Lurie Children’s Hospital, and he has become a familiar face to those in the pediatric oncology floor, where he spends much of his time talking with patients and their families, signing autographs, taking photos and handing out Cubs memorabilia.

Rizzo talks to the children about his own experience, and he has often given patients his phone number to keep in touch. And he’s kept his promises. On July 22, Rizzo met Mike Kasallis, 22, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, and he promised that he would hit a home run for him. Rizzo hit two blasts that day against the Padres, and he made sure to touch his lips and point to the sky as a signal.

"I was absolutely stunned," Kasallis said about seeing Rizzo deliver his request. "All I said was, ‘If you hit a home run, blow a kiss to the sky for me,’ and he did."

Rizzo and Kasallis have exchanged text messages since that day. Rizzo said that particular visit brought back memories of his own experience.

"This one hit more at home for me," Rizzo said. "I usually don’t get flashbacks, but I did this time."

When Rizzo visited Kasallis in the hospital, Kasallis’ mother, Donna, said her son perked up for the first time since the diagnosis.

""It was the first time I’d seen him with any spark," Donna said of Rizzo’s visit. "It was like I saw my kid again that day."

It’s been quite a year for Rizzo, who hit a walk-off home run in the ninth to give the Cubs a 1-0 win over the Reds on Monday night. He was the winner of the 2014 All-Star Final Vote campaign, and he made his first trip to the All-Star Game.

"His commitment to the community and his teammates the last three seasons with the Cubs has made a tremendous impact within our organization," general manager Jed Hoyer said in a statement.

On Wednesday, a representative from Chevrolet will present Rizzo with a $7,500 grant to the charity of his choice, Cubs Charities, as a result of his nomination for this award.

Cubs.com

Schwarber visits Wrigley, takes batting practice

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — It didn’t take long for Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, to hit a couple balls into the bleachers during batting practice Tuesday. Next step will be instructional league where he’ll work on fine-tuning his catching skills.

Schwarber joined the big league team for a round of batting practice. He introduced his potential future teammates to his power by dropping a couple balls into the right-field bleachers. Schwarber signed with the Cubs one week after the Draft, agreeing to a $3.125 million deal, and got started right away, joining Class A Boise for its opener.

It’s been a whirlwind summer for the catcher, who was the fourth player taken overall and is No. 6 on MLB.com’s top 20 Cubs prospects. He batted .344 in 72 Minor League games combined at Boise, Class A Kane County and Class A Advanced Daytona, hitting 18 home runs and 18 doubles.

"It was fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything," Schwarber said.

The Cubs want him to work on his catching in Mesa, Ariz., when instructional league begins Monday.

"He has tremendous potential to have an overall game," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who added Schwarber has sound baseball instincts and understands his priorities as a catcher.

Schwarber will do whatever the Cubs ask.

"I’m willing to do whatever they want me to do and that’s the bottom line," he said. "I’ll do whatever they tell me to do. It’s all about winning."

What was it like hitting at Wrigley?

"This park has so much history," he said. "You learn to have a great deal of respect for it when you’re on the field and get to play on it. It’s great and amazing."

Cubs.com

Alcantara, Rizzo given time off to rest injuries

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo did not start Tuesday as part of the Cubs’ plan to ease him back into games while Arismendy Alcantara was sidelined with a sore right wrist injured when he crashed into the outfield wall Monday night. Alcantara’s status was day to day.

Rizzo, who had been sidelined since Aug. 26 because of a low back strain, made his first start in 18 games on Monday night and hit a walk-off home run in the ninth. The Cubs had considered having Rizzo only play seven innings Monday since it was his first game action in 18 games, but went ahead and had him stay for nine. It worked.

"I would say I plan on giving him every other day [off] and will increase his playing time to two days in a row, maybe three," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I have to let it play itself out first."

Alcantara had an MRI on his right wrist and was wearing a brace on Tuesday. He slammed into the brick wall in right-center catching Kristopher Negron’s ball in the eighth inning. The Reds had a runner on and two out, and there was no score in the game.

"Somebody was saying somebody forgot to tell him there’s a brick wall behind the ivy," Renteria said of Alcantara. "That’s a game-saving play. He gave tremendous effort, [ran a] great line, very smooth, explosive action and got to it and was able to make the catch."

It was an exceptional play for Alcantara, who began this season as a second baseman.

"His immersion into center field was a pretty easy transition, in terms of chasing balls down, reading balls off the bat," Renteria said. "He’s continued to learn where to throw the ball, how aggressive to be with certain plays. He’s continued to improve. That’s a testament to him because he’s taken on a lot."

Worth noting:

• Edwin Jackson, sidelined with a strained right lat, will make his first start since Aug. 20 on Friday when the Cubs play host to the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Jackson, who will likely face Clayton Kershaw, threw an extended side session as a tune-up. Rookie Eric Jokisch will be available to piggyback because Jackson was not expected to go deep in the game.

Cubs.com

Hendricks looks to seal sweep vs. struggling Reds

Rookie Corcino eyes first big league win in series finale against Cubs

By Manny Randhawa

Things won’t get any easier for the Reds on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

After being one-hit by Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta on Tuesday night, and being shut out in a 1-0 loss in the series opener with Chicago on Monday, Cincinnati will face rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks in the series finale.

Sandwiched between his Major League debut against the Reds on July 10, and his last outing last Wednesday, in which he combined to allow eight runs in 11 2/3 innings, Hendricks posted a 1.60 ERA over nine starts.

"I felt strong through the whole outing, but it [stinks] getting beat like that," the 24-year-old said after his last start, which resulted in the first road loss of his career in an 11-1 defeat against the Blue Jays. "For me personally, I’m just going to move on."

Cincinnati will try to salvage a game in the series behind rookie Daniel Corcino. A September callup who was initially used as a reliever, the 24-year-old right-hander replaced Mat Latos in the starting rotation when Latos was scratched from his last scheduled start due to a bone bruise on his right elbow.

Corcino pitched well in his first career big league start on Friday, allowing two runs on two hits while walking one and striking out four over six innings in a no-decision against the Brewers.

"We didn’t know what to expect," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He impressed me a great deal. No. 1, he threw the ball over the plate consistently. And No. 2, he competed extremely well. He was able to throw his breaking ball and changeup for strikes behind in the count. He’s a little bit more polished than I anticipated seeing and he handled that situation very, very well."

Latos threw in the outfield prior to Tuesday’s game, the first time he’s played catch since sustaining the bone bruise.

Reds: Votto takes batting practice on the field

First baseman Joey Votto took another step toward his return from a strain of his left distal quadriceps on Tuesday, when he took batting practice with the Reds at Wrigley Field. He also ran sprints around the exterior of the infield and took about 25 ground balls.

Votto has been sidelined since July 8, when he was placed on the disabled list for the second time this season with the same injury.

"If we’re able to get to the point where he can play in a game before season’s end, I don’t know that yet," Price said two hours before Votto took BP Tuesday. "This would be a step in the right direction."

Votto is batting .255/.390/.409 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 62 games this season.

Cubs: Rizzo back on Wednesday, Alcantara day to day

First baseman Anthony Rizzo and center fielder Arismendy Alcantara did not play in Tuesday’s 7-0 win over the Reds. Rizzo had returned to the lineup on Monday after missing nearly three weeks with a strained lower back, hitting a walk-off home run in the ninth for the 1-0 victory.

"I would say I plan on giving him every other day [off] and will increase his playing time to two days in a row, maybe three," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I have to let it play itself out first."

Alcantara slammed into the outfield wall at Wrigley Field catching a fly ball on Monday and was wearing a brace on his sore right wrist after an MRI on Tuesday. He’s day to day.

"His immersion into center field was a pretty easy transition, in terms of chasing balls down, reading balls off the bat," Renteria said of Alcantara, who played second base before moving to center. "He’s continued to learn where to throw the ball, how aggressive to be with certain plays. He’s continued to improve. That’s a testament to him because he’s taken on a lot."

Worth noting

• On Monday, the Cubs announced that infielder Kris Bryant and right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng were named the club’s Minor League player and pitcher of the year, respectively. The two will be honored prior to Wednesday’s series finale at Wrigley Field.

The 22 year-old Bryant, Chicago’s No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, hit .325 with a Minor League-leading 43 home runs in 138 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Tseng, 19, was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 18 appearances (17 starts) for Class A Kane County.

Cubs.com

Review shows Cubs nab Hamilton at second

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Reds’ Billy Hamilton has nine stolen bases against the Cubs this season, but manager Rick Renteria denied a 10th theft in the fourth on Tuesday night.

Renteria challenged whether Hamilton was safe on a stolen base attempt, and the call was overturned after review.

Hamilton drew a walk against Chicago starter Jake Arrieta to open the fourth, and broke for second on the first pitch to Brayan Pena. Second-base umpire Bill Miller called Hamilton safe. Cubs catcher Welington Castillo’s throw to Javier Baez was high, and the shortstop made an acrobatic catch.

The review comfirmed the tag was in time.

Cubs.com

Cubs ink extension with Iowa, sign with Myrtle Beach

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs Tuesday agreed on a two-year player development contract extension with Triple-A Iowa through the 2018 season and also signed a new deal with Myrtle Beach to move their Class A team to the Carolina League after 22 years with Daytona in the Florida State League.

"The Carolina League, in our opinion, is the best high-A league for development purposes," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "These are tough decisions, and in the end, we keep coming back to what’s best for our players. … The Carolina League and Myrtle in particular is the best spot for our players."

The PDC with Myrtle Beach runs through the 2016 season.

"Myrtle Beach is a well-respected franchise that will serve as a beneficial destination for our young players," said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior vice president, scouting and player development. "We look forward to developing a successful relationship with the franchise and community."

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have made eight postseason appearances in their 16-season history, including each of the last four seasons as an affiliate of the Rangers. Myrtle Beach joined the Carolina League in 1999 as an affiliate of the Braves, a partnership that would continue through the 2010 season, prior to joining the Rangers in 2011.

"The Chicago Cubs present an incredible partnership in every aspect," Pelicans general manager and vice president Andy Milovich said in a statement. "Cubs fans can now visit their future stars in one of the iconic vacation destination spots in the U.S."

The Cubs’ current agreement with Iowa had run through the 2016 campaign. With the new agreement, the extension guarantees at least 38 years of partnership between the Chicago team and the Iowa Cubs.

"The players who have come through Iowa speak of their positive experiences in Des Moines and appreciate their great fans, and we are thrilled to continue this long-standing partnership," McLeod said.

Iowa Cubs president/general manager Sam Bernabe said their long-standing relationship with the Chicago Cubs is “a source of pride for our organization and our community.”

"This extension shows that the Cubs appreciate the work our staff does to provide a top notch facility and operation to support their players and staff members throughout the year," Bernabe said.

The affiliation between Iowa and Chicago began in 1981, and Iowa adopted the Cubs’ nickname in 1982. Of the 160 teams in Minor League Baseball, this is the eighth-longest current affiliate relationship between a Major League team and a Minor League club.

Earlier this year, the Cubs announced a four-year extension with Double-A Tennessee that runs through 2018. They did not renew their PDC with Class A Kane County or short-season Boise. On Sept. 2, Kane County announced that it was making capital improvements to its facilities built to the Cubs’ specifications.

"They’re good people and making a push here to do some things," Epstein said. "It comes back to what’s best for the players. We’re looking at the best fit for development purposes. A big part of that is the facilities."

15 9 / 2014

Daily Herald

Sources: Cubs may not renew affiliation with Cougars

Bruce Miles

The Kane County Cougars were traveling home Sunday as champions of the Midwest League.

Will they return next year as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs?

The two-year player-development agreement between the Cubs and Cougars expired Sept. 11, and sources say it’s 50-50 whether the Cubs will renew with the Cougars for 2015 and beyond.

The South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest League recently ended their relationship with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the South Bend Tribune reported the team has been granted permission to pursue a relationship with another major-league team.

That team could be the Cubs, according to sources. Major and minor league teams are not permitted to talk publicly about changes in affiliations, under penalty of heavy fines, until Tuesday, when a two-week negotiation window opens for clubs and unattached affiliations.

The Cubs are taking a close look at all of their minor league affiliates. They recently ended their agreement with Class A Boise of the short-season Northwest League. They’re also evaluating their relationship with Daytona of the Class A Florida State League.

The Cougars on Saturday swept their way to the Midwest League title by winning 7-2 at Lake County (Ohio). It was the second championship in Kane County history. The first came in 2001, when the Cougars were an affiliate of the Florida Marlins. Between the regular season and postseason, this year’s Cougars put up a record of 98-49.

At the crux of whether the Cubs will stay in Kane County or move — to South Bend or anywhere else — are the facilities and how they affect the development of Cubs players. The Cougars, since their inception in 1991, have played their home games in Geneva at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. Sources say the Cubs are happy with the location of the ballpark and its proximity to Chicago, but they would like to see upgrades to the facility.

The Kane County franchise was purchased this season by Dr. Bob Froehlich and his wife, Cathy. On Sept. 2, the Cougars announced a capital-improvement project to modernize Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as they prepare to celebrate their 25th season in Kane County.

"The Cougars will be constructing a new batting cage built to the Cubs’ specifications, complete with two hitting tunnels," according to a news statement released by the team. "The climate-controlled cage will also house an expanded Cougars’ weight room and a state-of-the-art video room, allowing convenient access for Cougars and Cubs field staff to develop and evaluate players.

"Also for next season, a new, high-definition videoboard will be installed at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, providing an enhancement of the in-game fan experience with various promotions, game action, video replays and more."

The South Bend Silver Hawks also are beginning major renovations to their ballpark, including expanded batting and pitching facilities.

The Cubs began their partnership with Kane County for the 2013 season, leaving Peoria. When the agreement with Kane County was announced, the Cubs sold it as a convenient location for their staff to evaluate prospects and for major-league players to have a nearby option for injury rehabilitation assignments. During this year’s playoffs, Cubs infielder Mike Olt rehabbed a hamstring injury while playing for the Cougars.

The added benefit for both the Cubs and Cougars was that many Cubs fans reside in the West suburbs. This season, the Cougars drew 415,571 fans, an average of 6,023 per game. That was second in the Midwest League to Dayton, which drew 573,709. Historically, the Cougars have been a strong draw, no matter the affiliation. In 2005 and in 2006, the Cougars topped 500,000 in attendance.

In addition to the Cubs and Marlins, the Cougars have been affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals.

After Saturday’s championship-clinching victory, the Cougars issued this statement on their website:

"On behalf of the Kane County Cougars organization, we’d like to congratulate the entire team, field staff and Cubs organization for capping off an unforgettable season by winning the Midwest League Championship," Dr. Bob Froehlich said. "Tonight’s championship win was the culmination of a season that was filled with terrific on-field play, coaching and perhaps most importantly, a truly unified team."

Cubs.com

Turner, Cubs flat after Pirates turn triple play

Righty allows seven runs over 4 1/3; Szczur hits into rare feat in fourth

By Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Matt Szczur hit the ball hard at the wrong time for the Cubs on Sunday.

Szczur, one of the fastest players on the Cubs, hit into a triple play in the fourth inning started by Josh Harrison, who also drove in two runs to lead the Pirates to a 7-3 come-from-behind victory.

The Pirates stayed alive in the National League Central race while continuing to hold the second NL Wild Card. The Cubs, on the other hand, lost for the eighth time in their last nine games and ended their road trip 1-5. Chicago struggled to generate any offense without Anthony Rizzo (back), Jorge Soler (paternity leave) and Starlin Castro (ankle). It didn’t help when the Pirates thwarted a rally with their web gem.

Chicago led 3-0 when Chris Valaika doubled to lead off the fourth against Edinson Volquez, who then walked Mike Olt. But Szczur smacked the ball to Harrison at third base to start the first triple play at PNC Park and the first the Cubs have hit into since May 14, 2000, at Montreal.

"It was a heck of a play," Szczur said. "I was looking for a good pitch to hit and something to hit hard, and it was probably the wrong time I hit the ball hard."

Szczur remembers he and Logan Watkins were on the bases once for a triple play while at Class A Daytona. That was the last one he could remember.

"I thought I was going to [beat the throw]," Szczur said. "It was close. I put a good swing on it and tried to get out of the box as fast as I could. Wrong time to hit it hard, that’s for sure."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria felt Szczur had a chance.

"He hit it right on the nose, and Harrison made a really nice play because he ended up catching it going away from him — he didn’t even backhand it, he stayed with it — and it took him right to the bag," Renteria said.

Renteria didn’t feel that play turned the momentum in the game.

"I don’t allow our guys to put their heads down," Renteria said. "That’s just a play that happened. We were still in the lead. That’s baseball."

The Pirates would disagree.

"Any time you pull a triple play, I think you’re going to feel an instant boost of energy," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You don’t see ‘em. It’s an exciting play, it was crisp, it was fun."

Said Neil Walker: “It was huge.”

The Cubs had opened a 2-0 lead in the second when Volquez walked both Luis Valbuena and Olt with one out, and Valbuena scored on a throwing error by the pitcher. John Baker’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0.

Javier Baez singled with one out in the third, stole second, advanced on a throwing error by catcher Russell Martin, and then scored on Chris Coghlan’s sacrifice fly. But that was it for the Cubs.

Walker’s homer came in the fourth. The Pirates were just getting warmed up.

Pittsburgh had two on and one out in the fifth, and both runners scored on Harrison’s double down the left-field line to tie the game. Travis Snider followed with an RBI double, and Andrew McCutchen singled and Walker delivered an RBI double. Jacob Turner intentionally walked Martin to load the bases and was pulled.

Pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez greeted Eric Jokisch with an infield hit, driving in another run. One more scored on Gregory Polanco’s infield single.

"Things kind of spiraled a little bit," Olt said. "We have to find ways to minimize those innings."

Turner was mad at himself because the first two batters, Jordy Mercer and Polanco, reached on a single and walk, respectively.

"It’s easy to look at the hits that scored the runs," Turner said, "but the 1-2 pitch to Mercer wasn’t a very good pitch, and the walk to Polanco in a situation where you can’t walk him having the lead right there — those two at-bats, I think, really killed me that inning. It just snowballed."

Jokisch went 2 2/3 innings, and batted for himself in the seventh, which may have seemed puzzling. The Cubs have plenty of arms in the bullpen, but Renteria said it’s part of the development mode they’re in.

"There are some things that might seem a little odd, but it served us more to get him out there to pitch," Renteria said. "I feel like we were going to give ourselves a chance even after that."

Cubs.com

Soler to join Cubs on Monday; Rizzo’s status uncertain

Rookie returning after birth of son; first baseman battling back strain

Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Jorge Soler is expected back in the lineup Monday when the Cubs open their last homestand of the season, but Anthony Rizzo is still questionable because of his low back strain.

Soler, who is batting .356 in 12 games, missed the weekend series against the Pirates to be in Miami for the birth of his first child, a boy.

Rizzo has not played since his back tightened during a rain delay in the Aug. 26 game in Cincinnati. The Cubs had hoped the first baseman would return Monday against the Reds.

"That one I will reserve for [Monday]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We’re trying to get him out there running. I’d still look more ahead, and take anything sooner as a plus."

The Cubs are taking a conservative approach with Rizzo, who is batting .278 and hit his 30th home run in his last game.

"I don’t want to put a date on [his return]," Renteria said. "Let’s hope that sometime in the coming week we’ll see something and go from there. If it happens to be much sooner than later, good for us."

Cubs.com

Bucs turn first triple play in PNC Park history

Harrison, Walker and Lambo give team first 5-4-3 triple play since 1979

Tom Singer

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates turned the first triple play in 14 seasons at PNC Park on Sunday in the fourth inning of their 7-3 victory over the Cubs.

After Chris Valaika led off with a double and Bucs right-hander Edinson Volquez walked Mike Olt, the triple play was as routine as it could be. Matt Szczur smashed a grounder to third baseman Josh Harrison, who stepped on the bag and fired to second to Neil Walker, whose relay to first baseman Andrew Lambo tripled up Szczur.

Asked his first thought as the ball was coming off Szczur’s bat, Harrison said, “Triple play. It was hit hard enough, to my right [to carry me toward the bag] … one step. I knew I had a shot, but I also knew the guy was fast.”

In fact, Szczur is about the fastest guy the Cubs have, which made the play even more impressive.

"It was the fastest guy we have," confirmed Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "He hit it right on the nose, and Harrison made a really nice play. … That’s instinctual. He was very composed, stepped on the bag, threw to second, threw to first, and they got ultimately one of our faster guys in the triple play."

"It was a heck of a play," Szczur said. "I was looking for a good pitch to hit and something to hit hard, and it was probably the wrong time I hit the ball hard."

"It’s something I’ve never been a part of on any level, so that was pretty cool," said Walker, the middleman. "Yeah, soon as I see Josh backing into the base with the ball, I knew it was a perfect scenario for that type of triple play."

Draped over the railing of the Pirates’ third-base dugout, manager Clint Hurdle’s mind instantly dialed up “three.”

"Absolutely," Hurdle said. "I wanted to follow it around the horn, and see where it went. Very quick first step by J, nice tag [of the bag to push off], excellent throw, and Walker on the turn to finish it. That’s when it’s nice to be the first baseman; you do the least amount of work, and you throw your name in there."

Lambo, who is normally an outfielder, was playing his first Major League game at first base.

"All I did was finish the play," said Lambo, wearing a wide grin. "I grab the ball and run off thinking, ‘Hey, we just turned a triple play.’"

It was the Pirates’ first around-the-horn triple play since July 23, 1979, when Bill Madlock, Phil Garner and Willie Stargell turned one on Braves Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro in the second inning of the second game of a doubleheader. Niekro did, however, go on to toss a two-hit shutout that day.

While the Pirates’ most recent triple play had come on April 12, 2009, in Cincinnati, they had not turned one at home since Aug. 10, 1993, at Three Rivers Stadium against the Cardinals.

It was the first triple play bounced into by the Cubs since May 14, 2000, when Henry Rodriguez grounded into one in Montreal.

Cubs.com

Reds stop at Wrigley for three-game set against Cubs

Simon eyes second straight win; Wood seeking strong finish

By Maria Torres

The Reds have at least one thing going for them when they arrive at Wrigley Field on Monday for the first of a three-game set with the Cubs: They have won eight of their last nine night games on the North Side of Chicago, and they’ll be playing under the lights for the whole series.

They’re also sending 33-year-old Alfredo Simon to the mound, fresh off just his second win of the second half. The right-hander put together a solid two-run, seven-inning performance against the Cardinals on Wednesday. After giving up the pair of runs with two outs in the first inning, Simon settled down and ended up scattering a total of five hits.

The start was a nice rebound from Simon’s previous turn, when he allowed a season-high six earned runs in four innings. But the All-Star has struggled plenty in the second half. In 11 starts since the All-Star break, Simon is 2-7 with a 4.96 ERA.

For as dominant as Simon was last week, the Cubs send to the mound a reeling Travis Wood. The southpaw has a 12.79 ERA in 6 1/3 innings spanning two starts since he beat the Reds on Aug. 26 with six shutout frames of two-hit baseball.

He’ll be making his 30th start, which will mark his second straight campaign with at least 30 starts for the Cubs. Despite being a steady presence in the rotation, Wood has been struggling. His issues culminated on Sept. 7, when he lasted a season-low 1 2/3 innings. He couldn’t keep the ball in the park and allowed the Pirates to hit three homers. He gave up seven runs on nine hits and faced 15 batters.

He was supposed to get a second shot against Pittsburgh on Sunday, but the rough outing forced Chicago to give him an extra day of rest.

"Obviously, something is different, whether it’s the hitters’ approach off me or just not being able to execute pitches the way I did last year," Wood said after his last game. "That’s something to be addressed in these next couple starts."

The good news is Wood has a 1-1 record and a 2.38 ERA against his former team this year.

Cubs: Rookie Soler brings power back to lineup

Jorge Soler will rejoin the Cubs for their final homestand of the season. The 22-year-old, who debuted on Aug. 27, played 12 games for Chicago before going on paternity leave and missing the weekend series in Pittsburgh. Soler is hitting .356 with four homers and 13 RBIs.

The right fielder made his debut against the Reds and got off to a quick start, hitting 4-for-8 with three RBIs and a run scored in his first two games. He even hit his first Major League home run in his first at-bat, a long shot to center at Great American Ball Park that measured 423 feet.

Worth noting

• The Cubs are one victory shy of matching their win total from last season (66).

• Starting Monday, the Cubs will conduct metal detector screenings of fans entering the ballpark. It’s part of a league-wide initiative to standardize security procedures at each Major League ballpark. These security screenings are in addition to the current bag checks in place and will be uniform throughout the league in 2015.

Tribune

Cubs’ final homestand could spell end for some

By Paul Sullivan

PITTSBURGH — The final homestand of a season the Cubs dubbed the “Party of the Century” begins Monday at Wrigley Field.

Fans will get their last chance to see the 100-year-old ballpark without a jumbo-sized video board dominating the backdrop in left field, and some players may be taking a last look around, knowing they could be wearing a different uniform the next time they’re in town.

The Cubs limped home from a 1-5 road trip Sunday with a 7-3 loss to the Pirates, looking listless as the season winds down.

Two veterans who undoubtedly will see their names crop up in trade rumors this winter are shortstop Starlin Castro, who could be dealt for starting pitching, and left-hander Travis Wood, who could be squeezed out after a disappointing season.

Both players know the drill and said Sunday they’re ready for anything.

During a trip to New York in mid-August, Castro was peppered with questions about being traded to the Mets, who have a surplus of pitching and a need for a shortstop. That was before Castro’s ankle injury, which has given the Cubs the chance to see Javier Baez play shortstop on an everyday basis.

"I can’t really think about this," Castro said. "I don’t really pay attention. Whatever happens happens. I don’t want to leave, but I don’t have a say in the decision. We’ll see."

Wood said he’d also like to stay and believes he will return.

"We’ve got a lot of kids coming up, and the young guys are playing well, so next year, next spring, is going to be exciting to watch, for sure," he said.

But Felix Doubront’s brief audition has gone smoothly, and the Cubs could give him a spot in 2015 and try to move either Wood or Edwin Jackson to sign a free agent. Obviously Jackson’s hefty contract will make him more difficult to deal than Wood.

Wood is under Cubs control through 2016. He said the Cubs haven’t spoken to him about a contract extension, despite one major league source saying Wood’s camp balked at a $40 million extension several months ago.

Wood has seen fellow starters Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel traded over the last three seasons, so he understands he’s not an untouchable.

"If it does happen, it’s part of the game so I wouldn’t let it affect me," he said. "I’m looking forward to getting into the offseason, taking a break, working and getting back on track and pitching how I know I can pitch."

White flag time: A curious managerial decision by Rick Renteria occurred in the seventh inning with the Cubs trailing by four runs, a man on first and two outs. Despite having a 13-man bullpen at his disposal, Renteria left reliever Eric Jokisch in to bat for himself to give the rookie one more inning of work.

Was stretching out Jokisch more important than trying to win the game?

"That’s a question I have to balance in terms of his usage," Renteria said. "There are some things that might seem a little odd at times, but it served us more to allow him to back out there and pitch. I feel like we were still going to give ourselves a chance after that."

In other words, developing Jokisch did take precedence.

"You balance it all out," Renteria said. "I could’ve pinch-hit and not get a hit, and the question is, ‘Well, but you’re giving yourself a better chance (to score). I get all that too. But I’ve got to weight it. Those are some of the questions I have to weigh."

Triple down: When rookie Matt Szczur grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play in the fourth inning, it marked the first time the Cubs had hit into one since May 14, 2000, in Montreal.

"Wrong time to hit it hard, that’s for sure," said Szczur, who has good speed.

Tribune

Sunday’s recap: Pirates 7, Cubs 3

Paul Sullivan

Summary

The Cubs blew an early 3-0 lead as Jacob Turner was shelled during a six-run fifth inning. They ended the road trip 1-5.

At the plate

The Cubs managed only four hits. John Baker and Chris Coghlan had RBIs on sacrifice flies.

On the mound

Turner gave up seven runs on seven hits and three walks over 41/3 innings, increasing his earned-run average to 6.20.

On the bases

Javier Baez was doubled off first on a fly to left when he failed to touch second on his way back to first.

Big number

14. Cubs’ losses to the Pirates in 19 meetings this season. They are 26-41 against NL Central foes.

The quote

Manager Rick Renteria on Baez’s reactions after called strikeouts: “You have a young man who has been probably chasing pitches out of the zone a little bit, and he’s 21 years old, and he’s trying to refine his zone, so when he does it, as a young hitter, he wants to get some of those calls that he’s worked.”

Up next

Reds (Alfredo Simon, 14-10, 4.38) at Cubs (Travis Wood, 8-12, 5.03), 7:05 p.m. Monday, CSN-Plus, CLTV.

Tribune

Series preview: Reds at Cubs

Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Reds 11-5.

Monday: 7:05 p.m., CSN-Plus, CLTV.

RH Alfredo Simon (14-10, 3.48 ERA) vs. LH Travis Wood (8-12, 5.03).

Tuesday: 7:05 p.m., WGN-Ch. 9.

RH Johnny Cueto (18-8, 2.15) vs. RH Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.82).

Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN.

RH Daniel Corcino (0-0, 5.19) vs. RH Kyle Hendricks (6-2, 2.38).

Who’s hot: Cueto is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in his last two starts, with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings. Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco has a 1.127 OPS in September. Arrieta is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA at Wrigley Field.

Who’s not: Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is hitting .216 in the second half. Wood has an 8.74 ERA in his 12 losses and a 2.29 ERA in his eight wins.

Sun-Times

Pirates’ Russell Martin would be perfect fit for 2015 Cubs

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

PITTSBURGH — Of all the free agents who might be available to the Cubs this winter, one of the easiest to overlook also might be one of the best fits.

Assuming the turnaround starts next year, as team officials suggest, and that building a long-term pitching staff starts to become a priority, then there might not be a better-equipped position player on the market than Pirates linchpin Russell Martin.

It would take pulling the plug on Welington Castillo as the Cubs’ catcher of the future, a proposition that is already the subject of internal debate.

It also likely would take a sizeable three-year offer and a pretty persuasive argument from Cubs brass that the team is on the brink of a breakout similar to what the Pirates have experienced the last two years with ­Martin.

But Martin is a three-time All-Star and former Gold Glove winner who gets even more recognition for his work with pitchers and his veteran influence in a young Pirates clubhouse.

“His energy and the way he plays the game definitely rubs off on people,” Pirates infielder Clint Barmes said. “It’s huge for [young] guys to watch him prepare and do what he does. And he’s not a real vocal guy, but when he speaks, everyone listens.”

That’s exactly the kind of presence Cubs officials repeatedly have said they’d like to have in the clubhouse as the kiddie-core rebuilding process takes its next step.

What does Martin think of the Cubs?

“There’s definitely potential there,” he said. “With potential, what’s necessary is for them to believe in themselves, and it helps to have leadership that helps [provide] an example of maybe work ethic, certain things that need to be there, like understanding the grind, somebody to look up to —something I had when I was in L.A. [with the Dodgers] and New York [Yankees].

“I’m not the only one that can have good veteran presence. There’s a lot of players out there that do things the right way and prepare the right way. What I think I bring is just my competitive spirit. I play to win.”

Martin, 31, has missed the playoffs only twice in his nine-year career. If the Pirates hold the playoff position they strengthened by beating the Cubs in their weekend series at PNC Park, this would be four consecutive postseasons for him.

To get a guy who plans to keep that run going, it might take team president Theo Epstein’s best we’re-on-the-brink-of-something-special speech yet.

“[Winning’s] definitely the goal,” Martin said. “You don’t want to go somewhere and be miserable. Losing is not fun. But a lot of people questioned my decision to come here.”

The Pirates had a record 20-year run of losing seasons when Martin signed a two-year, $17 million deal before last season. He said a talk with manager Clint Hurdle about the difference he could make for the club was persuasive.

“And they had a winning season all the way up to September a couple years ago,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hmmm. Maybe they’re overworking. Maybe they’re doing a little bit too much, and then they’re getting fatigued.’

“A lot of young teams don’t understand the grind. They want to work every day and do so much. But you don’t want to oversaturate or over-exhaust yourself. You have to maintain. And there’s a certain consistency you have to have.

“I feel like in a way I’ve helped some guys here take their foot off the pedal a little bit.”

Yet, when he helped beat the Cubs 7-3 on Sunday, the Pirates were in full acceleration toward the finish with eight wins in their last 10 games.

Russell Martin’s influence on the young, emerging club?

Hmmm.

Sun-Times

Cubs hit into their first triple play in 14 years, lose to Pirates

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

PITTSBURGH — Not that they were looking for a fitting play to sum up their ugliest road trip of the year, but the Cubs definitely found it Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. An especially rare around-the-horn triple play put a sudden end to their fourth inning in their eighth loss in nine games.

One day after he hit his first big-league homer, rookie Matt Szczur drove a shot down the line toward third for what looked like a possible extra-base hit — until former Cubs farmhand Josh Harrison caught it next to the bag on a bounce, touched third and threw to second, where Neil Walker relayed just in time to get Szczur.

‘‘The fastest guy we have, too,’’ Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

It was the first time the Cubs hit into a triple play since a 3-6-2 play in Montreal on May 14, 2000.

‘‘I was close,’’ said Szczur, who started in right field and also made a diving catch in foul territory in the sixth inning of the 7-3 loss. ‘‘I put a good swing on it and tried to get out of the box as fast as I could.

‘‘Wrong time to hit it hard, that’s for sure.’’

No worse than the rest of a two-city trip that started with a three-hit shutout in Toronto and finished with Chris Coghlan, Luis Valbuena and Chris Valaika as the 3-4-5 heart of the order because of the continued absences of All-Stars Anthony Rizzo (back) and Starlin Castro (ankle).

Also gone for the weekend was top-performing rookie Jorge Soler, who was in Miami for the birth of his son and scheduled to rejoin the lineup Monday.

Heading into the last homestand of the year, a 10-gamer against the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, the depleted lineup and sloppy play of a rookie-filled team have given September the look of free-fall after a tight, promising, winning August.

‘‘The most important thing is they keep playing — they stay within themselves,’’ Renteria said.

Competing interests

Expect to see more moments like Saturday’s in Pittsburgh, when pitcher Dan Straily was left to get hit around longer than usual in his second inning, and Sunday’s, when rookie pitcher Erik Jokisch was allowed to bat with a man on base and two out in the seventh with the Cubs trailing by four.

‘‘That’s a question I have to balance against his usage,’’ Renteria said when asked about the Jokisch move. ‘‘There are a lot of things we’re doing. There’s some things that might seem a little odd at times.’’

Jokisch grounded out to second, then stayed in to pitch one more inning (2 2/3 total).

Straily and Jokisch are the two starters on the active roster who aren’t part of the six-man rotation, and when they pitch, the Cubs plan to extend them. In Jokisch’s case especially, it’s a matter putting player development over winning a game in what’s already assured of being the Cubs’ fifth consecutive losing season.

Security checks at Wrigley

The players aren’t the only ones facing a tougher homestand when the Cubs get home for 10 games starting Monday. Metal detectors already in use in many other ballparks will become part of the Wrigley Field protocol for fans entering the park starting Monday, as part of an MLB mandate.

Bag-check policies and procedures already in place will continue in addition to the metal-detector screenings.

14 9 / 2014

Sun-Times

Patient Javy Baez hits two dingers in two days

By Gordon Wittenmyer

PITTSBURGH — No Anthony Rizzo behind him in the lineup. No Starlin Castro. No Jorge Soler.

No problem for Javy Baez — at least not in the last two games. The Cubs’ big-swinging rookie with just 38 big-league games had struggled in particular since Rizzo left the lineup three weeks ago with a stiff back.

But on Friday, he hit his first home run since then, and on Saturday his two-run shot off Jeff Locke in the third inning jump-started the Cubs to a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that snapped a seven-game losing streak.

“He had some really good at-bats today,” manager Rick Renteria said of a 1-for-5 game for Baez that also included two called strikeouts. “I thought he was very patient, both in his at-bats and [with] some tough calls there. He showed extreme poise. He just came in and continued to go back out there and have as good at-bats as he could have.”

Baez, who has nine homers, and 69 strikeouts, has said that his challenge these days has more to do with dealing with how pitchers are working him than with who’s hitting behind him.

“I don’t think he thinks about who’s behind him or ahead of him,” Renteria said.

“He’s trying to develop his own identity as a hitter.”

The Cubs were outscored 54-13 during the losing streak, with more than three runs just once (in 10-4 loss last weekend to Pirates).

Raising Kane

As the Cubs were getting mathematically eliminated in the National League Central over the weekend in Pittsburgh, some of the kids who might have something to do with changing that someday finished off the best season in professional baseball this year.

Class A Kane County beat the Lake County (Ohio) Captains 7-2 on Saturday to sweep the Midwest League finals for their first league title since 2001 — and finishing with a 98-49 record, including 7-0 in the playoffs.

Daury Torrez (12-7) pitched five strong innings, and first baseman Jacob Rogers went 3-for-4, including a two-run homer in the clincher.

Notes

The Cubs plan to continue with a six-man rotation through at least one more full turn as they continue to monitor the progress of Edwin Jackson (lat strain), who anticipates one final start this season. They’re also looking for a chance to get rookie Eric Jokisch a start.

◆ Saturday’s starter, Felix Doubront, beat out a slow roller to second in the fourth inning for his first big-league hit.

◆ In three starts since ­making his Cubs debut, Doubront is 2-1 and has allowed three runs in 18 innings (1.50 ERA). The left-hander, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox at the trading deadline, said he plans to carry this momentum into spring ­training and be a big part of next year’s rotation.

◆ Rookie Jorge Soler on ­Saturday remained in Miami, where his son was born the day before. Soler, who is 16-for-45 (.356) with four home runs in 12 games since his debut late last month, is expected to rejoin the lineup Monday at home.

Sun-Times

Cubs Manager Rick Renteria confident his job is safe

By Gordon Wittenmyer

PITTSBURGH — The rookie-development program the Cubs are running at the big-league level has conspicuously included first-year manager Rick Renteria, whose game management has been called into question by longtime baseball people inside and outside the organization.

But if Renteria is concerned about his job security, especially heading into a 2015 season that figures to bring higher expectations, he’s not letting it show.

“I don’t worry about my job. Never have,” said Renteria, who signed a three-year contract when he took the position last fall. “I’ve never done it as a minor-league coach or big-league coach. I focus on my job.

“In the end, I’m always hopeful that what I do is good enough to take care of me and where I’m ­supposed to be.”

Renteria has been handed organizational mandates on the use of first-year relief pitchers and guidelines for how to use young players in general, but he also said he has been given the daily freedom to manage.

“They’ve allowed me my ­flexibility,” he said.

His predecessor, Dale Sveum, was allowed even more freedom. And after Sveum’s first year, team president Theo Epstein — who hand-picked the former Red Sox third-base coach to become his first Cubs manager — raved about Sveum and suggested his quickly developing reputation already had become a recruiting tool.

“Dale’s making a name for himself as a manager that players want to play for,” Epstein said. “Free agents recognize that we had a good clubhouse [in 2012] despite the difficult season that we had.”

A year later, Sveum was fired, and Epstein said it was because the manager was too hard on young players such as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, despite players in the clubhouse almost universally expressing respect and support for Sveum privately.

Renteria was hired from the Padres’ coaching staff with a reputation for having a good bedside manner with developing players and strong, bilingual communication skills.

But several players questioned his daily-affirmation methods as early as spring training, and by early in the season, his occasional head-scratching moves, quick hooks for starters and inconsistent communication had worn thin with many.

Not that he raised alarm bells in the front office during a season of nearly constant roster transition, with some of the organization’s top prospects now in the majors.

During the recent homestand, Epstein praised Renteria for creating “an environment for the young players to continue to develop and thrive at the big-league level.”

“As for the X’s and O’s and the in-game stuff, he’s growing into that, and it’s kind of nice that he can grow with this team.”

Renteria said in-game strategy is “all relative.”

“Everybody has their opinion on that,” he said. “When I think of X’s and O’s, I just think about how comfortable I allow a player to be in their own skin to be able to perform. I mean, every time I put somebody in to pitch, if he executes, it’s the right X or the right O. If I pinch-hit somebody and he gets a hit, it’s the right X, it’s the right O.

“Basically [Epstein is] saying he’s supportive, I’m assuming. And I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.”

Renteria acknowledged expectations to start winning will be raised next year but downplayed the pressure that might put on him as the manager.

“How I go about things isn’t ­going to change,” he said. “I will approach it the same way. I’m not afraid of [higher expectations]. It’s part of what we’re all supposed to be about. And I think expectations are good.

“And in the end,” he added, “if I don’t do what I was brought here to do, change is inevitable. But my hope is I’m able to do a good-enough job, and our staff is able to do a good-enough job, to continue to move us forward and ultimately win.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Josh Vitters and the weight of being a prospect

By Tony Andracki

The clock is ticking on Josh Vitters and his future with the Cubs.

Remember Vitters? The No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft has been an afterthought during a season in which the Cubs have seen 10 players make a big-league debut, using 16 rookies overall.

Two years ago, the Cubs forced the issue and promoted Vitters and Brett Jackson, another first-round pick, and watched them struggle to make the adjustments. Neither has been back since - until Jackson earned a call-up with the Arizona Diamondbacks (where he was dealt last month) this week - and they became cautionary tales in the rebuild.

For the moment, Vitters has one of those valuable 40-man roster spots the Cubs talked about while defending the decision to not make Kris Bryant a September call-up, even after a season that made him Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year.

Vitters watched the prospects come and go at Triple-A Iowa, from Arismendy Alcantara to Javier Baez to Jorge Soler. It’s on their shoulders now, having to carry the weight of expectations from the fan base and a big media market.

"It was something that I definitely thought about maybe my first couple years after I signed," Vitters said during an interview this summer. "And it was just kind of a thing that I had to deal with myself, mainly.

"People have their tips and stuff like that, but when it comes down to it, you have to figure it out yourself. You have to learn how to manage the emotions and go out there to play according to your own expectations, instead of somebody else’s."

Vitters is still trying to figure it out, seven-plus years after he was drafted out of high school in Orange County, Calif. He turned 25 in late August – he seems older because he’s been around so long – but it’s hard to see where he fits here moving forward as a converted first baseman/outfielder.

Knowing there would be a squeeze on the 40-man roster this winter, the Cubs shipped Jackson to the Diamondbacks, where he could see some playing time in the season’s final two weeks. But Vitters wasn’t looking for a fresh start with another organization when a reporter mentioned the possibility this summer.

"I’ve never even thought about that," Vitters said. "I’ve only been with one team since I signed. That’s the only team that I’ve really thought about, just getting up there with the Cubs and playing at Wrigley Field."

During his two-month audition in The Show in 2012, Vitters hit .121 while striking out 33 times in 99 at-bats. He returned to Iowa for more seasoning last year, but injuries limited him to just 33 games, and staying healthy has been an issue throughout his career.

Vitters finished this season hitting .213 with 11 homers, 38 RBI and a .607 OPS in 112 games at Iowa. Baseball America had rated him as the best pure hitter among all prep players leading up to the 2007 draft, and he developed into a Pacific Coast League All-Star in 2012.

Vitters said he feels like he has something to prove…but not to Theo Epstein’s front office.

"More for myself, just because I know what I’m capable of," he said. "Nobody knows as well as I do, so I want to go out there and be able to feel like I’m playing at my optimal level."

Tribune

Doubront, Szczur get firsts in Cubs win

By Paul Sullivan

PITTSBURGH— The Cubs’ rotation for 2015 is starting to get interesting now that Felix Doubront has his act together.

Doubront pitched six shutout innings Saturday in a 6-4 win over the Pirates, helping to snap a season-high seven-game losing streak.

After arriving from the Red Sox with a 6.07 earned-run average, Doubront is 2-1 in three starts for the Cubs with a 1.50 ERA. He figures to be the favorite to win a spot next spring, assuming there is one. 

“Everything went well today,” he said. “I started the game throwing strikes, good sinker. I stumbled a couple times getting behind in the count with the first hitter… but I was able to make good pitches for quick outs.” 

With Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks having sealed the top two spots, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood under contract, there could be only one opening. The Cubs also could go after a free agent like Jon Lester, or trade Wood.

Doubront said he’s not doing anything differently, just working on his mechanics after overcoming a shoulder injury in Boston.

“My arm is pretty loose and I’m more consistent, (throwing with) more conviction,” he said. “Mentally I’m really good.”

Doubront also got his first major league hit, an infield chopper, and proudly showed off the ball after the game.

The Cubs got a pair of home runs by Javy Baez and Matt Szczur, It was the first of Szczur’s career, making him the latest Cubs’ rookie with a homer. The ball was thrown back onto the field, then tossed into the stands to a boy. It took a while, but the Cubs finally got the ball back for Szczur, with an assist from third base ump Paul Schrieber.

Szczur doesn’t expect to be in any contest with Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler. 

“I don’t know about a rookie home run derby,” he said. “That’s my second of the year. It’s good to be here, man. It’s really exciting. I’m glad we got a win tonight. We were struggling there for a bit. Hopefully this ignites some wins and we finish the season strong.”

Szczur, who played baseball and football at Villanova in Philadelphia, had many family members and friends on hand for his big night, including college teammate Russ Ventrone, who plays for the Steelers.

Szczur said his first home run of 2014 came the second week of the season at Triple-A Iowa.

“I thought I was going to have about 20, and I end up having only one,” he said. “That’s what I get for thinking.”

Tribune

Rick Renteria gets pass on record for 1st year

By Paul Sullivan

PITTSBURGH — With two weeks left in the season the Cubs remain on pace to lose 90-plus games for the fourth straight year, a feat unmatched in the 138-year history of the franchise..

Even after a 6-4 victory over the Pirates Saturday that snapped a season-high seven-game losing streak, the Cubs are still on target to lose 91 games.

So Renteria gets a mulligan for 2014. Whether he deserves another in 2015 may depend on whether the front office spends money on starting pitching this offseason.

Does Renteria expect more pressure to win next year?

"I don’t think it’s pressure," Renteria said. "It’s what you expect to do. Any club in any major league sport is expected to win. … I place expectations on myself to lead men, to hopefully not get in the way and allow them to perform and win ballgames. But the results are truly the process of how they play the game.

"And in the end, if I don’t do what I was brought here to do, change is inevitable."

One year ago few in Chicago knew Renteria’s name. He was the Padres’ bench coach with only eight years of minor league managing experience, the last coming in 2007 when he went 58-86 with Triple-A Portland.

Renteria said managing the Cubs has been “an easier transition than I would’ve imagined” as he credited the players, front office and even the media.

"Everybody has been very, very supportive," he said. "Everybody really has a sense of what the organization is trying to do, so maybe that has made it easier."

Evaluating Renteria’s first year is a bit difficult.

Like Sveum he was handed a roster full of castoffs and inexperienced players, and his top two starters were traded in July. The rebound seasons of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are notches in Renteria’s belt, though Travis Wood has regressed, Edwin Jackson hasn’t improved and a .298 on-base percentage is the Cubs’ lowest since 1968, the last year before the mound was lowered to add offense to the game.

Renteria’s pitching decisions and lineups have undergone the most scrutiny, but he rarely has been booed by fans, criticized by his players or ridiculed by the media, as Quade occasionally was in 2011.

"Anytime you’re trying to develop a club, an identity, and still develop players at the major league level, sometimes you do things that might seem odd," Renteria said. "But there’s a big picture to it and things end up working out."

Asked what he meant by decisions that “seem odd,” he pointed to batting power-hitting Javier Baez second to get him more at-bats and carrying eight relievers most of the year. Obviously, however, the front office had a major say in those decisions.

Cubs President Theo Epstein has been supportive of Renteria, saying he has created a good environment for the young players.

"As for the X’s and O’s and the in-game stuff, he’s growing into that," Epstein said. "And it’s kind of nice that he can grow with this team."

Renteria said “X’s and O’s are X’s and O’s,” and that he has “open communication” with Epstein on lineups and other decisions.

"It’s all relative," he said of his strategical moves. "Basically he’s saying he’s supportive, I’m assuming. I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t."

Cubs.com

Doubront, Baez thwart Pirates’ playoff surge

By Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Javier Baez, Matt Szczur and Felix Doubront combined to end the Cubs’ losing streak, although it wasn’t without a little late-inning drama. Manager Rick Renteria is used to it.

Baez belted his second home run in as many games, Szczur smacked his first Major League blast, and Doubront scattered four hits over six scoreless innings Saturday night to lead the Cubs to a 6-4 win over the Pirates, and end their losing streak at seven games.

Russell Martin doubled with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth and Travis Snider hit a leadoff homer in the ninth for the Pirates, who are still alive in the National League Central race while continuing to hold a Wild Card spot.

Doubront, acquired July 30 from the Red Sox, picked up his second win in his third start with the Cubs, and first ever at PNC Park. He credited pitching coach Chris Bosio with some key tips and feeling healthy for the turnaround.

"Everything went well today," Doubront said. "I was able to make good pitches to get quick outs and I’m really happy for that."

The Cubs struggled offensively during the seven-game skid, which coincided with All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo sidelined with injuries. The six runs were the most scored since Chicago’s last win, a 6-2 decision Sept. 3 over the Brewers.

Baez picked up the slack. Arismendy Alcantara singled to lead off the third against Jeff Locke, and Baez followed with his ninth home run to go ahead, 2-0.

"Apparently that’s all he does," Locke said of Baez. "He’s hitting below .200, he’s finding the barrel that’s for sure, and we’ve seen him strike out a ton. I left a changeup up, and he had that big swing on it."

Baez also was called out on strikes twice on some close calls.

"He had some really good at-bats today," Renteria said. "He was very patient in his at-bats and with some tough calls there. He showed extreme poise."

Welington Castillo hit a sacrifice fly and Mike Olt added an RBI double in the Chicago seventh, and Szczur connected in the eighth off Justin Wilson.

The Cubs need two more wins to top last year’s record of 66-96 and have 14 games remaining. It’s baby steps, but it’d be another plus for Renteria as he wraps up his first year on the job.

"Everybody has a sense of what the organization is trying to do, so maybe that’s made it easier for me in my transition to manager as opposed to being a coach," Renteria said.

There have been plenty of challenges, and Renteria admitted to doing some things that might seem a little odd, such as batting Baez second or carrying an extra pitcher in the bullpen the majority of the season to protect the young arms.

Last week, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was asked about Renteria’s performance, and he complimented the first-year skipper on providing an environment for the young players to develop and thrive at the big league level. Cubs fans are getting a peek at the future with the promotions of players such as Baez, Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks and Jorge Soler. While player development was stressed this year, Renteria knows the emphasis could change.

"I don’t worry about my job, never have," Renteria said. "I’ve never done that as a Minor League coach, big league coach. I focus on my job. I think there are a lot of good things in place here. I think the organization is moving in the right direction here. I sincerely believe that; I sincerely believed that when I first interviewed for this job. It’s legitimate."

Cubs.com

Szczur enjoys first big league trip around bases

By Carrie Muskat

 PITTSBURGH — Matt Szczur timed his first big league home run perfectly.

The rookie outfielder led off the eighth inning Saturday night with his first blast in the Cubs’ 6-4 victory over the Pirates, and had his family, his fiancee and her family, and lots of friends from Villanova in the crowd of 38,024 at PNC Park.

It was almost harder to get the ball than it was to hit it. Szczur’s homer sailed into the left-field seats, and a young fan ended up with it. The Cubs coaches got word to third-base umpire Paul Schrieber about the importance of the home run, and he intervened, going over to the stands to ask the young man for the ball.

"There were a lot of people involved trying to get that baseball," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

"After the inning, [Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio] came up to me and said ‘Hey, Szczur, we got the ball for you. We had a hard time getting it, but we got it,’" Szczur said. "I was like, ‘Did you make sure you signed it?’ He sure did — he signed it for me."

Bosio autographs each ball with the date, the location and the pitcher — which is how the Cubs authenticate the souvenirs.

Cubs rookies have provided plenty of pop this season with Javier Baez hitting his ninth homer Saturday. Mike Olt has 12, Arismendy Alcantara has nine and Jorge Soler has four.

"I don’t know about [joining the] rookie home run derby — that’s my second of the year," Szczur said. "It’s good to be here [in the big leagues]. It’s really exciting. Hopefully this ignites some wins and we finish the season strong."

He hit his only other home run on April 13.

"I thought I was going to have about 20, and I ended up having one," Szczur said. "That’s what I get for thinking."

Cubs.com

Turner wants to make lasting impression on Cubs

By Manny Randhawa

A common trait with many teams that make the postseason is a better-than-expected performance from certain key players. Right-hander Edinson Volquez has certainly put himself in that category for the Pirates, who occupy the National League’s second Wild Card spot and are trailing the Cardinals by 3 1/2 games in the NL Central with 14 games remaining in the regular season.

The 31-year-old is enjoying his best campaign since his rookie season, when he went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 2008. Volquez has allowed three runs or fewer in nine straight outings and 14 of his last 15 starts as he prepares to take the mound against the Cubs in Sunday’s rubber match at PNC Park.

In his last outing, Volquez allowed three runs over six innings against the Phillies on Tuesday, but left a tie game only to see the Bucs fall, 4-3. He wasn’t happy about coming out of the game for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh, just as he wasn’t happy when he was removed in his previous outing after 6 1/3 frames.

"I threw 82 [pitches] in my last one before this one, and I threw [92] today," Volquez said. "I was more than ready to go [in the seventh inning]."

"That last inning, I think he threw close to 30 pitches, 27, 28 pitches," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had the punchout to end the inning. He continues to compete and gives us a chance to win."

With the playoff race seemingly headed down to the wire, Volquez will try to give Pittsburgh another chance to win on Sunday, and one of the challenges he’ll be tasked with is keeping rookie Javier Baez in the ballpark. After hitting seven home runs in his first 19 Major League games, the 21-year-old has homered in back-to-back contests.

Volquez will be opposed by fellow righty Jacob Turner for the Cubs.

Turner came to the Cubs in an Aug. 8 trade with the Marlins. The 23-year-old will make his fourth start for Chicago, and has had a rough start to his Cubs career — he went 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA in his first two outings.

In his last start, Turner was hit hard for five runs (four earned) on seven hits over six innings in a loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto on Monday. He lamented a three-run homer to Jose Bautista, in particular, after missing his intended target on a pitch to the dangerous slugger with a base open.

"It’s one of those situations where you’re trying to make a pitch that if he doesn’t swing, you put him on, and if he does he’s probably out," Turner said. "I didn’t execute when I needed to. It’s a big moment in the game. That’s on me. If we get through that inning from where we’re at, it’s a totally different game."

Turner is auditioning for a spot in the Cubs’ 2015 rotation, and a strong outing against a playoff contender would be impressive after his rocky start with Chicago.

Cubs: Middle of the order has a bright future

With Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and rookies Baez and Jorge Soler in the lineup, manager Rick Renteria said on Saturday that the heart of Chicago’s order has a bright future.

"Fortunately for us, we have [Rizzo], who has great approaches and is our No. 3 hitter now, and [Soler] can be that kind of guy, too," Renteria said. "It’s a good problem for us to have in terms of what these guys might profile at. If they’re all doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, I can see them in the second through the sixth slot.

"I think [fans] should be very excited about the possibilities."

Pirates: Marte still day to day

Starling Marte has been hot at the plate, riding a 10-game hitting streak during which he is batting .390 (16-for-41) with four doubles and two homers. But he hasn’t played since being hit on the left elbow by an A.J. Burnett pitch on Thursday in Philadelphia.

After batting .256 in the season’s first half, Marte has been red-hot since, batting .353 since the All-Star break.

While he wasn’t available to hit in Saturday’s game, he was available to pinch-run, if necessary.

Worth noting

• The Cubs’ Luis Valbuena is 3-for-5 with a double, a homer and two RBIs in his career against Volquez.

• With Volquez starting on Sunday after Jeff Locke started against the Cubs on Saturday, the Pirates will have started pitchers in back-to-back games that led the National League in walks in back-to-back years: Volquez in 2012 and Locke in 2013.

The pair combined to walk 189 in 349 innings in those seasons. This season, they’ve combined to issue 97 free passes in 192 innings.

Cubs.com

Kane County wins Midwest League championship

By Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Jacob Rogers smacked a two-run home run and finished with three RBIs to lead Class A Kane County to a 7-2 win over Lake County and clinch the Midwest League championship.

The Cougars went unbeaten in the postseason. They were 3-0 in the best-of-five championship series to win their first league title since 2001. Kane County also swept Wisconsin in the quarterfinal round and Cedar Rapids in the division championship round.

Daury Torrez held Lake County to one run on five hits over five innings for the win.

Carlos Penalver hit an RBI double in the second to tie the game at 1, and Kane County took a 3-1 lead on Rogers’ homer in the third. Rogers added an RBI single in the fifth.

Rogers and Jeimer Candelario each finished with three hits.

ESPNChicago.com

Javier Baez homers as Cubs hold off Pirates to snap a 7-game skid

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Javier Baez is learning, and Saturday was another good day for the touted prospect.

Baez and fellow rookie Matt Szczur homered, and the Chicago Cubs snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Baez connected for a two-run shot in Chicago’s three-run third, and Szczur hit a leadoff drive in the eighth for his first career homer. It was Baez’s second homer in two nights and No. 9 on the season.

Baez is 4-for-15 with two homers and three RBIs in his past four games after going 6-for-62 with 28 strikeouts during a prolonged slump for the 21-year-old infielder.

"I’m just trying to go up to the plate with a good approach," Baez said. "I’ve been working with [hitting coach Bill Mueller] and trying to have better at-bats. I’ve felt more comfortable the last few days."

Felix Doubront (2-1) pitched six scoreless innings for the Cubs in his third start since he was acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox.

Russell Martin hit a three-run double in the eighth for Pittsburgh, which had won seven of eight. The Pirates’ lead for the second NL wild card stayed at 1½ games over Milwaukee, which lost 5-1 to Cincinnati.

Travis Snider hit a leadoff homer in the ninth against Cubs closer Hector Rondon, who then retired three in a row for his 24th save in 28 chances.

Arismendy Alcantara, another rookie prospect for Chicago, had two hits and two RBIs as the Cubs ended their worst losing streak of the season. Chicago also had lost seven straight games against Pittsburgh.

"It was a good team win," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "A lot of people contributed."

Pittsburgh’s Jeff Locke (7-5) allowed three runs in 5⅓ innings, throwing just 62 of 106 pitches for strikes. He lost for just the second time in his past seven decisions.

"I just didn’t make pitches when I needed to in that [third] inning," Locke said. "It was the difference in the game because we came back and scored late."

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo missed his 17th straight game with a lower back strain but remains on course to return to the lineup Monday night when Chicago hosts Cincinnati.

Pirates: LF Starling Marte sat out for the second game in a row with a bruised left arm and likely won’t return to action until at least Tuesday for the opener of a three-game home series against Boston.

UP NEXT

RHP Jacob Turner (5-9, 5.84 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Sunday against RHP Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.36 ERA) in the finale of the three-game series.

Turner is 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA in three starts since being acquired Aug. 8 in a trade with Miami. Volquez is 3-0 with a 2.29 ERA in his past nine starts and has not lost since July 21 to the Dodgers.

HE GOT THE BALL, EVENTUALLY

It seemed as if Szczur was in luck when a fan in the left-field bleachers threw his first home run ball back onto the field.

Snider retrieved the ball and tossed it to the ball girl along the left-field line, but she gave it to a boy sitting in the stands.

At the end of the inning, third-base umpire Paul Schrieber gave the young fan another ball in exchange for the Szczur ball.

13 9 / 2014

Tribune

Anthony Rizzo counsels patience with Javier Baez

By Paul Sullivan

Anthony Rizzo can empathize with struggling young Cubs hitters: “I stunk. Really bad.”

Cubs’ strikeout-prone offense making franchise history.

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs cautioned there would be some growing pains for Javier Baez, who previously struggled at the start of each rung on the minor league ladder.

But Baez’s struggles may have been exacerbated by being a centerpiece in a lineup that’s without Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, and had no Jorge Soler in it Friday.

Nevertheless, Baez finally ended a 17-game home run drought, hitting a fourth inning solo shot after not having one leave the park since Aug. 23.

Baez came into the night with no RBIs since Aug. 29 and was hitting .128 since Aug. 30 with 21 strikeouts in 47 at-bats. Pitchers have taken advantage of his over-aggressive tendencies, and the Cubs’ overall lack of plate discipline.

Rizzo can empathize, having been in Baez’s shoes when he came up with the Padres in 2011 and hitting .141 in 49 games before being demoted to Triple A.

"I stunk," Rizzo said. "Really bad."

It’s one thing to come up as a rookie. It’s another to come up as a rookie who’s expected to be a cornerstone of the organization for years to come.

"It’s tough because you get up here, and everyone’s heard about you for a while," Rizzo said. "This goes for everyone, even Soler. I know he’s hitting great now but … it’s tough because you want to showcase yourself. To the guys in the clubhouse, to the other teams, to other people who hear about you. So you do, I think, a little too much. It’s natural. You learn from it.

"Three weeks from now when everyone is and relaxing, that’s when they’ll really be able to see what went well, what didn’t go well."

With Soler leaving the team for the weekend to be with his girlfriend for the birth of their first child, and with Rizzo and Castro injured, manager Rick Renteria wrote out a lineup that had only two players — Luis Valbuena and Welington Castillo — who have been with the team all season.

The Cubs long ago broke the franchise record for most strikeouts in a season, and led the majors with 1,311 strikeouts heading into Friday’s game. They also came in with a .298 on-base percentage, second lowest in baseball and the lowest of any Cubs team since 1968, when they finished at .298.

"It is a bit learning on the job right now," Renteria said. "Everything is available to every (club) in terms of watching hitter’s videos and things of that nature, so they’ll try to take advantage of it. That puts the hitter now in a position where he has to make an adjustment. Believe it or not, it’s talked about. I know everybody would love (to see) instantaneous adjustments and corrections. That’s not necessarily the way it works."

Can we expect to see the same next year?

"I would hope not," he said. "The hope is that the knowledge they’re gaining … that they’ll grow. It’d be impossible for me to say ‘Look into a crystal ball, it’s not going to happen again.’ That would be foolish for me to say. I have got to allow that to play out and let’s see where it’s at. But I would reiterate, their skills sets are very good skill sets. And we’re hopeful that they’ll be able to, in practical terms, play well at the major league level."

Extra innings: Rizzo took batting practice again on Friday but Renteria said he’s out for the weekend series. “He has been taking ground balls, but everybody has to remember he has been down almost three weeks so we have to get his legs underneath him a little bit and allow him to feel good,” Renteria said. … Castro (ankle) was out of his walking boot Friday night and said he wants to return even if it’s only for a few games.

Tribune

Renteria sees progress in Cubs’ seventh straight loss

Paul Sullivan

PITTSBURGH— No Rizzo, no Castro, no Soler.

No chance.

The Cubs couldn’t overcome the loss of their top three offensive threats Friday, losing 7-3 to the Pirates for their season-high seventh straight defeat.

For the kids in the Cubs’ clubhouse, experiencing this kind of losing streak at the major league level is a cold slap in the face. The Cubs look over-matched, and it’s showing without Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and rookie slugger Jorge Soler in the lineup.

"All the guys that have been here, we’re talking to them, (saying) ‘Just come out and have fun, enjoy the game no matter what happens,’" catcher Welington Castillo said. "It’s not easy. It’s tough. We’re just trying to keep everybody comfortable."

Gerrit Cole kept the Cubs at bay for six innings, with the exception of solo home runs to Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, and an RBI single by Castillo. Baez hit his first homer in 17 games, one of the few positives of the night.

"It’s a positive result for him to hit the ball out of the ballpark," manager Rick Renteria said. "More than anything, I think just in general his approaches are starting to get a little better, which is what we’re looking for."

Tsuyoshi Wada (4-3) got the loss, failing to last five innings. Wada allowed four runs on nine hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings.

"There were a lot of soft hits," Castillo said. "He got unlucky today, and that team is hot. Everything they swung at just found a hole."

Renteria wasn’t upset with the loss, especially after the way they performed in Toronto, saying “we played a little better today, in general.”

But a “little better” wasn’t enough against the Pirates, who have now beaten the Cubs six straight times, and in 13 of their 17 meetings in 2014.

"We were in there," Renteria said. "The game itself was much better than the previous five or six games."

Renteria then asked: “Was today the sixth one?”

He was told it was their seventh straight loss.

"To the previous six games, I think today was much better," he continued. "We fell short, but I thought they looked a little bit more in tune with how they’ve kind of been playing the game."

Felix Doubront will go on Saturday as the Cubs try to snap the streak.

Tribune

Losers can be winners with baseball ‘worst’ awards

Paul Sullivan

PITTSBURGH — Baseball’s awards races are winding down, and the Baseball Writers Association of America has some difficult choices to make in the four voting categories for each league.

Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Jose Abreu appear to be shoo-ins for American League MVP, National League Cy Young and AL Rookie of the Year, respectively.

But the other categories — including the two Manager of the Year awards — may come down to the final weeks.

On the flip side, there are also some interesting races shaping up for the worst performances of the 2014 season.

Here’s how one man’s ballot would be shaping up, if these awards actually existed:

Least Valuable Player Award — Dan Uggla, Braves and Giants: Uggla, who earned $13 million in 2014, was released twice in less than one month and wound up hitting .149 with 10 RBIs. That’s $1.3 million per RBI, if you’re counting.

There were plenty of perennials in this category, including Adam Dunn (.225, 142 strikeouts) and B.J. Upton, who ranks fourth in worst strikeout percentage (30.3 percent) with only 34 RBIs in 542 plate appearances. Dunn’s candidacy has taken a blow after performing well for the A’s since being acquired for the stretch run.

Also in the running are the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo, who hit .242 with 40 RBIs after signing a seven-year, $130 million deal, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury, making it tough to overtake Uggla. Another LVP candidate is the Yankees’ Brian McCann, hitting .241 with a .292 OBP after signing a five-year, $85 million deal.

Not Cy Young Award — Edwin Jackson, Cubs: Jackson’s late August lat injury left him stuck on 14 losses, giving him little chance to match his major league worst 18 losses from 2013. But Jackson’s 6.09 ERA — aided by a 7.91 in four second-half starts before heading to the disabled list on a rebuilding team — should be high enough to eke out the triumph. Left-handers batted .341 off him.

He has some stiff competition from stiffs like the Padres’ Eric Stults (6-16, 4.55 ERA), the Cardinals’ Justin Masterson (6-9, 6.03 ERA) and the Rangers’ Colby Lewis (9-13, 5.29 ERA).

Rookie Bust of the Year Award — Xander Boegarts, Red Sox: Boegarts (.238 average, .668 OPS) and teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. (.208 average, .284 OBP, 142 strikeouts) were neck-and-neck all year, but Boegarts gets the nod after coming up in August of 2013 and getting 12 games of postseason experience on a World Series champion.

Several other rookies had worse seasons, but did not meet the necessary hype quotient to qualify. The good part for Boegarts and all other struggling rookies? Mike Trout hit .220 in 40 games with the Angels in his first call-up in 2011, yet won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2012, finishing second in AL MVP voting in 2012 and 2013.

Overhyped Executive of the Year Award — Jon Daniels, Rangers: The general manager was heralded as one of the best and brightest young executives in the game, at least before acquiring Matt Garza at the July 2013 trade deadline for four minor league prospects, including C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez.

Last winter, Daniels signed Choo for $130 million and acquired the Tigers’ Prince Fielder, who makes $24 million annually through 2010, for Ian Kinsler. Despite having the eighth-highest payroll at $136 million, the Rangers were the worst team in baseball, giving Daniels a chance to guess wrong on the top draft pick in 2015.

Arsonist of the Year Award — Jim Johnson, A’s and Tigers: The opposite of the Fireman of the Year award, Johnson is the overwhelming choice as worst relief pitcher of 2014, despite having only one blown save to his name. He entered the weekend with a 6.89 ERA and 1.95 WHIP with two teams who may meet in the AL wild-card game. The A’s released him Aug. 1, eating around $5 million of his $10 million salary. The Tigers then picked him up for their bullpen as their 1.48 WHIP is tied with the White Sox for worst in the majors.

The Rockies’ Rex Brothers (six blown saves, 5.71 ERA, 6.6 walks per nine innings) and the White Sox’s Ronald Belisario (4-8, 5.57 ERA) deserve dishonorable mentions.

Un-Manager of the Year Award — John Farrell, Red Sox: Another tough call, especially with the Astros’ Bo Porter not getting a chance to finish out his embarrassing season. Late-season collapses by the Brewers (Ron Roenicke) and the A’s (Bob Melvin) put those two in contention, though both were Manager of the Year candidates in their leagues only weeks ago.

But the winner has to be the Red Sox’s Farrell, who earned plaudits leading the World Series champs in 2013 only to watch them helplessly careen into the gutter in 2014.

Drug Suspension of the Year Award — Chris Davis, Orioles: The modern-day answer to the Comeback Player of the Year Award, this one goes to the Orioles’ “Crash” Davis for testing positive twice for amphetamine use and being handed a 25-game suspension on Friday. If the Orioles crash-and-burn in the postseason without him, they have a ready-made scapegoat for the offseason.

Tribune

Friday’s recap: Pirates 7, Cubs 3

Paul Sullivan

The summary

The Pirates won for the seventh time in eight games and dealt the Cubs their season-high seventh straight loss. Gerrit Cole pitched six innings to notch his ninth victory, and the Pirates collected 14 hits on the night.

On the mound

Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada lasted 41/3 innings, allowing four runs on nine hits. Two of those hits went in and out of the gloves of right-fielder Ryan Kalish and second baseman Logan Watkins, leading to a run in the second inning.

At the plate

Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara hit solo home runs, but the Cubs managed only seven hits and struck out 12 times.

Road blues

The Cubs are 0-4 on the trip and have been outscored 35-6. They have suffered six straight road losses by a combined score of 57-14.

The number

6: The Pirates have beaten the Cubs their last six meetings.

The quote

Anthony Rizzo on Baez, Alcantara and Jorge Soler: “Just let ‘em play. It’s good for them all to go into the offseason knowing what they need to do to get better.”

Up next

Cubs (LH Felix Doubrount, 3-5, 5.43) at Pirates (LH Jeff Locke, 7-4, 3.60), Saturday, 6:05 p.m., CSN.

Sun-Times

A trying trial by fire for Cubs’ kids as losing streak hits seven

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

PITTSBURGH — They can only dream of what meaningful big-league baseball in the fall will feel like in their dugout.

But some of the Cubs’ kids being counted on to deliver the next generation of fall thrills at Wrigley Field at least got an up-close look at a pennant race shoved in their face Friday night at near-capacity PNC Park, thanks to the surging, scoreboard-watching Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Cubs’ major contributions to the buzz in Pittsburgh was the big-swinging, undermanned lineup continually stirring the chilled air with another 12 strikeouts — and solo home runs by touted rookies Javy Baez and Arismendy Alcantara that kept the game close until the Pirates pulled away for a 7-3 victory about the time the division-leading Cardinals had opened an early lead on the Rockies in St. Louis.

“They’re fully aware of what’s going on,” manager Rick Renteria said. “They are fully aware of the race that’s occurring at this moment. What we’re trying to make sure they do is give themselves a chance by playing the game a ­certain way, and today I thought we were in there.

“Today was much better than the previous six games.”

It didn’t prevent a seventh consecutive loss, or make the prospects look any better for turning the trend the final two games of the road trip — especially with their most impressive prospect so far, Jorge Soler, missing the series to travel to Miami for the birth of his first child.

With Starlin Castro (ankle) already considered out for the final weeks and Renteria saying Friday that Anthony Rizzo (back) isn’t expect to return for this series, the Cubs’ lineup included a 3-4-5 middle of Luis Valbuena, Welington Castillo and Ryan Kalish.

Instead, the trial by fire heats up for the kids as the weather cools — with the Cubs extending their losing streak and hitting double digits in strikeouts for the ninth time in 17 games since Rizzo left the lineup.

Baez’s homer was his eighth since his Aug. 5 debut, but only his first since Aug. 23 — three days before Rizzo was forced from the lineup, where he protected two-hitter Baez from the No. 3 hole.

“It is a little bit of learning on the job,” Renteria said of what the raw, aggressive young hitters are going through these final few weeks.

The Cubs lead the majors in strikeouts, averaging nine per game. The trend has naturally been upward since a series of July trades and August promotions put up to six rookies at a time in the lineup.

Since the kiddie coach started dropping prospects into the lineup with Alcantara’s debut on July 9, it’s been 18 games with 12 or more Ks — seven with at least 15.

In 89 games before that: 10 with at least 12 and four with 15 (three of those in extra-inning games).

Renteria said he saw better approaches against hard-throwing young Pirates starter Gerrit Cole.

Saturday? The day after? Who knows?

But Renteria expects the wild swings and raw aggression won’t be as prevalent by next season.

“I would hope not,” he said. “It would be impossible for me to say that it’s not going to happen again. That would be foolish for me to say.

“But their skill sets are very good skill sets, and we’re hopeful that they’ll be able to play well and make adjustments.”

Cubs.com

Despite rookie pop, Cubs’ skid reaches seven games

Baez, Alcantara each go deep; Renteria believes in learning experience

By Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Javier Baez picked up some pointers after watching video from his days at Double-A Tennessee, and it paid off with his first home run since Aug. 23. But it wasn’t enough to stop the Cubs’ losing streak.

Baez and fellow rookie Arismendy Alcantara each hit solo blasts in the Cubs’ 7-3 loss Friday night to the red-hot Pirates at PNC Park. Jordy Mercer drove in three runs to back Gerrit Cole as Pittsburgh handed Chicago its seventh straight setback, extending a streak that started one week ago in a defeat at Wrigley Field to the Pirates. This is the Cubs’ longest skid since a seven-game stretch Sept. 22-29, 2012.

The Pirates, on the other hand, are still very much alive in the National League Central race while continuing to hold a Wild Card spot. Cole picked up his second straight win over the Cubs. He struck out eight over six innings last Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Baez, who reviewed video with Tennessee hitting coach Desi Wilson, led off the fourth with his eighth home run to pull the Cubs within a run at 2-1.

"It’s a positive result for him to hit the ball out of the ballpark," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "But more than anything, his approach is starting to get a little better, which is what we’re looking for."

Baez fanned twice Friday and had a tough time in the three-game series at Wrigley last weekend, striking out 10 times in 13 at-bats against the Pirates. He’s not the only one. During the Cubs’ losing streak, they’ve averaged 11 strikeouts a game.

"The hope is that the knowledge they’re gaining and the things they have to do in terms of adjusting as to how the pitchers are attacking them, they’ll grow," Renteria said. "It’s impossible for me to look into a crystal ball and say it won’t happen again. We have to allow that to play itself out. Their skill sets are very good skill sets. We’re hopeful they can play well at the Major League level."

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo knows something about struggles. When first called up to the Padres in 2011, he batted .143 in June and July, and was then sent back to the Minor Leagues.

"When you’re up there trying to get more than one hit in an at-bat, it’s not easy," Rizzo said. "For me, it was trying to hit two home runs in one at-bat. You can’t do that — it’s impossible. You can’t get three hits in one at-bat. You can only take care of what you can take care of. That’s the biggest thing you need to learn. I need to re-learn that when I go into a little rut."

Renteria doesn’t like to say they’re struggling; he prefers to call it “hiccups.”

"They have to make adjustments and continue to try to make adjustments," Renteria said of the young players. "The experiences they’re having now are invaluable. They can use it to their advantage to build on and improve and try to figure out what adjustments they need to make to continue to develop at the Major League level. It’s a pretty good skill set for some of these young men."

Rizzo, sidelined with a lower back strain, isn’t comfortable coaching, but he’ll offer in-game tips on pitchers. His advice?

"As far as hitting, let them play," Rizzo said. "[Baez] is at 100 at-bats. Jorge Soler has 50 at-bats. Let them play. It’s good for them all to go into the offseason knowing what they need to do to get better to help this team."

Baez is taking advantage of the experience.

"It is important now because when we come next year, hopefully we start here [in the big leagues] and we’ll know how to handle everything," Baez said.

It helps that players like Rizzo and Welington Castillo are there for the youngsters.

"We’ve talked to them and told them, ‘Come out and have fun. Enjoy the game, no matter what happens,’" Castillo said. "This game is not easy. We just try to keep everybody comfortable and tell them to play hard and enjoy the game."

Cubs.com

Starlin walking without boot; Rizzo nearing return

Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was allowed to walk without a supportive walking boot on his left ankle Friday, and predicts he’ll be back before the season ends. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo continued to make progress in his rehab from a lower back strain, and was able to run the bases for the first time on Friday.

Castro, who suffered a high ankle sprain on Sept. 2 in an awkward slide at home, said it’s important for him to get some at-bats in the final two weeks.

"This is a great season for me," said Castro, who is batting .292. "I think I can improve more than what I’ve done. I want to be healthy, I don’t want to go into the offseason not playing. I want to play — if it’s three games, I’ll play three games."

Rizzo has not played since he left the Cubs’ Aug. 26 game in Cincinnati when his back tightened up. Manager Rick Renteria said the first baseman most likely will not return until Monday, when the team returns home to face the Reds.

"Obviously, we’re taking it very slow," Rizzo said before Friday’s opener vs. the Pirates. "We want it to be 100 percent going forward. We don’t want any setbacks."

Rizzo did take batting practice for the second day, but running was a new part of his rehab.

"It was nice to throw cleats on and sweat like that," he said.

• Rookie Jorge Soler returned to Miami on Friday for the birth of his first child, and was expected to rejoin the Cubs in Chicago on Monday.

Cubs.com

Alcantara’s homer confirmed after review

Tom Singer

PITTSBURGH — A crew-chief review requested by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle confirmed a home run by Arismendy Alcantara in the fifth inning of the Bucs’ game against the Cubs on Friday night.

Alcantara led off with the drive off Gerrit Cole into PNC Park’s right-center seats — which landed in the lap of a fan who had his arms stretched out over the railing.

A very brief review was necessary to confirm the original call of home run. Angles of the drive showed it clearing the railing prior to reaching the spectator.

The home run cut the Pirates’ lead to 3-2.

Cubs.com

Additional security measures on tap at Wrigley

By Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs open their last homestand of the season on Monday when they play host to the Reds at Wrigley Field, and fans should be prepared for extra security screening.

Starting Monday, the Cubs will conduct metal-detector screenings of fans entering the ballpark. It’s part of a league-wide initiative to standardize security procedures at each Major League ballpark. These security screenings are in addition to the current bag checks in place, and they will be uniform throughout the league in 2015.

On Sept. 24, the Cubs’ last home game, players will give away autographed baseballs to fans before the game. There will be fan appreciation giveaways on Cubs’ social media throughout the week as well.

On Sept. 19, the Cubs will pay tribute to longstanding radio partner WGN Radio before the game and during the seventh-inning stretch. On April 14, 1925, WGN broadcast its first regular-season Cubs game when Chicago beat Pittsburgh, 8-2. WGN carried the Cubs from 1925-43, then served as the exclusive radio home for the team from 1958-2014.

The Cubs announced earlier this season that WBBM 780-AM will be the team’s new flagship radio station beginning in 2015.

Fans with tickets to the Cubs vs. Dodgers on Sept. 20 game should note FOX has selected the game for its “Game of the Week” broadcast, and the start time has been moved up to 12:05 p.m. CT. It was originally scheduled as a 3:05 p.m. CT start, so don’t be late.

Cubs.com

Renteria shaken by Stanton, Headley injuries

Carrie Muskat

PITTSBURGH — Cubs manager Rick Renteria admits he was uncomfortable in the batter’s box upon his return from a broken jaw suffered in batting practice. He wished both the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton and the Yankees’ Chase Headley well after both were hit in the face with pitches.

"For those young men, I’m sure they’re strong enough [to come back]," Renteria said before Friday’s opener vs. the Pirates. "I wasn’t injured hitting. I didn’t see the ball that hit me. I think everybody deals with it differently. Some guys come back as if nothing happened. I’m hopeful both of those guys will be the same and recover."

Renteria was injured in a freak accident on the first day of batting practice for the 1990 season when he was struck in the face by a batted ball. He wore a protective flap on his batting helmet for a year.

"I don’t know why I stopped using it," he said.

But it took some time to feel at ease in the batter’s box.

"Did I flinch a little bit? Yeah, I did," Renteria said. "I think over time, you kind of deal with it and get over it. You keep moving forward."

Cubs.com

Locke trying to keep Pirates rolling vs. Cubs

Winners of seven of eight, Bucs holding second NL Wild Card spot

By Manny Randhawa

Pittsburgh won’t forget 2013, because that’s the year the Pirates appeared in the postseason for the first time in 21 years.

As the Bucs entered the 2014 season looking to get a good start in their quest for an encore performance, they hit a snag, finding themselves six games under .500 on May 1 and nine games back in the National League Central as late as June 28.

But Pirates have endured and are playing very well when it counts: September. They have won seven of their last eight games to surge into possession of the second NL Wild Card spot while nipping at the heels of the NL Central-leading Cardinals, who lead the division by just 2 1/2 games with 15 to play in the regular season.

Down to those final 15, the Bucs will send left-hander Jeff Locke to the mound against the Cubs on Saturday as each game gets more and more crucial with the postseason looming.

The 26-year-old has had to endure his own share of adversity on a journey that’s had peaks and valleys over the past couple of seasons.

Following a sensational first half last year in which he went 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA, Locke sustained a lower back injury that forced him to limit his work between starts. The southpaw went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA after that, getting sent to Double-A Altoona in late August.

An oblique injury caused Locke to begin the 2014 season on the disabled list, and in a May 5 spot start, he was hit hard for six runs over 5 1/3 innings. But upon being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis in June, he reclaimed a rotation spot and hasn’t looked back. He’s been particularly good of late, having posted a 2.48 ERA over his past five starts.

In his last outing, Locke allowed one run on three hits over seven innings to beat the Phillies on Monday in Philadelphia, walking none and striking out nine.

"[Catcher Russell Martin] has been stressing to me over and over and over, how much more uncomfortable it is of an at-bat when you’re behind," Locke said after that start. "I was just trying to get ahead of these guys. It doesn’t have to be your best fastball, changeup, curveball — but just find a way to get ahead of these guys and you can find a way to put them away."

Chicago will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront, who is looking to impress as he competes for a rotation spot in 2015.

The 26-year-old began the season with Boston, going 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA in 17 appearances (10 starts) for the Red Sox before landing on the disabled list in late May with a left shoulder strain. He was traded to the Cubs on July 30 and was promptly placed on the 15-day DL with a right calf strain.

Doubront’s start against the Pirates on Saturday will be his third for the Cubs. He’s been good for Chicago so far, going 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. His last outing was also against Pittsburgh last Saturday, when he allowed two runs on five hits over five innings.

"I went too fast with my mechanics [in the third]," Doubront said afterward. "I lost my mechanics, and then came back and repeated my delivery and was able to throw strikes after that."

Cubs: Rizzo nearing return to action; Soler back Monday

First baseman Anthony Rizzo has been out with a lower back strain since leaving the Cubs’ Aug. 26 game against the Reds in Cincinnati. But he ran the bases on Friday for the first time since then, and hopes to be back in the lineup on Monday when Chicago opens a series with the Reds at Wrigley Field.

"Obviously, we’re taking it very slow," Rizzo said before Friday’s opener vs. the Pirates. "We want it to be 100 percent going forward. We don’t want any setbacks."

The first-time All-Star has a .278/.375/.514 slash line this season, with 30 home runs and 71 RBIs.

Rookie outfielder Jorge Soler will also rejoin the team on Monday in Chicago after traveling to Miami on Friday for the birth of his first child.

Pirates: Morton staying ready just in case

Right-hander Charlie Morton, who was diagnosed with a sports hernia and placed on the disabled list on Aug. 17, is throwing side sessions to keep his arm in good shape in case the Bucs need an emergency pitcher.

"I think they just want to keep me ready, in case someone gets hurt or starts to struggle real bad," Morton said.

"We had five other guys who were doing more than their fair share, and [Gerrit] Cole coming back," Morton said. "It wasn’t that I was incapable of pitching … but the effectiveness. We’re in a playoff race. I’ll go pitch right now — give you all I got. It’s just that [this] is the smartest thing for the team."

Morton is 5-12 with a 3.84 ERA in 25 starts this season.

Worth noting

• Starling Marte did not play on Friday due to a sore left elbow after being hit by a pitch on Thursday against the Phillies. He is day to day and currently has a 10-game hitting streak.

• The Pirates will try to win their fifth series in their last six against NL Central opponents.

• The Cubs have lost a season-high seven straight games.

• The Bucs have won six straight against the Cubs, as well as 13 of 17 this season.

ESPNChicago.com

Is Welington Castillo part of Cubs’ core?

By Jesse Rogers

Even if they don’t play another game, Chicago Cubs All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have proven they are core players for the organization.

But is that still the case for catcher Welington Castillo?

He was handed the starting job last season and played well on defense while coming on offensively enough in the second half to believe 2014 would be even better. It hasn’t been.

Castillo is hitting .241 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs going into Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s only played in 99 games so far and has just 22 walks which translates to an on-base percentage of .299. It’s been a pedestrian year for the 27-year-old who has had some nagging injuries, including a knee issue which shut him down prematurely last sesaon.

But the most telling statistic about Castillo might be what the Cubs pitching staff does when he’s behind the plate.

The Cubs’ ERA with Castillo catching is 4.27. For comparison, when John Baker is behind the plate, their ERA drops a full point, to 3.26. Castillo has a strong arm, and blame for many of the stolen bases against him can be attributed elsewhere, but that run difference in ERA is more important than anything Castillo can contribute on offense or defense.

In fact, considering the Cubs have pitched a handful of rookies, from starters to relievers this season, a case can be made that Baker, who’s hitting just .195, has been more valuable. On almost every occasion the team has trotted out a hurler for his debut it’s been Baker who’s been behind the plate. He’s been the rock for pitching coach Chris Bosio and the staff.

Of course team ERA with one catcher or another doesn’t tell the full story. For example, Baker mostly only caught Jason Hammel during the first half of the season, allowing him to develop a rapport with the pitcher. Meanwhile, Castillo had to work with, and figure out, the other four starters. But that’s what a good starting catcher has to do on all teams. A contending team undoubtedly wants the complete package from it’s starter, or something close at least.

And remember, although Baker has been around longer, Castillo isn’t an inexperienced rookie. At some point it has to click and it’s unclear if it has or if it will. There is no one who works harder, but calling a game and getting the most out of the pitcher is almost an art not a science.

The Cubs drafted catchers in the first and third rounds in June. With No. 4 overall pick Kyle Schwarber ripping up the minors since joining the organization, there’s a chance we’re looking at Castillo’s replacement someday. It remains to be seen how quickly Schwarber can make it to the big leagues as a catcher — if he stays at that position — as his bat is ahead of his glove right now. And there are free agent options as a stop-gap even if Schwarber remains behind the plate and takes some time. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick examines one who might be available here.

The Cubs haven’t said or intimated they are looking to replace Castillo, but he’s no longer a lock — if he ever was — to be their long-term starter. Since next season isn’t a win-at-all costs year, maybe he’s given another chance to grow, especially in terms of calling a game. But with the Cubs’ young talent on the mound, they may need the best they can find behind the plate to groom their arms.

It’s unfortunate for Castillo his biggest potential weakness might be the most important part of a catcher’s game. That’s why players such as Baker can survive despite the lack of offense. And with Castillo simply having another average year at the plate, the Cubs could look to replace him behind it.

ESPNChicago.com

Jorge Soler to miss series for birth of child

By Jesse Rogers

Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler will not play in this weekend’s series against the Pittsburgh Pirates so he can attend the birth of his child, the team announced on Friday.

Soler was to travel to Miami and is expected to return to Chicago when the Cubs open a homestand on Monday. Soler is hitting .356 with four home runs in 12 games since being called up from Triple-A last month.

A player on paternity leave may miss up to three games, according to Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement between the league and players.

The Cubs have lost six in a row and are already playing without All-Stars Anthony Rizzo (back) and Starlin Castro (ankle).

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Cubs at Pirates

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend beginning on Friday night.

• Friday: Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.95) vs. Gerrit Cole (8-5, 3.89), 6:05 p.m.

• Saturday: Felix Doubront (1-1, 2.25) vs. Jeff Locke (7-4, 2.60), 6:05 p.m.

• Sunday: Jacob Turner (5-9, 5.84) vs. Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.36), 12:35 p.m.

The storylines: The Cubs have dropped six in a row, including the last three games in Toronto by a combined score of 28-3. And that was with two of their best pitchers — Jake Arritea and Kyle Hendricks — starting two of the games. Their back-end of the rotation will throw against the Pirates, who swept the Cubs last weekend in Chicago. The offense has taken an expected step back with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo out of the lineup with injuries. Jorge Soler is slowing down a little bit, but he can’t carry the whole team anyway and will miss the series for the birth of his child. Javier Baez is slumping as is Arismendy Alcantara, who hasn’t had a multi-hit game since Aug. 24. None of the growing pains are unexpected but manager Rick Renteria is simply looking for a better played series this weekend. He said as much after the latter two games in Toronto. The Cubs played sloppy in Canada and the results went along accordingly.

Losing season: It’s no shock, but with the Cubs dropping their 82nd game on Wednesday they’ve assured themselves of a fifth consecutive losing season. It’s the first time that’s happened since a six-year stretch from 1978-1983. Three more wins will eclipse their 2014 victory total (66).

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not: Catcher Welington Castillo was 4-for-8 against the Blue Jays raising his batting average higher than .240 for the first time since late July. Alcantara was 1-for-10 in the series while Chris Coghlan was 2-for-13.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs putting pieces of the puzzle together with youth movement

By Patrick Mooney

One day in late February, Logan Watkins became the play-by-play guy for Cubs fans desperate for Arizona sunshine, dreaming about baseball and hoping for an end to a brutal Chicago winter.

Hearing about Javier Baez as a force of nature beat hearing about the polar vortex.

Watkins saw the ball flying out of Field 5 and only heard the sound of a car window shattering in the parking lot. Baez had just crushed one at Cubs Park, and didn’t know what happened until Watkins walked in from the outfield. Another teammate threw up his hands and made the sound of an explosion.

A group of curious reporters wandered over to Watkins’ locker after a late round of batting practice.

“(Baez) doesn’t care,” Watkins said. “He’s like: ‘Oh, cool.’ Not cool for whoever’s car it was, I guess.”

So don’t park on Cubs Way?

“Not until Group 1 stops hitting,” Watkins said.

Fast forward to September and Chicago is a Bears town again, the last-place Cubs relevant only in terms of the kids.

Baez is striking out almost 42 percent of the time through his first 36 games in The Show, but he’s still fun to watch. There won’t be any Jorge Soler highlights from this weekend’s series in Pittsburgh — the Cuban outfielder traveled to Miami to be there for the birth of his child and will rejoin the team on Monday at Wrigley Field.

Forgot about Watkins? He was the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2012 – the season before Baez blew up and won the same award. That summer in 2012, Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract.

“Yeah, but it’s understandable,” Watkins said. “You watch the three of us take batting practice, you’re probably going to enjoy them a lot more than me. (But) I feel like I bring a lot to any team I’m on. I can do a lot of things. I give the manager some luxuries. I can play any position, almost.

“I’ll play the game hard and I’ll play the game right. When you see teams that win, they have guys on their team that do that. So that’s what I want to be.”

Exactly. The Cubs need a frontline starter or two to go with a nice collection of back-of-the-rotation options, because power pitching plays in October. They need established veterans to police the clubhouse, lead by example and take some pressure off everyone else in the lineup.

But Anthony Rizzo’s back locking up and Starlin Castro’s awkward slide into home plate reinforced how much the Cubs need to build out their roster from No. 1 to No. 25 if they want to compete in the National League Central.

“Even before Starlin’s (ankle) injury, we always talk about it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “You got to have redundancies at different positions. If Starlin goes down, then Javy can move over. If someone at third goes down, who replaces him? You can’t have any excuses in a pennant race if a guy gets hurt. You have to be able to move forward.”

When Triple-A Iowa had Baez and Arismendy Alcantara playing up the middle in the beginning of the year, Watkins moved to the outfield. Watkins then shifted back to second base and shortstop as the Cubs moved around Alcantara and Baez.

“I’ve gone to every level,” Watkins said. “All the way here, I’ve worked hard. I’ve paid my dues. I feel like I belong here. I earned it. I just want to keep everything in perspective.”

Hoyer noticed the difference between Watkins now — going 13-for-40 with one homer and five RBI — and last year’s cup of coffee (batting .211 with one extra-base hit in 42 plate appearances).

“Sometimes it takes a player a few times coming up to the big leagues to look natural, to look like they belong,” Hoyer said. “I certainly feel like he’s looked like he belonged. (He looks) like a different player.”

The Cubs don’t know how all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together. But if they’re playing meaningful games next September, trying to stay in the race for the second wild card, what happens if Rizzo’s back tightens up again?

Mike Olt won’t be a spring-training obsession next year, but if he finds his swing there could be a lot of value in someone who can step in and play first base, back up third baseman Kris Bryant and hit bombs off the bench. For all the strikeouts, Olt has blasted 12 homers in his rookie year.

“A lot of our competitors do a really good job of making sure guys are still versatile,” Hoyer said. “Just because Alcantara is our center fielder for awhile doesn’t mean he should lose the ability to play second base if we happen to have a surplus of outfielders and need a second baseman.

“We’ll work very hard in spring training and really emphasize guys being able to play multiple spots. Sometimes guys look at it as a slight — moving around. It’s not a slight. It’s about making sure we’re the best team possible, making sure guys have versatility.”

If a two-sport star at Villanova University had gone to the NFL Combine instead of signing with the Cubs in 2011, Matt Szczur might be a sleeper pick for your fantasy football team right now. An outfielder/base-runner with that kind of speed, toughness and athleticism could be an asset at Wrigley Field, even if he’s not anointed as part of The Core.

Watkins is 25 years old, a 21st-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Goddard High School in Kansas. The Cubs will need more than just big names and hot prospects to survive what they hope will eventually be a seven-month season.

Even though everyone will want to talk about the balls Baez drives onto Waveland Avenue.

“It’s just fun to watch, man,” Watkins said. “Every day something’s going to happen. There’s too much talent on this team for a pitcher to just run through us every day. We’re going to do something every day to give us a (chance). There’s just so much talent on the team.”

 

12 9 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Progress for Javier Baez? Lay off high stuff

By Jesse Rogers

There seems to be two camps of thought when it comes to Chicago Cubs rookie Javier Baez. One believes he’ll eventually learn how to hit in the big leagues because he’s struggled and adjusted at every level of baseball; the other simply thinks there’s no hope for that violent swing.

ESPN Insider Keith Law writes here why the concern over Baez is premature. Baez is following a long-established pattern. First he struggles, then he adujsts and starts to succeed.

But this is baseball, and a good or bad pattern one day can be broken the next. Remember the obvious: In the minor leagues Baez is facing some major league-quality pitchers, especially at the higher levels, but many are not going to make it.

By definition, when he gets to the majors he’s playing against all major leaguers. The numbers in the minors should be great for top picks, but it’s why we always think of them with an asterisk. That even goes for minor league stud Kris Bryant. Until you prove it in the majors, there’s always doubt. See many of the former highly touted Cubs prospects for proof.

No one knows what Baez will do over the course of his career. He might follow his previous pattern or he might just continue to struggle. By all indications he’s more than willing to put in the time, and it’s evident he’s going to need to. He’s hitting .171 with 65 strikeouts in 36 games.

What can he do to improve his batting average and cut down on the strikeouts? For starters, he can lay off the high fastballs. That alone should help.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baez swings at 45 percent of fastballs up and out of the strike zone. That would rank fifth in the league if he qualified with enough at-bats. The league average is 27.7 percent. Of those swings, he misses the ball 64.7 percent of the time. The league average is 27.8 percent.

As fast and powerful as his swing is, Baez misses high fastballs nearly 65 percent of the time, almost 40 percent more than the average. And if you watch him, you know why. Pitchers just don’t nibble at the letters, they go way upstairs. And he misses.

The numbers aren’t pretty on the other tough pitch for him: outside the zone and away. When he swings at a pitch off the plate, he misses it 74.2 percent of the time. That would rank first in the league if he qualified.

Both these struggles, on out-of-the-zone pitches both up and away, are nothing new. This is what Baez did in the minors and then figured it out. He wouldn’t be the first hitter to struggle on nasty sliders or curveballs that end up in the left-handed batter’s box, so given his rookie status that’s understandable.

But climbing the ladder for pitches the way Baez continues to do is disturbing. That would seem to be the easier fix. It’s a fastball, with little movement, coming at his eyes or even above. If he can simply identify and lay off, pitchers will have to come down to him or find another weakness.

As for missing on outside stuff, Baez actually doesn’t offer at it as much as you might think, just 32.7 percent of the time. That’s 17th in the league. But the lack of contact — even just the ability to foul off that pitch — is going to keep pitchers throwing out there.

High or outside. Those have been the weak spots for Baez so far. The numbers detail it, as does simply watching him at the plate.

If he can start to lay off balls coming at his eyes, he’ll take another step. Maybe that’s what 2014 is all about.

CSNChicago.com

Why Jason Hammel could fit in Cubs plans again

Patrick Mooney

Jason Hammel watched the Fourth of July fireworks show from Capitol Hill, right around the time Cubs president Theo Epstein put the finishing touches on a blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s.

“It was awesome,” Hammel said. “And then on the way home, Theo called me and said I was done. (Jeff) Samardzija and I were texting back and forth, because he had known something, too. It all went down, and then from there it was just like a blur. Things happen so fast.”

It’s not like the Cubs blindsided Hammel. This season’s sign-and-flip guy had been asked about the July 31 deadline since he reported to spring training. But with a pregnant wife expecting their second child in September, he wasn’t just thinking about joining the best team in baseball (at the time) in the middle of a pennant race.

Basically, the opposite of Matt Garza getting traded from the Cubs and looking at it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

“Now knowing, I probably wouldn’t ever want to be part of a midseason trade again,” Hammel said. “Just because it’s tough moving your family.”

An Oakland team that was supposed to run away with the American League West title is in free fall after Thursday’s 1-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. The A’s have lost 11 of their last 14, dropping to 9 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Angels heading into Thursday night and desperately holding onto a wild-card spot.

The storylines on the South Side this week revolved around saying goodbye to Paul Konerko, second-guessing the Yoenis Cespedes trade, handicapping Jon Lester’s chances of coming to Wrigleyville and reading into Samardzija’s I-love-Chicago comments.

Hammel flew under the radar, but he might be the one who’s most likely to return. The Cubs will shop for bigger-name pitchers during the offseason, but Hammel’s still interested in being part of the Wrigley Field rebuild.

“I never burn bridges,” Hammel said. “A good friend has told me that you can tell somebody to go to hell, but it’ll never happen (and) they’ll remember that you said that.

“You can’t leave things on bad terms, and I honestly didn’t. I really did enjoy my time there, and (Theo) mentioned (the possibility of returning). Everything in baseball you take with a grain of salt because there’s a business side to it, but obviously I’m open. I really enjoyed it.”

After Masahiro Tanaka picked the New York Yankees, Hammel signed with the Cubs and lived up to his one-year, $6 million deal, going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts and putting his name in the All-Star discussion.

The Cubs still have some of that Tanaka money leftover and hard-earned financial flexibility after sacrificing multiple major-league seasons. Hammel could be more than just a Plan B.

This is why the Cubs point to their “pitching infrastructure” and put so much faith in pitching coach Chris Bosio, who talked about “unleashing” Hammel in spring training. Hammel hit it off with Bosio, using golf terminology to talk mechanics and reinforce the idea of slowing things down.

“I just felt really comfortable with everything,” Hammel said. “It was honestly as comfortable as I’ve felt in my major-league career with everything involved, getting settled with the family, enjoying the time.

“The whole thing the Cubs were going through — I didn’t even really think of that. I just was going out trying to establish myself, and prove to myself and everybody else that I was healthy. All the other stuff, really, I wasn’t even thinking about it.

“You guys kept asking about the trade. I honestly really didn’t care. I was just going out and pitching. It was nice to have that success again, knowing inside that I could do it still.”

Hammel, who turned 32 this month, will have more leverage this winter. He bombed in his first four starts with the A’s (0-4, 9.53 ERA) but bounced back by allowing two runs or less in five of his last six outings (2-1, 2.45 ERA).

Hammel predicted all the young talent would eventually come together on the North Side. He had seen it before with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and their worst-to-first run to the World Series.

And Hammel wasn’t simply a change-of-scenery guy after making significant contributions to two more surprise playoff teams that won 90-plus games. He wasn’t scared of Coors Field, notching 10 victories and making 30 starts for the 2009 Colorado Rockies. He went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.

Hammel also said he enjoyed playing for first-year manager Rick Renteria. Hammel went out with a bang after his Fourth of July start in Washington, a 7-2 victory over the Nationals that exposed the simmering frustrations inside the clubhouse. But in this case, the early hook (six innings, 92 pitches) had more to do with a big trade about to drop than the organization’s pitch-count limits.

The misunderstanding felt like an out-of-character moment anyway. An easy-going clubhouse guy, Hammel rolled with all the trade speculation, patiently answering questions from reporters and not stressing about his future.

“I got rid of superstition at the end of the ’11 season,” Hammel said. “I was trusting way too much stuff that had to go right for me to do well. I was counting on too many things. If something somehow was out of place, it was like it was the end of the world for me, like: ‘Oh my God, now what’s going to happen?’

“I started thinking negatively. As soon as I got rid of that stuff … it’s so much easier. I didn’t put as much pressure on myself.

“Every baseball player is superstitious. But I mean mine was — I can’t even list them all. I won’t even tell you. It came down to like the type of sandwich and when I ate it. It was pretty bad.

“Once I got rid of that, I was able to clear my mind and just think about playing catch with the glove.”

Playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl isn’t easy, but it sounds like a place where Hammel could simplify everything again.

Tribune

Mark Buehrle critiques Cubs’ aggressiveness

Mark Gonzales

Mark Buehrle has heard the hype regarding the Cubs’ young hitters, and his preferred style could have left him vulnerable against them Tuesday.

But if the youngsters can learn to adjust as effectively as the Blue Jays starter did in beating them, the Cubs won’t have as many frustrating performances as they have experienced recently.

"They’re a young, aggressive team," Buehrle said Wednesday. "You have to use (that) to your advantage.”

The Cubs’ attack has produced 143 home runs — the second highest total in the National League. But their .298 on-base percentage ranks next to last in the NL largely because of a poor plate discipline that Buehrle and other pitchers have exploited in recent weeks.

"They’re going to be good," said Buehrle, 35, who has 198 career victories, including a perfect game and a no-hitter in 15 seasons with the White Sox, Marlins and Blue Jays. "They’re too aggressive right now.”

Buehrle, who has sustained an impressive career despite lacking an overpowering fastball, was able to adjust before the Cubs did despite allowing 10 hits in seven innings. He did it adhering to a scouting report he admitted having difficulty following.

"The game plan said this team likes to hack early," said Buehrle, who added he threw several first-pitch off-speed pitches. "They also chase (pitches) when they get two strikes.

"That’s why I saw it wasn’t the greatest matchup. I have a hard time expanding the first pitch. I like to get ahead in the zone. That’s what we’re taught our whole life. In here, they were saying, ‘Maybe throw off the plate (early) because they’ll chase.’ I thought I might be in trouble."

Instead, Buehrle fed off the Cubs’ aggressiveness to last seven innings and 92 pitches, and earn the victory. Buehrle allowed two hits during an 11-pitch fourth inning but escaped when rookie Matt Szczur popped up to the mound.

Buehrle needed only six pitches to retire rookie Jorge Soler, Luis Valbuena and Welington Castillo in succession in the seventh.

During his 12 seasons with the White Sox (2000-11), Buehrle witnessed opposing All-Star hitters such as Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Joe Mauer of the Twins mature at the plate and he senses the Cubs’ young hitters could learn from the same discipline Cabrera and Mauer developed over time.

"It’s not a knock on (the Cubs’ young hitters)," Buehrle said. "I’ve heard the hype. … They do have a lot of prospects, and if they do pan out the way prospects do, they’re going to be a good team. The next step is to be selective.”

Buehrle did admit he was impressed with the ferocity of Baez’s swing.

"I never saw a guy swing so hard at first pitches in the middle of the game," Buehrle said. "I said, ‘holy cow.’ It was a softball swing trying to hit it out of the stadium.

"If he hit it, it probably would have been out of the stadium. But they were hacking at everything.”

Move order: The Cubs’ renovations plans already will affect 46 seats for 2015.

Sixteen season ticket holders sitting in section 518 — just to the left of the press box — were notified Thursday of a possible relocation to other upper deck sections at the same price level to accommodate the construction of the video scoreboard control room.

Tribune

Series preview: Cubs at Pirates

Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Pirates 12-4.

Friday: 6:05 p.m., CSN

LH Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.95) vs. RH Gerrit Cole (8-5, 3.89).

Saturday: 6:05 p.m., CSN

LH Felix Doubront (1-1, 2.25) vs. LH Jeff Locke (7-4, 3.60).

Sunday: 12:35 p.m., WGN-9

RH Jacob Turner (5-9, 5.84) vs. RH Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.36).

Who’s hot: Wada has allowed three runs or fewer in eight consecutive starts. Welington Castillo has thrown out 10 of his past 12 attempted base stealers. Volquez has a 1.80 ERA in his last seven starts. Starlin Marte had a 10-game hitting streak entering Thursday.

Who’s not: Arismendy Alcantara is 3-for-29. Arodys Vizcaino has been tagged for three runs in two appearances. Neil Walker is 1-for-13. Gregory Polanco is 1-for-17.

Tribune

Cubs relocating season ticket holders for press box renovations

Mark Gonzales

The Cubs’ renovations plans already will affect some season-ticket holders for 2015.

Season-ticket holders sitting in section 518 – just to the left of the press box – were notified Thursday of a possible relocation to other upper-deck sections at the same price level.

The request to relocate was made because of construction of a video scoreboard control room.

That construction will affect 16 season-ticket holders and 46 seats, which provided a small view of Lake Michigan as well as a panoramic perspective of Wrigley Field.

The Cubs still have plans to convert their media section into a double-deck press box.

Sun-Times

Cubs learning what they have on mound

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

PITTSBURGH — How much starting pitching do the Cubs actually need as they look to the offseason? How much do they have? How much of it’s any good? How much of it’s coming back?

The Cubs aren’t sure.

The series this weekend against the heating-up Pirates should help us learn more about what the Cubs have and what young playoff pitchers look like.

That starts with the Pirates’ hard-throwing Gerrit Cole, 24, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, who faces the Cubs on Friday night. He’s followed Saturday by 2013 All-Star Jeff Locke, 26, a second-rounder who has won five of his last six decisions.

“They’ve worked their system pretty well the last few years,” Cubs starter Travis Wood said, “and they’ve got a young team with good young arms.”

They’re young enough and talented enough to keep the Pirates at or near the top of the division when the Cubs plan to take the training wheels off their tops prospects.

“Kind of watching them unfold over the last couple years, you can see where this team’s headed, too,” said Wood, a fifth-year veteran of the National League Central. “You know that we’re on that same line, and I would say our players might even be a little better, to be biased.”

Admittedly, he’s talking about position players, though even the core of Cubs prospects will be pressed to find an Andrew McCutchen in its midst.

“I don’t know if we have a Gerrit Cole in our system, throwing 98,” Wood said. “But you see the strides we’re taking and the steps we’re taking to get there. And you know it’s going to be there soon.”

It won’t get there without pitching, no matter how valuable young hitters (especially power hitters) have become.

Even with Jeff Samardzija (2.83 ERA), Jason Hammel (2.98), Jake Arrieta (2.82), Kyle Hendricks (2.38) and Tsuyoshi Wada (2.95) giving the Cubs exceptional performances in more than half (78) of the team’s starts this season, the Cubs rank near the bottom of the National League in starting pitching (4.05 ERA).

Only the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rockies are worse.

Of course, Samardzija and Hammel are gone. Wada, who turns 34 next spring, won’t have his $5 million option picked up and likely will seek greener offers as opposed to a bargain renegotiation.

And who knows what the Cubs have in Arrieta or Hendricks in the long term — or even a full big-league season? Neither has completed one yet. Hendricks debuted in July.

Aside from believing Arrieta fits near the front of the rotation entering 2015, internal discussions are stalled on the question of whether anyone else on the roster is capable of performing better than a solid

No. 5 starter — possibly No. 4 — for the competitive team the brass has in mind.

The only two former All-Stars on the staff — Wood and Edwin Jackson — are having the worst seasons among the starters.

The Cubs finish the second turn through a six-man rotation with a third look at Felix Doubront on Saturday and a fourth look at enigmatic Jacob Turner, a first-round pick in 2009, on Sunday.

“The arms are here, good all-around arms,” said Wood, also noting the front office’s long-stated intention to look for more pitching. “I’m sure they’re going to add a few pieces in the offseason.

“And it’s going to be big. Because the lineup’s going to be there. You see the talent that we’ve got.”

Not to mention the talent that teams like the Pirates have.

“So it’s going to be huge,” Wood said.

Daily Herald

Cougars on brink of championship

Bruce Miles

One to go.

The Kane County Cougars put themselves in position for their first Midwest League championship since 2001 with dominating 6-0 victory Thursday night over Lake County (Ohio) at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Cougars, the Class A affiliate of the Cubs, have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Game 3 is Saturday, with all three games, if necessary, scheduled in Ohio.

Pitching, offense and defense were all there for the Cougars on Thursday. Starting pitcher Duane Underwood tossed 6 no-hit innings. He ran his pitch count to 87, thanks to 5 walks. But he made the pitches he needed to and got an inning-ending double play in the fourth, when he walked the bases loaded.

Lefty Tyler Ihrig worked the final 3 innings, allowing 2 hits, for the save.

"I felt good," said Underwood, the Cubs’ second-round draft pick in 2012. "I had a lot of walks, but I was able to keep the team in the ballgame. That’s the ultimate goal."

Underwood can bring it in the mid- to upper-90s (mph) with his fastball. But his command abandoned him briefly in the fourth.

"I made some good pitches there, but me and the umpire didn’t get along," he said with a smile. "No, I got out of it. That’s all that matters."

The Cougars scored 3 in the third inning to chase Lake County starter Jordan Milbrath. The Captains didn’t help themselves much, committing 4 errors.

The Cougars’ Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, Shawon Dunston Jr. and Mark Zagunis, combined for 5 hits, 4 runs and a walk. Ninth-place hitter Trey Martin had a hit, and those three players give the Cougars an element of speed to pressure opposing teams.

"Very important," said Dunston, who was 2-for-3 with 3 runs, a walk and a sacrifice fly. "Get a rally going, starting off with me. I try to have good at-bats for the team, get on any way possible — bunt single, walk, anything possible to help this team win and contribute."

The Cougars won 91 games in the regular season and are 6-0 in the playoffs. The bus leaves late Friday morning for Ohio.

"I think it’s just super consistency, always having each other’s back, no matter what," said manager Mark Johnson. "This team’s never quit one time the whole year. There hasn’t been one game all year where they’ve just laid down. We’ve had each other’s back from Day 1."

Cubs.com

Wrigley evokes great memories for past, present players

With park celebrating 100th anniversary, sampling of those who competed there share stories

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Wrigley Field is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season, and MLB.com asked players for their favorite memory of the ballpark. Here are some recollections, beginning with former Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson, who called the Friendly Confines home for four seasons.

"Every player who plays here says the same thing — ‘If you become a free agent, come here and play,’" Johnson said. "It’s one of the most unique experiences in all of baseball. Until you actually do that and come here and play for this team, you don’t understand what the ballpark means, what the fans mean."

Johnson’s wife bought a commemorative brick for him as a Father’s Day gift, and it was added to the pavement outside Wrigley Field.

"The ballpark makes it special, but the fans add to that," Johnson said. "There’s no better place to win in the big leagues. I still remember in 2008, coming out here after we had clinched. And we were in the clubhouse for a half-hour, and we come back outside and the stadium is still full. We made our rounds, spraying champagne into the stands."

Wrigley will undergo a major renovation, scheduled to begin Sept. 25 after the last home game. Johnson said he didn’t need the perks other ballparks provide.

"To me, it’s just what you value," Johnson said. "Some players value having hot tubs and cold tubs and the nice amenities underneath and the nice weight rooms. There’s enough equipment in that weight room [at Wrigley]. The little pull-down screen [in the clubhouse] for guys who are pinch-hitting — for me, that’s enough. To this day, I still hit balls off the tee. I developed into a good pinch-hitter here when I hit off a tee and kept it simple.

"Some guys feel they need that extra stuff. To me, once you walk up the tunnel and onto the field, it’s a big league field and the energy in the stadium is unmatched."

• Wrigley Field will always be special for Chase Headley because he made his Major League debut there on June 15, 2007, with the Padres.

"It was surreal," Headley said. "I’m sure anywhere you debut is special, but doing it at Wrigley with the history, there’s just something about the atmosphere in Chicago. You walk down the tunnel and you walk out and it just smells like baseball. There’s a certain smell, and it’s just distinct.

"There aren’t many other places where I think you’d rather debut at than Chicago. It’s just baseball. There’s nothing nice about the stadium as far as the facilities. But what it lacks, it makes up in character and atmosphere. The fans are great and there’s history."

• Jaime Navarro pitched for the Cubs in 1995-96, and he said Wrigley was unique because of the wind.

"I had great teachers," Navarro said. "I had Ferguson Jenkins, who won 20 games there every year for a long time. What better guy to have as a pitching coach there? We’d talk every inning — ‘What do you think? The wind is blowing out, it’s humid, so pitch this way.’ Or, ‘It’s a cold breeze in the middle of May, pitch this way.’ I did what he said, and you can’t get any better pitching lessons than from a guy like that."

• Ryan Dempster pitched for the Cubs from 2004-12, and he explored every nook and cranny of Wrigley Field, from the top of the scoreboard to the areas underneath the seats.

"I remember my brother, he would always sit in the family section, and one day I stuck him in the bleachers just so he could see what it was like," Dempster said. "Then he said, ‘Can I sit there every time?’ That just shows you what kind of unique view it is."

Dempster lived near Wrigley and would ride his bicycle to the ballpark.

"It’s a great neighborhood," he said. "You always have people before the games getting ready to go to the games. And then after, they’re playing bean bags and hanging out, drinking beers on their patios or front porches."

• Carlos Pena only played one season with the Cubs in 2011, but it’s one he won’t forget.

"Wrigley is one of those magical places, because it is so old," Pena said. "It’s so iconic, like a baseball gem. To be able to play there was an awesome experience. It’s like a cathedral.

"When you walk up the concourse, it is very powerful, because it is a dark tunnel. And when you walk out, you see the ivy and beautiful grounds. It’s heavenly when you walk into Wrigley Field. I never took that for granted."

Cubs.com

Cubs’ Class A Kane County team one win from league title

Teddy Cahill

Class A Kane County pitchers Duane Underwood and Tyler Ihrig combined for a two-hit shutout Thursday and defeated Lake County, 6-0, in Game 2 of the Midwest League championship series. The Cougars won Game 1 on Wednesday and are now one victory away from clinching the best-of-five series and winning their first league title since 2001.

Underwood, the Cubs’ second-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, struck out eight batters and walked five in six hitless innings before Ihrig relieved him to start the seventh. Ihrig extended the no-hit bid for another inning, before Lake County catcher Richard Stock and third baseman Grant Stock opened the eighth with back-to-back singles. But the Captains would do no more damage and Ihirg finished the game for his second save of the playoffs.

Underwood earned the victory in his second start of the playoffs. The right-hander has a 2.79 ERA and has struck out 11 batters and walked eight in 9 2/3 innings. During the regular season, he went 6-4 with a 2.50 ERA. He struck out 84 batters and walked 36 in 100 2/3 innings.

Designated hitter Mark Zagunis, the Cubs’ third-round pick in June’s Draft, went 3-for-5 with a double and a run to lead Kane County’s offense Thursday. Left fielder Shawon Dunston added two hits and three runs.

After a travel day, the championship series moves to Lake County on Saturday for Game 3. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.

11 9 / 2014

Cubs.com

Hendricks hits wall, ‘pen falters once more in finale

Cubs relievers allow seven runs in 2 1/3 innings

By Jamie Ross

TORONTO — The Cubs’ recent woes continued on Wednesday night in the series finale at Rogers Centre as the club saw its losing streak reach six games in a lopsided 11-1 loss to the Blue Jays.

Chicago was outscored 27-3 in three straight losses to Toronto.

"I’d love to be able to explain to you exactly what’s going on the last five or six days, but stuff just happens," manager Rick Renteria said. "We have a well-needed day off [Thursday] and we’re leaving for Pittsburgh, and hopefully we’re able to recover and get something started Friday."

The game, up until the sixth, had been a pitchers’ duel. Toronto’s Drew Hutchison and Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks battled back and forth, surrendering a combined three hits over five innings. But as Hendricks stumbled in the sixth, the Cubs came apart at the seams, allowing ten runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

Chicago relievers Justin Grimm, Wesley Wright, Kyuji Fujikawa and Arodys Vizcaino worked a combined 2 1/3 innings and allowed seven earned runs and seven hits as the game got out of hand.

Hendricks, who saw his seven-start unbeaten streak come to an end after he gave up three runs on four hits and a walk in the sixth inning, said he thought he was on his way to his best outing of the season.

"I felt strong through the whole outing, but it sucks getting beat like that," he said. "I know we’ve hit a skid lately, but we need to do something to get out of it."

The Cubs put up a brief fight when Jorge Soler broke Hutchison’s shutout bid in the seventh with an opposite-field solo shot to right to make it 4-1 before Welington Castillo doubled and reached third on an error with one out. That marked the end of the line for Hutchison, who had breezed through the Cubs’ order early on and at one point retired 15 straight batters. Hutchison went 6 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and an earned run with 10 strikeouts, and was otherwise untouchable.

"It’s been going well lately," Hutchison said. "I felt like I pitched six really good innings and maybe the wait there hurt a little bit coming out for the seventh. But that’s always a good thing when you wait that long. Falling behind those guys was frustrating, but overall I thought it was a good outing."

Mired in a slump and now experiencing their second six-game losing streak of the season, the Cubs, who’ve had 10 players make a Major League debut this season, enter an off-day Thursday with an eye on getting away from the ballpark for a day.

"We haven’t had a whole lot of stints like this throughout the course of the season, quite frankly," Renteria said. "In terms of just poor play in general, it’s probably the one that I look at and say, ‘We haven’t played our best ball.’ But we have to work through it. I want these kids to keep their heads up and get a day off tomorrow and get ready to go on Friday."

The 24-year-old Hendricks, who suffered his first road loss of the season, said a short rest Thursday should help the Cubs take their minds off their recent woes.

"For me personally, I’m just going to move on," he said. "As a team, we have to take it, get away from the being-at-the-field every day routine. It’s a day to relax, get away from the park and come back Friday."

Cubs.com

Tseng leads Class A club to win in championship opener

By Jamie Ross

TORONTO — Class A Kane County opened its 2014 Midwest League Championship series vs. Lake County on Wednesday with a 4-3 win at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Cougars have yet to be beaten in postseason play, having swept Wisconsin in the opening round and Cedar Rapids in the Western Division Championship.

Jen-Ho Tseng, ranked as the Cubs’ No.14 prospect by MLB.com, earned the win on the mound for the Cougars, settling in after allowing three runs in his first two innings to record his second win of the postseason. He went a total of five innings and allowed three earned runs on six hits and one walk while striking out eight. Francisco Carrillo earned the save. Leadoff man Shawon Dunston paced the Cougars at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI.

The two sides traded runs in the first two innings, with Lake putting up three to Kane’s four. That lead held all the way down to the wire as the Cougars took a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-five series.

Game 2 is Thursday at Fifth Third Bank before the series moves to Lake County for Game 3 on Saturday and Games 4 and 5, if necessary, on Sunday and Monday.

The Cougars are making their 14th playoff appearance in their 24-year history. The last time they won the Midwest League was 2001 with now-MLB stars Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez.

Worth noting

• Individual weekend passes for the 30th Annual Cubs Convention go on sale Sept. 16. Each weekend pass is $65 plus convenience fees and is valid for all three days, January 16-18, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in downtown Chicago. Passes can be purchased by visiting www.cubs.com/convention or calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.

Fans will have the opportunity to meet the 2015 Cubs Convention feature celebrity guests, including players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top Minor League prospects. A specific schedule of guests and events will be released closer to the date.

Attendees are still able to book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers by visiting www.cubs.com/convention or calling the hotel at 800-325-3535 and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $187 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $20 each.

A percentage of the proceeds from Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Cubs Charities.

Cubs.com

Cole looks to preserve Bucs’ Wild Card lead vs. Cubs

Wada set for rematch vs. Pittsburgh in series opener

By Stephen Pianovich

Five days after accomplishing a career first against them, Gerrit Cole will face the Cubs again Friday as the Pirates — with their eyes set on the playoffs — open their final homestand of the regular season.

The Pirates entered Thursday just ahead of Atlanta for the second spot in the National League Wild Card, and as of Thursday are winners of five of six. That streak started at Wrigley Field last weekend when the Bucs completed a three-game sweep of the Cubs.

The Pirates spotted Cole a big lead in his last start, as they cruised to their third straight victory at the time. Cole threw six-plus innings, surrendering three earned runs on nine hits and totaling eight strikeouts. But what the right-hander did that stuck out happened when he was at the plate.

Cole slugged his first career Major League homer, a no-doubter to the left-field seats of the historic park.

"It was nice to finally be able to put a good swing on it," said Cole, who hit the homer in the seventh inning against reliever Blake Parker. "Pretty sweet. Everybody wants to hit a home run in The Show, and for it to happen in Wrigley, that’s really cool."

The Pirates will also be seeing a familiar face on the mound, that of Tsuyoshi Wada, who pitched against them last Friday. Wada pitched just 3 1/3 innings with a cramp in his left leg.

Wada allowed three runs (two earned) to the Bucs in his 70-pitch outing, his first career outing against them. Wada has 10 Major League starts to his name, and has allowed three earned runs or less in nine of them.

Cubs: Bryant named Minor League Player Of The Year

Kris Bryant, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, was named the 2014 Minor League Player Of The Year by Baseball America earlier this week.

The third baseman split the 2014 season between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Omaha, combining to hit .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers and 110 RBIs in 138 games. The 22-year-old was the second overall pick of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and is rated as the Cubs’ No.1 prospect by MLB.com.

"It’s well-deserved," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the honor for Bryant. "The young man had a great season. He swung the bat well, hit a lot of homers. He did a really nice job for himself, and I think everyone took notice."

Pirates: Alvarez has stress reaction in foot

The club announced Wednesday that infielder Pedro Alvarez has a stress reaction of the fourth metatarsal of his left foot. The general recovery time for an injury of this nature is 4-6 weeks, the team said, so it’s unlikely that Alvarez will return to the field in the regular season.

Alvarez initially hurt the foot as he dived after a ground ball down the first-base line on Aug. 26. He has played once since, as he pinch-hit against the Cubs last Friday, but it does not appear he’ll be back on the field anytime soon.

"With these types of injuries, they don’t show up until they start to heal," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You can have one and you don’t know it for a few days. You get the reads, your diagnostic tests done, and when they start to heal, they show up. We have a better read on it now, we know what he is dealing with and we’ll move forward accordingly."

ESPNChicago.com

Slumping young Cubs ‘learning a lesson’

By Jesse Rogers

It lasted almost three and a half minutes — nearly uninterrupted. Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria spoke to reporters in Toronto at length about his team’s 9-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night, their fifth defeat in a row.

"That’s probably the worst game we’ve played all year," he said. "These men know that. It is something where we have to regroup and get our mind back around playing the game a certain way. As young men they’re learning a lesson."

The game fell apart in the seventh and eighth innings when the Blue Jays scored eight runs to erase a 2-1 deficit and turn the contest into a blowout. The bullpen blew up, the Cubs committed two errors and the offense went to sleep. It got sloppy.

"No one likes losing but no one likes losing the way that game ended up developing," Renteria said. "It just steam rolled. It would be foolish for us to (pretend) it didn’t happen."

This was more than a manager speaking about one loss in mid-September, with nothing on the line in the standings. This was Renteria sending a message for the future — and to his future players. There’s a good chance, whether starting or coming off the bench, next season’s 25-man roster will mostly be comprised of the 35 who are on it now.

"It’s a message we’ve been talking about since the beginning of spring but today the game lent itself to reiterating, re-emphasizing the same things we’ve talked about all year," Renteria said. "Staying in a big-league ballgame requires a commitment to bearing down and continuing to play the game. Being aware of the whole circumstance."

More than anything this is a reminder to fans that there are no shortcuts. Talented players may accelerate the rebuild that’s taking place but everyone goes through ups and downs. We can make a case for the Cubs to contend next season, but it’s not the likely scenario. It’s the unlikely one.

"It’s a great lesson," Renteria said. "I think they are getting an understanding, it’s tough to win a ballgame. When things get chaotic you really have to come back and put yourself in the middle and do some things that put you back on track."

Some of that is coachspeak but with young players there is meaning behind those words. It’s doubtful Renteria would have gone on so long if he had a veteran team. Young players make mistakes more than veterans. That’s the simple truth and the Cubs will most likely be no different in that department come 2015. Even with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in the lineup there will be growing pains — maybe for more than just a year. The actual rebuild may be coming to an end, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the winning then starts.

"We have to play nine innings of baseball," Renteria said. "We have to focus, stay loose and relaxed. But we have to direct our energies and focus on the game."

Individual growth is needed but learning to play as a team is just as important. Tuesday was a reminder that it’s more likely than not there will be more games like it next season. And it means fans might have to adhere to the “P” word a little longer. Patience has to come with a young team no matter how talented they are.

"Today it really did get away on a lot of different levels and a lot of different places," Renteria said.

It probably won’t be the last time he relays those sentiments, but it’s all part of the process of becoming a winner.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs have seen this before: A’s waste Samardzija’s performance

Patrick Mooney

Even if everything hasn’t followed the “Moneyball II” script, this is exactly what Jeff Samardzija wanted: Playing games that matter. No more talking about the future.

You didn’t have to wonder if Samardzija would show up for this one, the occasional criticism leveled by ex-manager Dale Sveum and sometimes echoed when Cubs officials mentioned his inconsistency.

Not when the Oakland A’s are battling for the playoff spot that seemed like an inevitability when general manager Billy Beane cashed in top prospect Addison Russell and acquired Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a Fourth of July blockbuster.

October doesn’t seem like a given anymore, not after Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to a White Sox team that’s going nowhere. It left the A’s 1 1/2 games up, clinging to the first wild-card spot.

Samardzija didn’t disappoint, putting up seven scoreless innings at U.S. Cellular Field, which smells like home and makes it feel like he’s back at Valparaiso High School.

But Cubs fans have seen this ending before, a defensive mistake, a blown save and another tough-luck no-decision. This game slipped away in the eighth inning with Avisail Garcia’s two-out, two-run (both unearned) single off Luke Gregerson.

Samardzija (4-5, 3.41 ERA with Oakland) has now received two runs of support or less in 18 of his 30 starts during an All-Star season. He performed for a large group of friends and family from Northwest Indiana (even if the stadium would be mostly empty with an announced crowd of 15,046).

So no more issues with getting up for games?

“No, not so much, they’re pretty exciting every time now,” Samardzija said. “It got taken out of context — I think Dale was just speaking how he would speak to me. I think if he could have it back, he probably wouldn’t say it (to the media), because it became an issue. There are certain things you just can’t control as a player, you know?

“I approach every game the same, but if there’s a bigger game, you just tend to have a little different personality towards it. When you like those games, you want to play in those games all the time.

“Playing a lot of day games — and if you’re 20 games out — sometimes it’s tough to approach it the same way. But the older I get, the more I realize how important each game is, no matter what the situation is.”

At the time of the Samardzija deal, the A’s had built up a 3 1/2-game lead in the American League West, and Beane would keep trading, flipping Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester in a July 31 deadline deal.

While Lester has shown why teams like the Cubs and New York Yankees are expected to be in a bidding war for the lefty this winter, the A’s clearly miss Cespedes’ presence in the heart of the order, sinking to nine games behind the Los Angeles Angels.

“The best team in baseball doesn’t just go cold turkey on everything,” Hammel said. “We’ll get it together.”

“There’s no doubt,” said All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson, the ex-Cubs prospect Oakland demanded in the 2008 Rich Harden trade. “The whole fact of the matter is we need to start playing better. We all know that. Just go out there and play the game the way we normally play. Things are going to work out.”

Samardzija — who had been the longest-tenured guy in the Cubs clubhouse, the last player left from the 2008 team that won 97 games — looks comfortable in green and gold.

Samardzija likes the vibe on the West Coast and gravitated toward his new teammates, a group that rocks tattoos, big beards and different interpretations of the Mohawk look.

Josh Reddick — the slender outfielder listed at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds — walked through the room before the game wearing a black “WEIGHTS BEFORE DATES” tank top that had a barbell across the chest.

But even Oakland manager Bob Melvin admitted his team of free spirits is playing tight right now.

“We’re putting way too much pressure on the pitching at this point,” Melvin said more than once during his postgame news conference.

During his last trip to the South Side with the Cubs in May, Samardzija had to respond to PitchCountGate, telling the Chicago media “I’m a grown man” and jabbing Theo Epstein’s front office by framing it as “an on-field issue for uniform personnel.”

Samardzija’s 126-pitch, nine-inning no-decision became a four-day thing, with Jed Hoyer saying it’s something to monitor before the exasperated general manager finally called it “a story that should probably die.”

MORE CUBS: Why Jorge Soler told the Cubs: ‘This is my time, watch me’]

Winning and losing is the story now, not auditioning prospects or checking minor-league box scores. While Samardzija shut down the White Sox again, the Cubs officially clinched their fifth consecutive losing season with an 11-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Of course, Samardzija is open to the idea of returning to Chicago and willing to talk to the Cubs and White Sox after the 2015 season. That’s good business. But there won’t be any hometown discounts, and “Shark” plans to make even more money in October.

If the all-in A’s even make it that far.

“You want to be playing games that really mean something,” Samardzija said. “It’s a tight race and every game means so much. You put a lot on your shoulders when you pitch in those situations. You just don’t want to be the guy that messes it up. As long as you go out and do your job and 24 other guys do the same thing, usually you’re going to come out on top.

“It doesn’t always go your way. But a lot of times, good teams like this get tested, and I think we’re definitely in the middle of one of those tests. There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played, and we come out of this with a little thicker skin. And who knows what can happen after that?”

Tribune

Cubs easing workload on pitchers, pushing rookies

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO — The Chicago Cubs’ losing streak might seem longer than six games with all the pitching changes made by manager Rick Renteria during late blowout losses.

But Renteria insinuated late Wednesday night after an 11-1 loss at Toronto that the Cubs collectively are limiting the workload of selected relievers with 25-man rosters expanded and some relievers already setting career highs in appearances.

That seems to be the case with Justin Grimm, who made his 67th appearance in relief of Kyle Hendricks with two out in the bottom of the sixth and struck out Kevin Pillar. Grimm returned for the seventh and retired the first batter before he was replaced by left-hander Wesley Wright after only five pitches.

“I think there are a lot of things we’re doing to try to take care of all these guys, and that’s all I’m going to say,” Renteria said.

The Blue Jays went on to score five runs in the seventh, with Kyuji Fujikawa replacing Wright after only two batters and allowing three runs.

Meanwhile, Thursday’s day off represents the only break for struggling rookies like Javier Baez (.171) and Arismendy Alcantara (.205).

“It really is a point where they have to keep pushing,” Renteria said. “They have to keep playing. They have to learn to get through because in the long run, ultimately what everyone is trying to do is take young men who are now extending in terms of playing time, to understand that in the end, you want all your guys to play through September and October.

“For me to say to them right now, ‘well, I’ve given them the excuse that they’re tired because it’s September because they’ve never gone this deep,’ I don’t want to do that to them. That’s something they got to take a hold of and be accountable to it, and say, ‘I got to grind through this and I got to figure it out.’”

Rookie starter Kyle Hendricks took his share of responsibility, although he received no run support while he was in the game, and right fielder Jorge Soler committed an error that led to the first of three runs in the sixth.

“I felt strong throughout the whole outing,” Hendricks said. “It just (stinks) getting beat like that, given up a few runs late. Overall, it (stinks) losing ball games like that. I know we’ve hit a skid, but we got to do something to get out of it.

“Sometimes you just go through slumps and you got to have somebody who can stop that. It starts on the mound with the starters setting the tone. Even though I didn’t get out of that sixth inning, I made good pitches. But I have to be better than that and keep our team in the game even when the offense is struggling like that.”

The Cubs’ losing streak matches their longest skid on July 5-9, immediately following the Jeff Samardzija trade.

The loss assures the Cubs (64-82) of their fifth consecutive losing season, their longest stretch of losing seasons since 1978-83.

Tribune

Veterans say Rick Renteria right on focus message

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO — Manager Rick Renteria showed that he hasn’t given up on the Cubs’ fifth consecutive non-winning season, and the year’s remaining 16 games allow the rookies to respond to Renteria’s challenge to display better focus.

"A lot of us are still not used to this level, and sometimes we all give up as a team instead of keep playing," prized rookie Javier Baez said Wednesday night, one day after Renteria cited a lack of concentration among his players. "But it’s something you learn up here in a situation like that. We’re going to learn from it and never give up again.

"We’re going to make mistakes. But we just can’t give up. We have to keep playing."

And that has been the challenge for the Cubs as they faced the prospect of dropping their sixth consecutive game while remaining committed to playing with an influx of rookies projected to play major roles in their future.

Rookie Jorge Soler hit his fourth home run Wednesday, but that came before the Blue Jays broke out with a five-run seventh-inning rally, despite two pitching changes, to take a 9-1 lead in the eventual 11-1 loss.

Renteria, whose roots run deep as a minor league manager and Padres coach, realizes the margin of error is thin at the big league level and that a lack of concentration can change the outcome of a game, as it did Tuesday when the Cubs saw a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning transform quickly into a 9-2 debacle.

That’s why veterans like John Baker and Carlos Villanueva were impressed with Renteria’s brief but direct message after an embarrassing loss.

"(Renteria) hit a home run with what he had to say to us," Baker said."We’ve gone through a rough stretch, and it’s important for these guys to realize they have never played baseball for this long of a season. And some of the guys who have been September call-ups in the past weren’t playing every day in September. There’s an incredible amount of importance on focus on that 31/2 hours of focus."

Villanueva concurred that Renteria’s message was extremely effective because he spoke in a “professional” manner instead of yelling or using profanity.

"Ricky knows what he’s doing," Villanueva said. "And he felt we needed a pick-me-up. He delivered and hit the key points on what we needed."

After the meeting, injured shortstop Starlin Castro and catcher Welington Castillo huddled with Baez and outfielder Junior Lake.

"One of the most pleasant surprises this season has been being a teammate of Starlin Castro and how he talks about baseball, how he has the desire to win and how he wants to play every day," Baker said.

"He requested to be here in his (walking) boot with his teammates. That says more about him than any of those anecdotal stories."

Baker said he became sold on Castro’s leadership credentials in spring training when he was willing to move from shortstop to accommodate Baez if it made the Cubs a better team.

"His faith in his teammates and desire to be on a winning team have blown me away," Baker said. "He has been a part of conversations I’ve had long after games past midnight, sitting around and talking about what happened."

Rizzo update: First baseman Anthony Rizzo appears closer to rejoining the Cubs this weekend in Pittsburgh. Rizzo, who hasn’t played since suffering lower back tightness on Aug. 26, took 23 swings in batting practice without any discomfort. Rizzo hit two home runs, including one that landed in the center field seats.

Tribune

Wednesday’s recap: Blue Jays 11, Cubs 1

Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs tied a season high with their sixth straight loss after the Blue Jays scored three times in the sixth and five times in the seventh.

At the plate

Drew Hutchison retired 15 consecutive Cubs before Chris Coghlan doubled in the sixth. Soler hit an opposite-field home run in the seventh. Overall, the Cubs struck out 15 times.

On the mound

Kyle Hendricks was pulled after allowing an RBI double to Danny Valencia with two out in the sixth and was charged with four earned runs.

In the field

First baseman Mike Olt had a chance to nail Kevin Pillar off second base but took the safe out at first that enabled Pillar to advance to third and score on Anthony Gose’s sacrifice fly in the third.

Right fielder Jorge Soler bobbled a Jose Reyes single that allowed Gose to score from first base in the sixth.

On the bases

Javier Baez stopped too late after rounding third base and was nailed while attempted to retreat in the first.

The number

2: Starts in which Hendricks has allowed more than two earned runs.

The quote

Cubs manager Rick Renteria: “It really is a point where they have to keep pushing. They have to keep playing. They have to learn to get through because in the long run, ultimately what everyone is trying to do is take young men who are now extending in terms of playing time, to understand that in the end, you want all your guys to play through September and October.”

Up next

Cubs (Wada 4-2, 2.95) vs. Cole (8-5, 3.89), 6:05 p.m., Friday, CSN.

Sun-Times

Kid Cubs swept by Blue Jays, lose 6th straight

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

TORONTO — If this is what growing pains look like, then, well, ouch.

With a lineup made up mostly of rookies, run by a rookie manager, the kid Cubs got manhandled by the playoff-hopeful Toronto Blue Jays for three games at Rogers Centre. They were outscored 28-3 in a sweep that left them with a six-game losing streak heading into Thursday’s day off.

On Wednesday night, it was an 11-1 loss in a game that was 1-0 headed to the bottom of the sixth —and 4-1 until manager Rick Renteria used three relievers for the first four batters of the seventh only to let Kyuji Fujikawa get rocked the rest of a five-run inning.

And this latest debacle followed a postgame meeting Tuesday night that Renteria held with the team to emphasize big-league focus and awareness.

It was followed by a game that included three more errors — for seven in the series compared to one by the Jays — and six more scoreless innings before Jorge Soler hit a solo homer for the Cubs’ only run over the last 13 innings of the series.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of stints like this,” Renteria said. “In terms of just poor play in general, this is probably the one that I can look at and go, ‘We haven’t played our best ball.’ But we’ve got to work through it.”

Meanwhile, one result of their ugliest series of the season is that the Cubs clinched a fifth consecutive losing season — just in time for a weekend rematch against the hot Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I would love to say I could explain to you exactly what’s been going on over the last five or six days, but I want to say stuff just happens,” Renteria said.

Stuff like 15 more strikeouts — including a career-high 10 for Drew Hutchison, another one of those young pitchers the Cubs targeted in trade talks this summer.

“A lot of it, as we were talking with all of them, it really is a point where they have to keep pushing, they have to keep playing,” Renteria said, referring to a bunch of young players who are playing through September for the first time.

“They have to learn how to get through. In the long run, what everyone is trying to do is take young men that are now extending in terms of playing time to understand that in the end, you want all your guys to be able to play all the way through September and October.

“So for me to give them the excuse that they’re a little tired because it’s September and they’ve never gone this deep, I don’t want to do that to them. That’s something they’ve got to take a hold of and be accountable to it, and say, ‘I’ve got to figure it out.’

“It’s actually a good lesson.”

Hutchison’s impressive start came two days after Jays rookie starter — and Cubs trade target — Marcus Stroman beat the Cubs with a three-hit shutout.

Stroman and Hutchison combined to allow only one run, one walk and seven hits in 151/3 innings against the Cubs with 18 strikeouts.

Say what you want about the lineup being without All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. But Gerrit Cole and the Pirates didn’t come close to doing that against the Cubs in last weekend’s sweep at Wrigley Field.

“They’ve got pretty good arms,” Renteria said.

Sun-Times

Cubs’ rookies in a familiar scene to Chris Valaika

BY gordon wittenmyer

TORONTO — Chris Valaika has seen it before. In recent years, he has lived it.

“I don’t want to say it’s been the story of my career, but I’ve gotten to the big leagues, and I’ve been in situations where I’ve been up and down,” he said. “I know better than most what it takes to be here and stay.”

He knows the difference in the expectations and pressure between the big leagues and anywhere else somebody plays baseball.

It’s a difference that can show up when a team sends six rookies to start against a playoff hopeful — as the Cubs did Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Or when it starts five as it did the previous two nights against the same team.

Definitely Tuesday, when manager Rick Renteria called a postgame meeting after what he called “probably the worst game we’ve played all year.”

“You come up here, and everything gets escalated,” said Valaika, the former Miami Marlin, who opened this season in the minors. “In the minor leagues, whatever level you’re at, you make a mistake, and you learn from it. Up here, it gets exposed a little bit. We make a couple of plays [Tuesday] and then the game gets out of hand.’’

Four Cubs starters each of the last two games made their major-league debuts in the last two months.

“It’s a learning curve, for them to get in the lineup every day, to learn from things that happen,” Valaika said. “Everybody’s trying. But it’s an adjustment. A lot of these kids haven’t been in those stress situations, and it tests them a little bit. The important thing is how they respond to it.”

The Cubs have been swept by would-be contenders Pittsburgh and Toronto in back-to-back series as they head to Pittsburgh for another three-game try this weekend.

Rizzo update

First baseman Anthony Rizzo took batting practice on the field for the first time since leaving a game Aug. 26 with back stiffness.

Rizzo, who gave a thumbs-up as he left the BP session, said he hopes to return to the lineup by the end of this weekend’s series in Pittsburgh and believes he’ll certainly be back early during the upcoming homestand.

He also took infield practice and has been pain-free for several days.

Wood work

Travis Wood’s ERA dropped from 5.15 to 5.03 on a day he didn’t pitch, thanks to a scoring change made by MLB related to his Aug. 31 start in St. Louis.

The change gave center fielder Arismendy Alcantara an error on a deep fly ball that went off his glove after he glided under it in time to make the catch.

It was originally ruled a double for Matt Carpenter in the 9-6 loss.

Sun-Times

Renteria’s decision-making, growing pains proving painful

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

TORONTO – A season of questionable in-game decisions by first-year Cubs manager Rick Renteria found another spotlight in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s 11-1 loss.

That’s when a quick succession of pitching changes in a three-run game, early in the inning, turned into a five-run inning, with Kyuji Fujikawa left in to take the brunt of the beating and face seven batters.

Renteria’s bullpen use – which includes a penchant for frequent changes combined with an apparent paranoia over how much he uses a guy – has drawn criticism and head-shaking throughout the season from within the organization as well as among baseball people outside the team.

Team president Theo Epstein seemed to refer to it last week when asked by a doting member of the local media about how well Renteria has performed in his first season as manager.

“The No. 1 challenge we gave him was to provide an environment for the young players to continue to develop and thrive at the big-league level, and that’s easier said than done,” Epstein said. “He’s lived up to everything that we had hoped for, especially the priorities that we gave him.

“As for the X’s and O’s and the in-game stuff, he’s growing into that, and it’s kind of nice that he can grow with this team.”

Talk about growing pains.

Wednesday, Renteria called on heavily used first-year reliever Justin Grimm to get the final out of a sixth inning starter Kyle Hendricks couldn’t finish.

Grimm needed just four pitches to strike out Kevin Pillar.

Renteria then brought him in to start the seventh, and one pitch later, Ryan Goins grounded to short for the first out.

At which point Renteria brought in left-hander Wesley Wright to face No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose, a lefty batter hitting just .237, and switch-hitting leadoff man Jose Reyes – both of whom singled.

Then he went to Fujikawa, who gave up a walk, single, intentional walk and two more singles – watching five runs cross the plate – before getting an out.

Renteria suggested Grimm’s use is being monitored so tightly that two batters – even after just five pitches – was his max.

“Well, we are all doing things, quite frankly, for reasons that we have from within,” he said. “I can legitimately say to you there was no thought at that point to leave him in.”

Which raises the issue of why let him pitch the seventh at all if more than one pitch was considered too much.

“I think there are a lot of things that we’re doing to take care of all these guys,” he said, “and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Grimm leads the staff by far with 67 appearances.

Wright? That was strictly a matchup situation, Renteria said, for the two batters.

“It didn’t happen,” he said.

And then Fujikawa gets toasted.

Clearly, Renteria is dealing with some rigid orders from above about use and overuse issues with his young power arms in the bullpen. But it’s hard to justify it both ways – use a top arm and a matchup because the situation matters or leave a secondary reliever to turn a game into a rout because of other priorities.

“It didn’t work out, OK?” Renteria said. “If it had worked out I probably wouldn’t be getting asked the same questions, but at this point it really doesn’t matter. It didn’t really work out.”

Daily Herald

Cougars off to fast start in title series

Bruce Miles

Sheets of mist swept across Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, providing an eerie evening setting for Game 1 of the Midwest League championship series.

The strangeness wasn’t limited to the weather. The Kane County Cougars and Lake County (Ohio) Captains combined for 7 runs over the first two innings Wednesday night.

After that it was all zeros, and the host Cougars emerged with a 4-3 victory in the best-of-five series.

Game 2 is Thursday at 6 p.m., also at Kane County, before the series moves east Saturday. The Cougars are the Class A affiliate of the Cubs.

"It was definitely a weird one, with both starting pitches coming out a little shaky," said Cougars manager Mark Johnson.

Cougars starter Jen-Ho Tseng, who doesn’t turn 20 until Oct. 3, gave up a run in the first inning and 2 in the second and was nearly out of the game after 2 because he was nearing his pitch-count limit of 35 for one inning.

But Tseng settled down nicely and earned the victory with 5 innings of 6-hit ball as he walked one and struck out eight. His teammates helped with 2 runs in the first and 2 in the second, with the help of 3 Lake County errors in the second.

"The first inning and second inning, I was a little bit nervous," said Tseng, a native of Taiwan.

During the postseason, Johnson has been extolling Tseng’s maturity.

"He did what he’s done all year except for the first two innings," Johnson said. "He’s really matured and really come along way emotionally and physically. His demeanor on the mound, everything about his game, has improved.

"He’s mature above his years, especially with his pitchability and the way he handles himself on the mound."

The Cougars got 3 hits and 2 runs from Shawon Dunston Jr. In the first, he led off with an infield single and came home when DH Mark Zagunis launched a home run to right field. The wind to aided the ball a bit, but Zagunis got all of it. It was his second postseason homer.

"I had a good feeling," said Zagunis, the Cubs’ third-round draft pick this year. "I squared it up pretty good and got ahead in the count 3-1. I was looking for a fastball and hit it well."

The Cougars, who won 91 games during the regular season, were happy to get Game 1.

"It’s huge," Johnson said. "This is a huge win. We were talking about the emotions of young guys. They (Lake County) are an emotional team. You can see it the way everyone on the bench carries themselves and the way they play and act.

"Our guys are emotional, too. They’re young. What do you expect? These are the biggest games they’ve ever played in."

10 9 / 2014

Daily Herald

Rogers embraces mentor’s role on Cougars

Bruce Miles

Things were about as loose as they could be Tuesday for the Kane County Cougars.

They worked out during the afternoon in preparation for their upcoming Midwest League championship series against Lake County (Ohio). Game 1 is Wednesday night at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, with Game 2 Thursday. The final three games of this best-of-five series are scheduled for Lake County.

A few Cougars players got ready by tossing a football around before taking a light session of batting practice.

The only casualty of Tuesday might have been first baseman Jacob Rogers, who was stung near the knee by one of the many bees flying around the field.

"I caught the ball, and it stung me, but it will be all right," Rogers said.

If you’re looking for one player who kept things both loose and together during a record-breaking season (91 regular-season wins) for the Cougars, it’s the 25-year-old Rogers.

It’s a name you might have missed in the deep and talented farm system of the Chicago Cubs, the parent club of the Class A Cougars.

Rogers was taken in the 40th round of the 2012 amateur draft out of Mt. Olive College in North Carolina.

Know this: There is no 41st round.

Yep, Rogers was the last player taken by the Cubs in the 2012 draft, a draft that was headlined by No. 1 pick Albert Almora, himself a Cougar last year.

"You try not to think about what round you were drafted in," Rogers said. "You try to be one of the guys. You come out here and work every day, and I hope I get my chance. I got an opportunity to get drafted. I’m thankful to the Cubs for selecting me in the 40th round and getting my opportunity to play, and I’m going to try to make the most of it."

Among the 50 players (not including major-league rehab appearances) who have paraded through Kane County this season was Kyle Schwarber, this year’s No. 1 draft pick. Other highly regarded prospects include or have included Jeimer Candelario, Jacob Hannemann, Duane Underwood and Paul Blackburn, among others.

Yet manager Mark Johnson — the Midwest League manager of the year — cited Rogers as one of his leaders.

"You’ve got to have those guys on minor-league teams throughout the system," Johnson said. "It used to be in Triple-A you had a lot of those guys. This is extremely important to have them at this level. This is the first full season for a lot of these guys and the first professional season, and they don’t know what to do.

"If you don’t have one or two or three of those guys that can kind of lead them or show them, whether they have to say anything or not, but (younger players) can watch how they go about their business and watch how they take ground balls and how they respect the other teammates. If you don’t have those guys, it’s tough. There’s only so much guidance we (coaches and managers) can do. You need a guy next to you who’s a little older to kind of show you the ropes."

It’s a role Rogers seems to embrace.

"I pride myself on being a good teammate and helping these guys out," he said. "I’m one of the older guys. MJ is great. He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever had. Coming to the ballpark is easy, and I enjoy it.

"It’s a long season, and you’re going to have your ups and downs. Try to let it the game come to you. It’s been awesome. It’s been a great ride. We’re like a family here so it’s a blast coming to the ballpark every day."

The Cougars will pitch Jen-Ho Tseng against Lake County in Game 1 and Underwood in Game 2. Johnson acknowledges that the team is loose. He also says the players ready.

"It’s finally gotten down to this, and this is what we’ve been working for all year," Johnson said. "It’s fun. It doesn’t seem like any of them are worried or uptight. I’m sure there will be some nerves a little bit. It’s some of these guys’ first full season and they don’t know what to expect. It’s great."

Cubs.com

Bullpen hiccup leads to fifth straight loss for Cubs

Arrieta strong into the seventh as bullpen charged with seven runs

By Jamie Ross

TORONTO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria didn’t mince words when assessing his club’s performance in Tuesday night’s 9-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

"That was probably the worst game we’ve played all year," Renteria said. "These men know that there are a lot of things that we have to do, but certainly staying in a big league ballgame is one of those things that requires a lot of commitment in terms of bearing down, really continuing to play the game and being aware of the whole circumstance."

The Cubs have lost five straight games and are in danger of being swept in the series finale on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s affair had the makings of a better outcome for the Cubs early on as starter Jake Arrieta guarded a one-run lead into the seventh. But it all came undone as the Blue Jays put up eight runs over the seventh and eighth innings, sparked by a bases-clearing two-out double from Jose Bautista.

After reliever Neil Ramirez put two on to load the bases, the Blue Jays’ slugger took a full-count fastball to the wall in left field, giving Toronto a 4-2 lead.

That preceded a five-run eighth, putting the game far out of reach for the Cubs.

Ramirez was saddled with the loss, allowing two hits and two runs over two-thirds of an inning. The right-hander had given up only four earned runs over 38 1/3 innings this season before taking over for Arrieta with one out in the seventh.

"[Neil] was upset with the way things transpired in the seventh, but I told him, if there’s someone who’s gotta come in the game for me at that point, you’re one of the guys I want out there," said Arrieta, who tossed his 16th quality start, going 6 1/3 innings while allowing two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts. "He had an off-night, stuff that’s gonna happen from time to time."

A night after being shut out, the Cubs looked poised to break out with the bats early as they scored once in the opening frame before scattering multiple hits in each of the second and fourth innings off Toronto starter Mark Buehrle. They extended their lead to 2-0 in the fifth, and had put up 10 hits over six innings — a stark contrast to their three-hit outing the night before.

But they ran out of steam by the seventh, preceding a difficult eighth that saw the Blue Jays roll through 10 batters for five runs.

Buehrle acknowledged he didn’t have his best stuff on the night, but still escaped with the win after allowing 10 hits and two earned runs over seven innings.

"It’s kind of tough, I even told [pitching coach Pete Walker] coming into the game, this isn’t a really good matchup for me because I like to pound the strike zone and he kept on saying, ‘Hey these guys like to swing, so maybe the first few pitches throw them off the plate and then hopefully they can chase after them,’" Buehrle said.

Renteria knocked on wood that his team would regroup and put itself back into a position to win a game on Wednesday.

"No one likes losing the way that game ended up developing," Renteria said. "And it really did just steamroll. It would be foolish of us to ignore it. You talk about it. And they’re bright young men, capable of taking information and putting themselves in a position where they can regroup and get back after it."

Cubs.com

Accolades continue for prospect Bryant

By Jamie Ross

TORONTO — Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been named the Minor League Player Of The Year by Baseball America.

Bryant, ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the game and the Cubs’ No.1 prospect by MLB.com, hit .295/.418/.619 in 70 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He was .355/.458/.702 in 68 games with Double-A Tennessee. The 22-year-old third baseman hit a total of 43 homers and 110 RBIs between the two levels.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said the attention Bryant has been receiving will only intensify as times goes on.

"It’s well-deserved," Renteria said ahead of the Cubs’ game against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Tuesday. "The young man had a great season. He swung the bat well, hit a lot of homers. He did a really nice job for himself, and I think everyone took notice."

Bryant, the 2013 Golden Spikes Award winner at the University of San Diego, was selected with the second overall pick in the ‘13 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs. Prior to that, he was taken by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2010 Draft out of Bonanza High School, but didn’t sign.

Cubs.com

Sweep of Cubs would help Toronto keep pace

Hendricks hopes to slow Blue Jays in series finale

By Maria Torres

It’s been difficult at times for the Blue Jays — who finish up their three-game set with the Cubs on Wednesday at Rogers Centre — to string together substantial winning streaks. But by making a comeback in Tuesday’s game, they extended their latest string of victories to four. Toronto hadn’t won more than three in a row since a seven-game streak in May.

After two wins in the first two games, Toronto is still 4 1/2 games back of the second American League Wild Card spot. Considering how far the Blue Jays still have to go and how many teams they have to jump to make a legitimate strike at that spot, they pretty much have to sweep the Cubs. To make that happen, they will turn to Drew Hutchison, who hopes to bounce back from his last outing when he faces August’s National League Rookie of the Month, Kyle Hendricks, on Wednesday.

Over his last three starts, Hutchison has allowed one four runs in 19 innings — but three of those were scored by the Red Sox on Friday. He earned a quality start from that outing and was spared the loss, but his team still dropped that series opener in extra innings.

While Hutchison will be operating on regular rest, it’s been one week since Hendricks last took the mound. He’s made only 10 starts for the Cubs, but a lot is expected of the rookie, who has a 6-1 record and 2.02 ERA. Since Aug. 1, opponents have scored only 11 runs (nine earned) and hit .230 against him in seven starts.

His start against the Brewers last Wednesday wasn’t the finest of his short Major League career. Hendricks struggled through 5 2/3 innings as he scattered nine Milwaukee hits, but he was able to keep the damage to just two runs.

"This start was a lot different than all the other ones I’ve had," Hendricks said after the game. "It was by far the worst stuff I had. It was just one of those days."

Blue Jays: Jose, Jose, Jose

Maybe not all of Toronto’s offense is due to Jose Bautista, but he’s been wielding a hot bat at a moment when the Jays need him the most.

Bautista’s seventh-inning double on Tuesday extended his hitting streak to 13 games, which ties the career high he set in April. In addition to clubbing the 200th homer of his Toronto career, he’s batting .333 (18-for-54) with eight homers and 19 RBIs over those contests.

Cubs: Rizzo continues to mend

Injured Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo took part in baseball activities for the second day in a row on Tuesday.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said it’s still too early to say if Rizzo, who’s sidelined with a strained lower back, would return by the end of the club’s current road trip, which concludes on Sunday.

"Rizz is doing fine," Renteria said. "He took some ground balls yesterday, hit off the tee. He took 10 soft-toss swings, and doesn’t seem to have had any residual effect from it. But it’s a very limited amount of activity. We’ll continue to take it day by day to see how he’s progressing."

Worth noting

• Cubs No.1 prospect Kris Bryant was named Minor League Player Of The Year by Baseball America.

• With Mark Buehrle’s seven-inning, two-run outing on Tuesday, Toronto’s starters have now worked six innings or more in 16 straight contests, posting an ERA of 2.50 (30 runs in 108 innings) since Aug. 23.

ESPNChicago.com

Why Jon Lester makes sense for Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

While watching the Chicago Cubs take on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night, you might want to change the television channel to get a glimpse of Oakland Athletics starter Jon Lester as he pitches against the White Sox.

Could Lester return to Chicago next season as a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Cubs?

A free agent at season’s end, Lester has a good relationship with the Cubs’ front office and is still seemingly in the prime of his career. We also know the Cubs are on the record saying they need top-end pitching.

Lester, 30, is 13-10 with a 2.54 ERA in 28 starts split between the Boston Red Sox and the Athletics. He’s set to become a free agent for the first time in his career in a matter of weeks, and he will command top dollar. But here’s the most important aspect of Lester: He’s made a minimum of 31 starts every season since 2008. That should be very enticing to a team like the Cubs, which is likely to make at least one big splash in the free-agent pitching foray over the next two offseasons. You don’t want to miss on a $100 million-plus investment.

"They [Cubs brass] always treated me with the utmost respect and class," Lester said earlier this season. "I have nothing but good things to say about them."

Theo Epstein was hired by the Boston Red Sox in 2002, the fall after Lester was drafted, but they won a World Series together in 2007. In 2009 Epstein signed him to a $44 million contract extension that ends this year. The Red Sox also saw Lester through while he dealt with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2006.

"Obviously there’s the familiarity with those guys," Lester said.

The Cubs may not want to get into a bidding war for Lester’s services since they aren’t in a win-at-all costs mode, nor are they one player away. But maybe the past connection with him is enough to forge a deal that fits their liking.

There’s little doubt pitchers coming over from the American League have a history of success when they put on a National League uniform. The lineups are easier to navigate with the pitcher looming at the bottom of the order. Jason Hammel, Scott Feldman and Jake Arrieta are just the most recent examples.

Lester has been trending toward more fly balls than groundouts, but the sample size isn’t large enough to be overly concerned. And as much as the wind blows in at Wrigley Field these days, giving up fly balls may not be as disastrous as it used to be.

If there was any 30-year-old, free-agent pitcher who you could predict success for in a Cubs uniform — at potentially the right price — Lester might be it. Plus, the Cubs would not have to give up a draft pick to sign him since he was traded midseason this year.

And if not Lester, maybe the Cubs should hold off on a major free-agent investment until after the 2015 season. That class is deeper. After the A’s lefty, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers is the only other true top-of-the-rotation pitcher going to the market this year. He’s already reportedly turned down a $144 million extension from the Tigers. Can you see the Cubs going higher than that figure as soon as this offseason? Then again Lester might be asking for the same or more. No one knows.

After Lester and Scherzer, the pitching market drops. There’s quality, such as Kansas City Royals starter James Shields and former Cub Hammel. But those pitchers probably don’t change the narrative for 2015 as a developmental/building year. If things fall right, the Cubs could have an outside chance to contend for a playoff spot next season, but only if they grab a No. 1 pitcher and move everyone down a slot. Otherwise, it’s more baby steps and wait until next year.

And that might be fine, too. Next year entails free-agents-to-be Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Rick Porcello, Johnny Cueto and Yovani Gallardo. Of course, some might sign extensions with their current teams, but those names alone make for a better market than the ones who will become available in about seven weeks.

That means the Cubs should pursue Lester because he’s the right guy for a lot of reasons. But they should do it on their terms with the mindset that they can always get another ace in 2015 if they can’t get Lester now.

But Lester sure looks good at the moment.

ESPNChicago.com

Bryant wins BA minor league player of year

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant is Baseball America’s minor league player of the year, the publication announced on Tuesday. Bryant is the first Cub to win the award since its inception in 1981.

Bryant, 22, hit a combined 43 home runs between Double and Triple-A this season while hitting .325 and driving in 110 runs. His OPS was 1.098. Bryant has also won the USA Today minor league player of the year.

Past winners of the Baseball America award include Mike Trout (2011), Paul Konerko (1997) and Derek Jeter (1994). Bryant is expected to make it to the major leagues sometime in 2015.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs will be in position to make a splash with Jon Lester

Patrick Mooney

No matter what happens with the Wrigley Field renovations and the next TV contract, the Cubs will be in position to make a splash and sign Jon Lester to a megadeal.

Multiple industry sources say the Cubs are targeting Lester and will make a run at him this winter, trying to set a foundation piece in the rebuild at Clark and Addison.

That doesn’t mean the Cubs will win a bidding war with the New York Yankees – remember the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes? – and Lester is said to be on pretty good terms with the Boston Red Sox brass after the July 31 deadline trade that shipped him to the Oakland A’s.

But Lester is believed to be open-minded about his future, and the connections to Chicago are obvious. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, the former Red Sox general manager, watched Lester develop into an All-Star, beating cancer and winning the clinching game in the 2007 World Series.

Lester again showed why he will be in demand on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, going eight innings and beating the White Sox 11-2. That stopped the bleeding for an Oakland team that had been 28 games over .500 on Aug. 9 and began Sept. 9 barely clinging onto a wild card.

Lester (14-10, 2.52 ERA) has put together his best season, even after coming down from the World Series high. Even with the contract talks leaking out in Boston and all the speculation about his next destination. Even in getting traded from the only team he’d ever known and being dropped into a completely different environment.

“I just try to do my job,” Lester said. “Year in and year out, I just try to do my job. I only get to do it every five days, so I take a lot of pride in that fifth day, regardless of the circumstance, whether it’s playoffs, whether it’s contract year, whether it’s anything else. If I do my job, all that stuff will take care of itself.”

[THE PLAN: Jorge Soler knows this is his time for the Cubs]

Either this winter or next, the Cubs are expected to acquire one or two big names to anchor their rotation. Even if it didn’t lead to a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, claiming Cole Hamels on waivers last month showed how the Cubs are thinking.

Epstein’s baseball operations department already built a war chest with leftover money from a losing bid for Tanaka (six years, $120 million). The Alfonso Soriano megadeal finally falls off the books after this season.

The Cubs have less than $30 million committed to Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Edwin Jackson and Ryan Sweeney next season, a projection that doesn’t include arbitration cases.

“Because we have so many young players who are going to be cost-controlled over the next several seasons,” Epstein said, “we have tremendous flexibility built into our roster as it is. We’re going to field a pretty good nucleus with a very low payroll associated with that.

“That in and of itself – and some of the savings that we’ve made over the last offseason for example – will allow us the flexibility we need to be very aggressive should the right player or players present themselves to us.”

That doesn’t solve all the big-picture issues for the Ricketts family and Crane Kenney’s business operations department. It won’t automatically spike the payroll back to where it was during the final years of Tribune Co. ownership. But the Cubs are getting to a place where they can overpay for pitching and absorb decline seasons when someone like Lester reaches his mid-30s.

“On a longer-term look,” Epstein said, “as we get closer to a new TV deal, and as we start to realize some of the revenues associated with the renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility and our aggressiveness.

“That’s down the road. I’m very confident in our business side, that the right TV deal will be struck at the right time and we’re going to realize revenues from Wrigley Field.

“But those two things combined – the flexibility that we have and the potential for increased payroll down the road with increased revenues – has got to make Cubs fans excited.”

[RELATED: Jeff Samardzija has no second thoughts about time with Cubs]

Lester will be 31 next season and has already won two World Series rings, which might make him a little more patient – as long as the money’s right – while the Cubs try to piece together a perennial contender.

Max Scherzer is not believed to be interested in a rebuilding situation, and the Scott Boras client already turned down a reported six-year, $144 million offer from the Detroit Tigers in spring training.

Lester checks all the boxes. He’s durable, on track to make 30-plus starts for the seventh straight season. He’s a good teammate who knows all about the pressures of playing in a big market.

“I love Jon,” said Oakland pitcher Jason Hammel, an ex-Cub who grew up near Lester in Washington. “He’s a Tacoma boy. I played against him in summer ball. We came up against each other. We played against each other in tournaments all the time. He’s a great guy. I can see why he’s successful and also why he’s very likeable. (He’s a) good family guy and a hard worker.”

“You always feel like you have a great chance to win the game,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “You feel like he’s going to keep you in the game, regardless, and he’s done that for us.

“As far as confidence as a team goes, it always starts with the starting pitcher that you run out there on that particular day. Whatever team he’s on, you’re going to feel good about your chances to win that day.”

The Cubs understand they need someone to set the tone for their pitching staff, help establish a clubhouse culture and take the ball for Game 1 of a playoff series. That’s what Lester could do on the North Side.

CSNChicago.com

Baseball America names Kris Bryant minor league player of year

By TONY ANDRACKI

Kris Bryant put up a minor-league season for the ages and he continues to get rewarded for it.

Almost a week after USA TODAY tabbed the Cubs prospect as the 2014 minor league player of the year, Baseball America handed Bryant the same honor.

Bryant finished the year with 43 homers, 110 RBI and a ridiculous 1.098 OPS, splitting the season almost in half between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. He beat out Rangers prospect Joey Gallo by one blast for the minor-league home run crown.

Baseball America also threw out a ridiculous statistic: Bryant failed to reach base in only 14 of the 138 games he played. Unreal.

BA’s article has plenty of interesting analysis on Bryant, ranging from his approach to his advanced power, even comparing him to Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton:

But even with power evaporating from the game, it’s Bryant’s hitting approach that is more notable. It’s hard to find a power hitter who can hit 25-30 home runs consistently. But a slugger who can hit for power and hit for average? That’s limited to the best players in the game.

A plot of Bryant’s home runs looks like the spray from a sprinkler. They range from the foul pole in left field to the one in right. There’s not a lot of gaps left in between. The same disciplined approach Bryant uses in batting practice pays off in games; he is quite comfortable lining balls the other way.

“Pull power will translate into lower averages and home runs,” Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper said. “The thing about Kris is he has more power the other way. He doesn’t get into pull mode. That’s the destruction of many young power hitters.”

With the minor-league season over, the countdown has started for Bryant’s big-league debut, expected to come sometime next spring.

CSNChicago.com

Luis Valbuena has given Cubs a dose of stability this season

TONY ANDRACKI

Before Jorge Soler, before Javier Baez, even before Arismendy Alcantara or Chris Coghlan, there was Luis Valbuena.

Valbuena has provided a sense of stability for the Cubs this year, playing all over the infield and spending at least five games in each of the nine spots in the batting order (including pinch-hitting duties).

The 28-year-old utility player is still holding down the fort, even with franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro currently sidelined with injuries. Valbuena has been tasked to step up in their absence, hitting out of his element in the third or fourth spots in the lineup.

In a year defined by change for the Chicago Cubs (they’ve used 48 players already), Valbuena has been the one guy manager Rick Renteria could turn to from Opening Day through this week. Only Castro has appeared in more games (134 to 132) but the All-Star shortstop may not suit up again this season, meaning Valbuena will likely finish the year as the Cubs’ leader in games played.

"It’s been big," Renteria said. "He’s been one of the bright spots we’ve had in the lineup. In the beginning, we were using him as a platoon, but he’s shown he can hit against lefties and righties. On top of that, he’s played a really good third base.

"I think he’s shown that he can give you a lot of aspects. There are a lot of different pieces of his game that contribute for us in positive ways since the beginning of the season. He’s quietly put together a .250 [average] with 16 homers and 50+ RBI while playing solid defense. That’s pretty nice."

Valbuena actually rates out as a below-average defender this year (he has -10 defensive runs saved between second base and third), but he is second on the Cubs in runs, doubles, homers and walks and third on offensive WAR (Baseball Reference).

Valbuena is fifth in the National League in pitches per plate appearance (4.16), exhibiting the kind of approach Theo Epstein’s front office has tried to adopt in the system as part of “The Cubs Way.”

"He grinds out at-bats, key at-bats against lefties and righties," Renteria said. "He’s a nice piece to have. He’s certainly helped a lot of the guys the way he’s gone about his business."

As the Cubs plan to continue to roll top prospects like Kris Bryant into the lineup next season, Valbuena will probably have something of a diminished role on the team moving forward.

But he is under contract through the 2016 season and his value and versatility could be a welcome addition as guys like Bryant and Soler adapt to the big-league game.

Tribune

Rick Renteria stresses focus after ugly loss

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO — There’s more to solving Mark Buehrle than not allowing him to jam you with his cut fastball or fool you with his pedestrian speed pitches. You also can’t let him pitch at his preferred quick tempo.

But the Cubs fells short in several other areas as well Tuesday night, especially in the seventh and eighth innings of a 9-2 loss to the Blue Jays, with Buehrle gaining his 12th victory of the season.

The setback prompted manager Rick Renteria to remind his players to maintain their focus as he sees that it’s waning some.

"We have to play better baseball," Renteria said afterward in a calm but direct tone. "That’s probably the worst game we’ve played all year. But these men know that. There are a lot of things we have to do, but certainly staying in a big league ballgame is one of those things that require a lot of commitment in terms of bearing down, continuing to play the game, being aware of the whole circumstance and everything that’s going around."

The Cubs saw a 2-1 lead evaporate when Jose Bautista hit a three-run double off rookie reliever Neil Ramirez with two outs in the seventh inning, and then they committed several mishaps during the Blue Jays’ five-run eighth.

"It got away on a lot of different levels in a lot of different places," Renteria said. "It wasn’t certainly for lack of effort, but I think it’s something where we have to regroup — totally regroup — and get our mind back around to just playing the game a certain way. And that’s something as, young men, they’re learning a lesson.

"It has been a tough five-game stretch, losing five in a row. We lost one that really got ugly, and it’s a great lesson that they’re understanding at the major league level it’s tough to win a game. When things get chaotic, that’s when you really have to come back and put yourself in the middle and do some things that put you back on track.”

The Cubs wasted a solid effort from Jake Arrieta, who left with a 2-1 lead after 61/3 innings.

The offense failed to maximize 10 hits in seven innings against Buehrle, whom hitting coach Bill Mueller thought would serve as a learning tool for the young and often over-eager batters.

"All games played are good situations because every game is a learning process, and that’s what you want — to start that process and get them on the way to maturity as quickly as we can," Mueller said.

"It’s a big jump, and it’s always going to be an adjustment. It takes time. This is the best place to learn and get better.”

Rookie Javier Baez stepped out of the box between pitches in his first at-bat Tuesday night, and it paid off as he battled from an 0-2 count to pull a double down the left field line on a full count. Baez stole third base on a delayed attempt and scored on Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly.

"You have to be comfortable in the box," Mueller said. "If you have to step out, and if you want to disrupt him, sure (do it)," Mueller said. "But it has to be on your terms."

Injury update: First baseman Anthony Rizzo took another step toward possibly returning this weekend. Rizzo, who hasn’t played in the last 14 games because of lower-back stiffness, took more swings, fielded grounders and worked out on an elliptical machine for several minutes.

"He’s going to try to stay active under limited parameters and then we’ll take it day-by-day to see how he’s improving," manager Rick Renteria said.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, recovering from a high left ankle sprain, rode a stationary bicycle and played catch with a member of the medical staff. Castro, who hopes to return before the end of the season, walked with a slight limp.

Extra innings: Third baseman Kris Bryant became the first Cubs prospect to win Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year honors. Bryant batted .325 with 43 home runs and 110 RBIs at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. “I’m sure it’s just the beginning of a lot of attention he’ll be garnering in the next few months and hopefully (beyond),” Renteria said. … Fox will telecast the Sept. 20 game between the Dodgers and Cubs at Wrigley Field, starting at 12:05 p.m.

Tribune

Tuesday’s recap: Blue Jays 9, Cubs 2

Mark Gonzales

The summary

Jake Arrieta left after 6 1/3 innings with a 2-1 lead, but Jose Bautista ripped a three-run double on a 2-2 pitch with two outs off rookie reliever Neil Ramirez in the seventh as the Cubs’ losing streak grew to five games. The Cubs failed to maximize 10 hits in seven innings off veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

At the plate

Welington Castillo went 3-for-4 and drove in Javier Baez on a single with two out in the fifth.

On the mound

Ramirez threw two 96 mph pitches past Bautista before Bautista connected on another 96 mph pitch off the base of the left field wall.

In the field

Center fielder Matt Szczur’s failed attempt at a diving catch led to Adam Lind’s leadoff triple in the eighth, and first baseman Chris Valaika committed a throwing error that prevented an inning-ending double play later in the inning.

The number

4: Cubs’ losing streaks of five games or longer this season.

The quote

Cubs manager Rick Renteria: “That’s probably the worst game we’ve played all year. But these men know that. There are a lot of things we have to do, but certainly staying in a big league ballgame is one of those things that require a lot of commitment in terms of bearing down, continuing to play the game, being aware of the whole circumstance and everything that’s going around.”

Up next

Cubs (Hendricks 6-1, 2.02) vs. Blue Jays (Hutchison 9-11, 4.47), 6:07 p.m., Wednesday, CSN.

Tribune

Renteria wants young Cubs to regain focus

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO — The seventh and eighth innings of the Chicago Cubs’ 9-2 loss to Toronto gave more ammunition for manager Rick Renteria to deliver a direct but necessary briefing to his young team.’

“I think it’s a message we’ve been talking about since the beginning of spring, but I think the game (Tuesday night) itself lent to reiterating, re-emphasizing the same things we talked about all year,” said Renteria, who described the loss as the Cubs’ worst of the season. “We have to play nine innings of baseball. We have to focus. You want to stay loose. You want to stay relaxed. I don’t want you guys to get uptight. We want you to stay nice and loose.

“But we do have to direct our energies and our focus in the game. I don’t want to people to be uptight when they’re out there on the field. That doesn’t work. But you do have to change the way you think and view things. So we re-emphasized that. Let me knock on wood and hope we give ourselves a chance to win a game because the results are what the results are going to be, but it’s how we play the game is what we’re trying to do to give us a chance on an extended basis over a period of time.’’

Renteria wasn’t so upset that the Cubs lost their fifth consecutive game as much as the manner in which a 2-1 lead in the seventh suddenly became a blowout loss. Neil Ramirez allowed a three-run double to Jose Bautista with two out in the seventh, but that was just the start of the ugliness.

Normally reliable Brian Schlitter allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning in the eighth. First baseman Chris Valaika made two exceptional plays earlier in the game but his throw on an attempted force play struck a runner and helped extend the Blue Jays’ rally in the eighth.

The Blue Jays’ rally started when rookie center fielder Matt Szczur made a failed attempt at a diving catch that skipped past him for a triple credited to Adam Lind. But some of the lapses had surfaced as early as last month as the Cubs began to turn over their 25-man roster with younger players.

The Cubs minimized their 10 hits off veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle because of poor pitch selection.

“No one likes losing, but no likes losing the way that game ended up developing,” Renteria said. “It just steamrolled, and it would be foolish for us to ignore it didn’t happen. And you talk about it. They’re bright young men who can take information and put themselves in position where they’re going to try to regroup and get after it (Wednesday). They need to stay loose, focused and just play the game.’’

Perhaps the most encouraging scene occurred after Renteria’s post-game session, with injured Starlin Castro, rookie Javier Baez, catcher Welington Castillo and reserve outfielder Junior Lake discussing the mishaps.

Jake Arrieta, who saw his 2-1 lead dissolve in the seventh when Ramirez allowed the double to Bautista, can relate to the growing pains dating back to his younger days with the Baltimore Orioles from 2010 to midway through the 2013 season.

“It’s something that subconsciously tends to happen from time to time, especially with a young team,” Arrieta said. “But it speaks to how important it is to turn your focus up. Even just a click every day because being ready for any certain situation on a pitch by pitch basis - on the mound and on the field and at the plate - is what separates the player from the teams that elevate themselves to the next level. As a unit, if you’re able to do that, it takes us from where we’re at now to a team that’s going to fight for a division title and start a playoff push.

“That’s the next step we need to continue to make as a unit. We can always get better at that, regardless of where we are, the ability to continue to relay that sort of information to the young players is of extremely high importance. We need to continue to refine our craft as a team and start to get to that point where the focus part of the game is second nature. That will come.”

Tribune

Cubs’ Bryant wins top minor league award

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO - Kris Bryant’s standout 2014 minor league season was validated Tuesday when he was named the Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America.

Bryant, who recently gained plenty of attention for not receiving a major league promotion, was selected as the top minor league player on the basis of him leading the minors with 43 home runs, 78 extra base hits, a .661 slugging percentage and a 1.098 on base plus slugging percentage.

Bryant, who spent the 2014 season at third base with Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, batted .325. He joins Alex Gordon as the only players to win Baseball America’s College Player of the Year and Minor League Player of the Year honors in consecutive seasons.

Bryant was the second overall pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego. Gordon, a top-notch outfielder with the Kansas City Royals, won the top college honor out of Nebraska in 2005 before winning the minor league honor the next season.

Sun-Times

Marcus Stroman has high praise for Cubs’ prospects

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

TORONTO — Marcus Stroman didn’t have to read the reports over the summer linking his name to the Cubs in those Jeff Samardzija trade talks.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ prized rookie pitcher knew that Theo Epstein had his eye on him ever since his time at Duke when the then-Boston GM chatted up the pitcher/shortstop at one of his games against Boston College.

Stroman, the powerful right-hander who thought he might get drafted by the Red Sox until the Blue Jays took him two spots ahead in the first round of the 2012 draft, said none of that had anything to do with the way he shoved it down the Cubs’ throats with a three-hit shutout Monday night.

“It didn’t work out,” Stroman said Tuesday of Epstein’s renewed attention from Chicago. “I’m happy to be in Toronto, for sure.”

But Stroman also seems to know more about the Cubs than anyone in the Toronto clubhouse this side of Dioner Navarro, rattling off thumbnail scouting reports on some of their top hitters.

Mostly, that’s because he’s faced all of the Cubs’ Core Four, Future Five, Sick Six — whatever you want to call the Cubs’ top group of hitters — on his own fast rise through the minors and during last year’s Arizona Fall League.

And he laughed when told how much of a fit he seemed to be for the team the Cubs are putting together, especially considering Epstein’s fascination with shortstops.

“Yeah, it’d be a fun team,” said Stroman, 23, who’s gone 10-5 with a 3.53 ERA since making his debut May 4. “All the guys there are 22, 21 years old. … They’ve got a bunch of young hitters, ridiculous prospects — Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Addison Russell. [Jorge] Soler’s up now, [Javy] Baez is up. Oh, they’re going to be good in a couple of years. I mean, as long as they get some arms.”

No, that’s not his way of asking the Cubs to keep pressing the pitching-strong Jays to deal him to Chicago, though don’t be surprised if they do. The Cubs, according to a source with knowledge of the talks, originally asked for three of the Jays’ top pitchers (Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Wednesday’s starter, Drew Hutchison) for Samardzija.

But Stroman didn’t have to be reminded Bryant was USA Today’s and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year to rave about the kind of impact the slugging third baseman might provide in support of anyone pitching for the Cubs the next few years.

“I think he’s the best hitter that they have as far as prospects,” Stroman said. “I saw them all play, and he’s the best. He’s got raw power, and he’s got pretty good plate discipline and a pretty good approach. He’s not a free swinger. He’s got great hands. He’ll take the ball and hit it, launch it to the right-center field gap. It’s not like he’s hitting only pull-side home runs.

“He’s hit 40 home runs this year between AA and AAA, and those numbers don’t lie. He’s going to be good when he gets up here. He’s going to be the same guy. If he starts in the big leagues next year, I think he’ll hit 30 home runs.”

If only the Cubs had a young pitcher with the same kind of power and upside.

“Yeah, they’re going to have to flip them for arms or something. They’ve got too many shortstops,” Stroman said. “I mean, [Jake] Arrieta’s an ace. So if they pair a couple arms with him, and have that lineup in a couple years, I think they’re going to be scary.”

Sun-Times

Cubs’ bats quieted again; Buehrle baffles in 9-2 loss

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

TORONTO – They couldn’t blame the starting pitching for this one. Or the unfamiliarity with the turf. Or bad breaks.

Not when the Cubs’ young lineup got handled again by a contender’s pitching, and not when the Toronto Blue Jays battered the Cubs bullpen over the seventh and eighth innings to turn a close game into a 9-2 rout Tuesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Between rookie Marcus Stroman Monday night and 15-year veteran Mark Buehrle on Tuesday, the Cubs have managed just two runs and just one extra-base hit in a pair of losses to open this three-game interleague series.

The Cubs have lost five straight games, getting outscored 37-9 in that stretch by the Pirates and Blue Jays – including 34-6 in 41 innings since the restart Saturday of Friday’s suspended game.

The Blue Jays, who talked at length with the Cubs about a possible Jeff Samardzija trade early this summer have showcased their top young pitchers the Cubs sought in those talks during these two games.

Stroman, who debuted in May, pitched a three-hit shutout Monday. Sanchez (July 23 debut) and Daniel Norris (who debuted last week) each pitched a scoreless inning of relief Tuesday.

The Cubs also included young right-hander Drew Hutchison in those talks. He starts for the Jays in Wednesday’s series finale.

09 9 / 2014

Sun-Times

Starlin Castro refusing to say his 2014 is over

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

TORONTO — If this is his final month as a Cub, shortstop Starlin Castro refuses to spend time considering it.

But the idea that the game he left last week with a bad ankle sprain might be his last as a Cub — he’s not letting that one go without a fight.

‘‘I want to come back this year,’’ said Castro, speaking publicly Monday for the first time since suffering what the Cubs said could be a season-ending injury last Tuesday. ‘‘I don’t care if it’s one game, I don’t care if it’s two games. Hopefully it’s more than that.’’

As the Cubs opened their final 19-game sprint to the offseason with an 8-0 loss to the playoff-hopeful Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night, Castro sounded defiant and confident he can beat the medical staff’s four-week prognosis.

He also sounded like a guy who expects to add significantly to his three All-Star appearances — a 24-year-old veteran who wants to do it as a key member of the Cubs’ first competitive team since 2009.

‘‘I want to stay here,’’ he said, ‘‘especially [since] we’re really close, with a lot of young guys and we’re playing better. As soon as [Anthony] Rizzo and me are [back in the lineup], it’s going to be good.’’

First baseman Rizzo, the Cubs’ other cornerstone All-Star, has been out of the lineup since experiencing back stiffness Aug. 26. He took infield, batting practice and ran Monday without pain, he said, and hopes to return by sometime at the end of the trip this weekend in Pittsburgh — or ‘‘the homestand for sure.’’

‘‘I don’t have any control about trades,’’ Castro said. ‘‘But we’ll see. I don’t really pay attention. We don’t have the last decision with those kind of things.’’

Speculation began quickly when the Cubs added to their stockpile of young shortstops July 4 by acquiring coveted prospect Addison Russell from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija deal. It arose again when the Cubs visited New York to play the shortstop-needy Mets last month.

The Cubs insist Castro is their shortstop, and they assured his agent in July that the Russell trade didn’t change Castro’s status as the their long-term shortstop (whose $70 million contract runs through 2019). But sources also say the Cubs are keeping their trade options open with him and others as they look at filling long-term needs.

‘‘If it happens, it happens,’’ he said, ‘‘but hopefully not.’’

He has big things in mind for himself and this team, no matter what this excitement-sucking, four-game skid might feel like after Monday’s loss to former Cubs trade target Marcus Stroman (10-5).

‘‘When [the injury] happened, I said to [the trainer], ‘Put tape on it — I want to still play,’ ’’ Castro said of his attempt to keep the Cubs from immediately sending him out for X-rays and an MRI exam. He has the ankle wrapped in a walking splint and said it still feels ‘‘tight.’’

‘‘I feel too good at the plate,” added Castro, who was hitting .388 since the start of August. ‘‘I was thinking, ‘I’m going to be at .300 really soon because I feel so good at the plate.’ It’s the feeling I’m always looking for, that I have now.’’

Maybe even a launching point for his career, he suggested: ‘‘It’s going to be the start of really good things to happen.’’

A key motivation in getting back quickly, he said, is to have him, Rizzo and rookies Javy Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara in the lineup together for the first time, setting a tone for next year.

He has focused on that during games in his few days sidelined, sitting near Baez and Soler in the dugout and telling them what he knows about that day’s pitcher and how they might be pitched.

‘‘We’re going to be a really good team soon,’’ he said. ‘‘I think we’re pretty close.’’

Sun-Times

Cubs announce 2015 schedule

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

The Cubs will pick up their tough schedule where they leave off the final six weeks of this season, opening at home next April 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals, the current National League Central leaders.

It’s the first time since 1991 that the Cubs will open a season against the rival Cardinals, and it’s the first time since 2012 they open at home.

Tentative major-league schedules were released Monday.

‘‘Who doesn’t want to see Cubs and Cardinals?’’ Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. ‘‘That’s a good team, and we’ve been playing good games against them, too. I’m really excited.’’

The interleague schedule, which pairs the Central divisions next year, includes home series against hitting coach Dale Sveum’s Kansas City Royals (May 29-31), manager Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians (June 15-16) and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera’s Detroit Tigers (Aug. 18-19).

The Cubs also play their annual crosstown series against the White Sox, this time in a pair of three-gamers, July 10-12 at home and Aug. 14-16 on the South Side.

The Cubs face the Detroit Tigers (June 9-10), Cleveland Indians (June 17-18) and Minnesota Twins (19-21) on the road.

Like this year, the final month of the 2015 schedule could be especially challenging. Sixteen of the final 25 games are on the road, including the final six at Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

NOTE: Struggling lefty Travis Wood is expected to be pushed back an extra day in the six-man rotation, giving him the entire road trip (including Thursday’s day off) to work before facing the Reds to open the next homestand Monday.

Jacob Turner, who started Monday in Toronto, would start in Wood’s place Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Sun-Times

Cubs miss out on Marcus Stroman, impressed by rookie in loss

By GORDON WITTENMYER

TORONTO – At one point this summer, the Cubs envisioned Marcus Stroman pitching for them by time they traveled to Canada for this week’s interleague series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Instead, there was the hard-throwing rookie right-hander pitching the best game of his young career against the Cubs – a three-hit shutout in the Blue Jays’ 8-0 series-opening victory over the Cubs at Rogers Centre.

“He’s got a really good arm,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the 23-year-old former first-round pick, who debuted in May. “We probably went after a couple early-count pitches and weren’t able to do anything with them. …

“He had some good life. Guys were coming back in talking about how his fastball had really good life.”

Stroman, one of several young Jays pitchers targeted by the Cubs in drawn-out, on-again, off-again trade talks involving Jeff Samardzija, took a two-hitter into the ninth before Chris Valaika’s one-out single.

“His ball was moving. He had everything working,” said Valaika, who also struck out twice. “It was more than just his fastball. First time around he was getting ahead with that fastball and then later in the game he started flipping that slider in. He had great stuff and great fastball command and kept us off-balance all game.”

After Valaika’s ninth-inning hit, Stroman (10-5, 3.53) retired Chris Coghlan and Javy Baez – on second baseman Ryan Goins’ acrobatic, bare-handed play on a tough hop – to finish off his first complete game in 18 big-league starts.

All three Cubs hits were singles as the Cubs lost for the fourth straight game. Stroman retired 19 straight between Jorge Soler’s single in the second and Mike Olt’s hit in the eighth. He didn’t walk a batter and faced just two over the minimum – needing just 93 pitches despite striking out eight.

Before Monday, Stroman had pitched nine innings for a no-decision in a 10-inning victory against Detroit exactly one month earlier. The former Duke ace gave up two runs on four hits and two walks in that game.

He almost didn’t make it past the first batter of the game – with Coghlan driving a shot just past Stroman’s head. Stroman got a glove on the ball to deflect it to shortstop Jose Reyes, who threw out Coghlan.

Stroman, who fell to his backside on the play, got up smiling, and catcher Dioner Navarro, the former Cub, then went to the mound – to help brush the dirt off Stroman’s uniform.

Two innings later, he made a Derek Jeter-like play on Logan Watkins’ bouncer to the left of the mound – back-handing the ball and then leaping and twisting in air to throw him out.

According to a source with knowledge of early trade talks between the Cubs and Blue Jays, the Cubs’ initial asking price for Samardzija was the Jays’ top two pitching prospects, Aaron Sanchez and Stroman, and young right-hander Drew Hutchison.

Hutchison (9-11, 4.47), the only other Jays starter with a shutout this season, pitches Wednesday’s series finale against the Cubs.

Cubs starter Jacob Turner pitched six innings despite struggling with his command and kept the Cubs in it until allowing a two-out, three-run homer to former home run champ Jose Bautista, with first base open and Edwin Encarnacion on deck.

“It’s one of those situations where you’re trying to make a pitch that if he doesn’t’ swing at it you put him on, and if he does he’s probably out,” said Turner, another former first-rounder who is 1-2 with a 3.98 ERA five games (three starts) since the Cubs acquired him from the Marlins on Aug. 8 for a pair of Class A pitchers.

“And I just didn’t execute the pitch when I needed to. That’s a big moment in the game,” he added. “That’s on me. If we get through that inning with where we were at it’s a totally different game.”

Daily Herald

Samardzija says he’s open to coming back to Cubs

Bruce Miles

Jeff Samardzija is proving that you can go home again, at least for one baseball series.

Whether Samardzija eventually comes back to play in Chicago remains to be seen, but it’s something he said he’ll keep in mind.

"That is something that is absolutely on my list," he said Monday as a member of the Oakland Athletics, who are in town to play the White Sox. "I love it here. I’ve spent my whole life here. Even to come back is exciting, to see the same sights coming in from the airport, to stay downtown, it brings back a lot of memories."

Samardzija was a Cub from the time they drafted him in 2006 until team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer traded him to the Athletics just as the fireworks were going off on the Fourth of July.

It seemed almost jarring to see Samardzija in Oakland green and gold when he had been in Cubs blue all those years.

But he’s finding out that change can be good. Most important, he got out of last place and is with a team that has struggled of late but one that is still well positioned for a wild-card spot in the American League.

"There’s positives to a lot of things," he said. "Just in life in general, you get to try out new things and experience new places and new people. It’s always fun and exciting. It’s always good to see how you react as a person, and you grow, too.

"You realize you get comfortable in certain situations, and there are definitely areas to improve. When you get other opinions and other views, you can improve as a player and as a person. So it’s been exciting. It’s always about getting better. And sometimes when you go somewhere else, that can happen."

Samardzija emerged as the ace of the Cubs pitching staff, but with free agency coming after next season and the Cubs still in a rebuilding mode, they traded him and pitcher Jason Hammel to the A’s for hot prospect Addison Russell, pitcher Dan Straily and outfield prospect Billy McKinney.

The deal came as no surprise to Samardzija.

"No, just because there was so much talk early," he said. "I think it would have been a surprise had there been no talk the whole time and then dropped on me. I had a good relationship with Theo and the whole front office. We were pretty open with each other in communication. I think we understood that if there was a deal they didn’t like, nothing was going to happen."

With the Cubs, Samardzija was 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA. He often was the victim of no run support. He’ll start against the White Sox on Wednesday. With the A’s, he’s 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA and a WHIP of 0.96.

The A’s have him under control for one more year. After that, he could have a couple of dozen teams coming after him.

"Obviously, we’re still over a year, a year and a month away from that," he said. "I think that’s the goal as an athlete. For so long, you’re always trying to impress. High school, college, professionally, you’re always trying to impress the people you’re playing for or being recruited by or scouted by. I think as an athlete, it’s always fun to have those tables turned a little bit — you’re being courted. You also get to pick the situation you feel is best for you."

Cubs.com

Cubs can’t solve Toronto rookie Stroman

Turner goes six and Chicago wins a challenge, but bats held silent

By Jamie Ross

TORONTO — The consensus in the Cubs’ clubhouse was nearly unanimous after losing the series opener to the Blue Jays on Monday: Marcus Stroman was lights-out.

Toronto’s rookie righty pitched a complete-game shutout to deal the Cubs their fourth straight loss in an 8-0 wash at Rogers Centre.

"He was very aggressive, attacked the zone and first-pitch strikes were high with him," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "Had good life to his pitches, and pitched very, very, very well."

Stroman dodged a bullet from the bat of Cubs leadoff man Chris Coghlan in the first, narrowly evading a comeback liner that could’ve done serious damage, and went on to allow only two hits and no walks with eight strikeouts as he improved to 10-5 with his first career complete-game performance.

"Thankfully for him, he was able to deflect," Renteria said of the early comebacker. "[Coghlan] has been hitting the ball pretty well. Being deflected was good for Stroman to keep him safe, but Coggy’s been hitting the ball well."

It took Stroman 93 pitches (66 were strikes) to dispose of the Cubs, who were shut out for the 16th time this season.

"He got ahead of us with a first-pitch strike, which is huge, and he had the leverage to go anywhere he wanted," said Cubs third baseman Chris Valaika. "He got some quick outs and it gave him the chance to pitch deep in the game."

Cubs starter Jacob Turner, who was making his first career appearance against the Blue Jays, allowed five runs (four earned) over six innings to fall to 5-9 on the season. He struck out two and allowed seven hits, including a three-run bomb to Jose Bautista in the fifth.

The Blue Jays had been picking away at the 23-year-old right-hander through four innings — inching out runs in the second and fourth — to take a 2-0 lead into the fifth.

Back-to-back one-out singles from Ryan Goins and Anthony Gose gave the Blue Jays a pair of runners with Bautista coming to the plate in the fifth. Up 1-2, the Blue Jays’ slugger took Turner’s fourth-pitch cutter to the second deck in left field to make it 5-0 Toronto.

Turner said that with a base open in that situation, he was trying to get Bautista to chase something out of the strike zone. Instead, he missed his spot.

"It’s one of those situations where you’re trying to make a pitch that if he doesn’t swing, you put him on, and if he does he’s probably out," Turner said. "And like I said, I didn’t execute when I needed to. It’s a big moment in the game. That’s on me. If we get through that inning from where we’re at, it’s a totally different game."

The Blue Jays added another in the seventh and two in the eighth off of reliever Dan Straily. He gave up a leadoff double to Kevin Pillar in the seventh, who scored on a fielding error committed by second baseman Logan Watkins. In the eighth, Straily gave up back-to-back doubles to Adam Lind and Dioner Navarro and an RBI single to Pillar to put the Cubs behind, 8-0.

Cubs.com

Cubs to open 2015 slate at Wrigley vs. rival Cards

Chicago will host Memorial Day and Fourth of July games

Jamie Ross

TORONTO — The Cubs will face National League Central rival St. Louis in the 2015 season opener on April 6 at Wrigley Field. It’ll be the first time since 1991 the Cubs have started a season against the Cardinals.

Tentative ‘15 schedules were released by Major League Baseball on Monday, and among Cubs highlights will be a July 10-12 series against the hometown rival White Sox at Wrigley to end the first half.

They’ll visit U.S. Cellular later in the summer for a three-game series against the White Sox starting Aug. 14.

The Cubs will play a total of eight Interleague series against the American League Central, beginning with a May 29-31 homestand against the Royals. They’ll also battle the Indians in a pair of back-to-back two-game series June 15-18.

The schedule dictates that the club will host two holiday games next season. First on Memorial Day on May 25 vs. the Nationals, and on the Fourth of July against the Marlins. The Cubs will be on the road for three holidays: May 10 at Milwaukee for Mother’s Day; June 21 in Minnesota for Father’s Day; and Sept. 7 for Labor Day in St. Louis.

All dates and times are subject to change.

Cubs.com

Rizzo takes ground balls, swings the bat

Still no timetable for injured first baseman’s return from back strain

Jamie Ross

TORONTO — Injured first baseman Anthony Rizzo took some ground balls and ripped a few swings in the batting cage at Rogers Centre ahead of the Cubs’ series opener against the Blue Jays on Monday.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Rizzo was feeling better Monday after taking a few grounders and some “light hacks,” though he was non-committal when asked if Rizzo could return by this weekend. 

"I’ll reserve my optimism," Renteria said. "Today is the first day where he’s gone out there. He’s trying to see how his body is feeling, but I’ll just say we’ll keep digging it as it comes."

Rizzo has been listed as being out indefinitely after an MRI on Sept. 2 revealed a lower back strain. Renteria said he wants the injury to heal fully before Rizzo’s return to the lineup.

"He’s one to try and push himself to get back on," Renteria said. "And we all have to be mindful that we’re looking to long-term benefits of having him as a position player for us. We’re going slow and kind of making sure that if he does happen to get back that he’s good to go."

Extra bases

• Renteria said Travis Wood’s next start “might” be pushed back a day in favor of going with Jacob Turner. Wood, who’d normally be slated to start Sunday against the Pirates, is coming off a difficult outing against Pittsburgh in which he lasted only 1 2/3 innings and allowed nine hits and seven earned runs.

"We might make an adjustment," Renteria said.

Wood (8-12) has struggled at times this season, and is 1-4 with a 5.54 ERA in his last 10 outings.

Cubs.com

Buehrle looks to keep Toronto’s playoff hopes going

Arrieta tries to help Cubs play spoiler vs. Blue Jays

By Jake Kring-Schreifels

That the Blue Jays need to win nearly all of their remaining 19 games this season if they want a chance at the playoffs is both a tired and true sentiment.

That they need to at least give themselves a shot by beating the weaker Cubs in town is, in the short term, an even higher priority — something they managed to start on Monday night with an 8-0 win, and will look to continue on Tuesday.

Toronto sits 5 games back of the Mariners for the second American League Wild Card spot. Their playoff probability is slim, especially considering they need to jump several teams in front of them. But the Blue Jays will take it one game at a time.

Mark Buehrle, who hasn’t won since July 30, will take the bump for Toronto, hoping to keep rolling after his most dominant outing in over a month.

He took a no-decision against the Rays, throwing eight innings of scoreless ball, striking out four while allowing just five hits. It was a welcome outing from the veteran considering he hadn’t gone longer than 6 1/3 innings in any starts in August.

He’ll match up with righty Jake Arrieta, the Cubs’ de facto ace this season, who said he’s has been looking forward to pitching in Toronto, a place he hasn’t seen since his days with the Orioles.

 ”They have a high-powered offense and it’s a typical [AL] East lineup, with some veteran hitters,” Arrieta said. “It’s a team that we know we have to approach with a certain amount of caution and a good game plan to have success.”

His poor numbers at Rogers Centre explain his caution, where he’s gone 1-2 with a 7.31 ERA in three starts there. He’ll instead hope to feed off his victory Wednesday against the Brewers, when he held them to one run over six innings.

"I think he’s established himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said of Arrieta after his outing. "He’s really good — throws above average probably four different pitches. So you certainly don’t want to fall behind to a guy like that."

Blue Jays: Cabrera, Jenkins have successful surgeries

Left fielder Melky Cabrera and right-hander Chad Jenkins underwent successful surgeries on Monday morning to repair broken bones in their right hands.

Cabrera fractured his pinkie finger while sliding into first base during Saturday night’s game against the Red Sox. Two days earlier, Jenkins fractured his fifth metacarpal while shagging balls during batting practice in Tampa Bay.

Both players will miss the rest of the regular season but are expected to make a full recovery. The rehab schedule for each player is supposed to be completed well before the preparations for next year’s Spring Training are set to begin in December.

Cubs: Rival Cardinals greet Cubs in 2015 opener

Chicago will face NL Central rival St. Louis in the ‘15 season opener on April 6 at Wrigley Field. It’ll be the first time since ‘91 the Cubs have started a season against the Cardinals.

Tentative ‘15 schedules were released by Major League Baseball on Monday, and among Cubs highlights will be a July 10-12 series against the hometown rival White Sox at Wrigley to end the first half.

They’ll visit U.S. Cellular later in the summer for a three-game series against the White Sox starting Aug. 14.

Worth noting

• Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Travis Wood’s next start “might” be pushed back a day in favor of going with Jacob Turner. Wood is coming off a difficult outing against Pittsburgh in which he lasted only 1 2/3 innings and allowed nine hits and seven earned runs.

• Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler was back in the lineup after missing Sunday’s game and has now hit safely in nine of his first 10 career games, including each of his first seven.

• Jose Bautista hit his 32nd home run of the year Monday and has reached base safely in 124 of his 136 starts this season and in 44 of his 46 games since the All-Star break.

Cubs.com

Samardzija not ruling out return to Chicago

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — A’s right-hander Jeff Samardzija maintained that he will enter free agency when eligible at the end of the 2015 season, and didn’t rule out a return to Chicago when meeting with reporters Monday at U.S. Cellular Field.

"Yeah that is absolutely something that is on my list," Samardzija said Monday in his return to Chicago, where he spent parts of seven seasons with the Cubs. He grew up 50 miles away in Valparaiso, Ind.

"I love it here. I’ve spent my whole life here and even to come back is exciting — to see the same sights coming in from the airport and staying downtown. It brings back a lot of memories."

Samardzija was traded on July 5 by the Cubs, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

Samardzija reportedly turned down a five-year, $85 million extension with the Cubs in June, and said he wasn’t surprised that he was traded.

"No, just because there was so much talk early," Samardzija said. "I think if for me it would just surprise if had there been no talk the whole time and then drop it on me on that Saturday [the morning after he was traded]."

"Like I said before and all along, I had a good relationship with Theo [Epstein, Cubs president] and the front office. We were pretty open with each other in communication, and that was that. I think we were understanding if there was a deal they didn’t like, nothing was going to happen and we were going to go from there."

A first time All-Star who couldn’t play in the game because he was elected as a National League pitcher and traded to the A’s 11 days prior, Samardzija is now enjoying his role as a starter in Oakland’s pennant race. The last time the Cubs were playing in October, in 2008, Samardzija was a reliever and pitched one inning during Chicago’s NL Division Series sweep at the hands of the Dodgers.

Samardzija said his new role in a postseason hunt is “exciting. It makes you realize what it’s about and why you play those long seasons and why you come to the park in May and June and July and play every game like it’s your last.”

The 29-year-old righty is 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 12 starts since the trade. The Athletics are 7-5 in games Samardzija has started.

"He comes as advertised," manager Bob Melvin said. "He’s a fighter. He loves to be out there. He wants to pitch in big games. He wants the ball."

He also wants to be courted by the market at the end of his current contract.

"You’re always trying to impress the people you’re playing for or being recruited by or scouted by," Samardzija said. "I think as an athlete it’s always fun to have those tables turned a little bit, where you’re being courted. You also get to pick a situation that you feel is best for you. And you work to get to that spot.

"I think it gets overlooked a lot of times is how difficult it is to get to that situation and be in a situation where you get to choose. I’m excited to keep working and hopefully reach that goal."

ESPNChicago.com

Neil Ramirez deserving of some ROY votes

By Jesse Rogers

Here’s an outside the box suggestion: Chicago Cubs reliever Neil Ramirez for Rookie of the Year in the National League.

OK, middle relievers on last-place teams don’t win awards like that, but one way or another Ramirez deserves some recognition. He’s been that good.

"It would be hard not to recognize him," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said recently. "I don’t know if people would want to recognize him to the extent to vote for him (though)."

It’s not the strongest year for rookies in the NL so a few votes might be deserving for Ramirez. His 0.94 ERA is the best in the National League for pitchers who have faced at least 150 batters this season. Along with a 0.93 WHIP, Ramirez has struck out 49 in 38 innings while opponents are batting .164 against him, good for seventh in the NL. His strikeout percentage is 32.7 percent, good for sixth in the NL, while his home run percentage is 1 percent.

But there’s another “1” that he’s most proud of. Just one inherited runner has scored after Ramirez has taken the mound this season, mostly in high-leverage situations.

"Once that sixth inning comes I’m ready to go," Ramirez said. "It’s awesome. Coming into big situations, it’s different than starting. Starting, you’re turning that lineup over 2-3 times. The adrenaline factor might not be as much, which makes relieving fun for me. I love being able to come in and make a big pitch and get a guy out for that pitcher that’s been battling for 6-7 innings."

That’s a different sounding Ramirez than the one that arrived as the player to be named later last August in the deal that sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers. Talk about a forgotten man at the time. Bigger names like CJ Edwards and Mike Olt came in that deal a month earlier, but it’s been Ramirez who has paid off first. Back then he was a starter, but the Cubs put him in the bullpen, and he has thrived.

"The goal is to finish strong," he said. "I’m not going to get complacent now. The goal is go out there and compete. The culture we’ve created down in the bullpen where everybody wants to pass the torch to the next guy, I think that’s been awesome. We’re all pushing each other right now."

Ramirez is part of a young bullpen that includes Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. More times than not they’ve gotten the job done and Ramirez has been the best — and nastiest — of the whole pen.

"We’ve had to calm him down a little bit because he’s a real hyper guy," pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "He’s had that ability to get back into counts, especially using his breaking ball. He’s really been consistent since spring training. He’s a big point of emphasis for us in our bullpen."

Add it all up: Ramirez is emotional, loves the quick adrenaline rush and is having success. Simply put, he might be too good at his job and his demeanor might be more suited for relieving than starting. There was a time this season when it was assumed the Cubs would give him that starting chance next season. Maybe not.

"As the season winds down I’ll talk to the organization and see what they’re feeling," Ramirez said. "I feel like I can be successful as a starter. Right now relieving might be my role."

Add the fact that the Cubs front office has intimated Ramirez’s arm might be better off in his current role, in part due to his delivery, we might see the right-hander coming out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future. And every team needs more than one closer anyway. Rondon has proven himself this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one needed to save a game or that he will repeat his season in the coming ones. Ramirez does have three saves in three opportunities to go along with his 15 holds.

"He has awareness of what he has that day," Bosio said of his stuff. "It’s probably the biggest thing to figure out as a young pitcher."

"His stuff" has been as nasty as they come. His slider is devastating while he’s hitting 94-96 mph on his fastball. But it’s his demeanor that screams for him to stay where he is. Some guys are more suited for the bullpen, and to save on a shoulder that’s had problems in the past, it might be the way to go.

As for that Rookie of the Year, Ramirez won’t win it. He doesn’t need it. He sounds like a veteran anyway.

"The focus is on the process and not getting caught up in the results," he said. "It’s what makes the results happen so to speak."

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs to host Cardinals in 2015 opener

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs will open the 2015 season at home for the first time in four years, hosting the St. Louis Cardinals on April 6, the league announced on Monday.

Major League Baseball released its tentative schedule for 2015 and it features eight interleague series for the Cubs against the American League Central, including three games home and away against the Chicago White Sox.

The Cubs will host the White Sox July 10-12 and then play at U.S Cellular Field Aug. 14-16. The Cubs end the season with a road trip to Cincinnati and Milwaukee with the season finale coming on Oct. 4. The Cubs finish the season playing 18 straight games against Central Division opponents.

Other notable series include two games in Detroit on June 9-10 and a four-game home-and-home set with Cleveland June 15-18. That’s followed by three games in Minnesota. The Cubs will host the Kansas City Royals May 29-31.

CSNChicago.com

Jeff Samardzija doesn’t have second thoughts about Cubs

Patrick Mooney

What else is Jeff Samardzija supposed to say?

The dude has no idea what’s going to happen after the 2015 season. He’s trying to win a World Series ring with the Oakland A’s now. But he rolled with the question when someone asked if there’s at least a thought he could someday come back to Chicago.

“That is absolutely something that is on my list,” Samardzija said. “I love it here. I’ve spent my whole life here.”

Samardzija stood in front of his locker on Monday afternoon inside U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting clubhouse, once again handling a rapid-fire session with reporters, this time at the scene of so many Cubbie Occurrences over the years with Carlos Zambrano, Lou Piniella and Milton Bradley.

Samardzija said all the right things during the two-plus years the Cubs couldn’t hammer out a long-term extension with his representatives. He didn’t pop off about the trade rumors that followed him all winter and into spring training, the July 31 deadline hanging over every start.

Samardzija pulled it off, right up to the Fourth of July blockbuster deal that shipped the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse to the Bay Area.

“To come back is exciting,” Samardzija said. “Just to see the same sights coming in from the airport and staying downtown brings back a lot of memories. It goes fast, so it seems like it was a long time ago.

“For sure, (Chicago) will definitely be something that is on my list. It will be an exciting time. But like I said, there’s still a lot of work to be done to get to that spot.”

One former teammate could see Samardzija loving the bright lights and signing with the New York Yankees, where former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry works in the front office. Another industry source predicted Samardzija would be attracted to the big-market teams in California – think San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers or Angels – and wouldn’t rule out a go-for-it team like the Boston Red Sox.

Theo Epstein’s front office and Samardzija’s camp also made an effort to not point fingers through the media or trash the other side with off-the-record whispers. By insisting the timing simply didn’t work out, it would at least leave the door open, because the Cubs are going to spend big on pitching and the Notre Dame guy loves the big stage.

Any second thoughts about the way it ended?

“No, no,” Samardzija said. “It happened how it happened. Obviously, if things were different, we’d be telling a different story right now. (But) you deal with it. You move on. I’m a professional and I’m going to pitch for whatever team wants me to pitch for ‘em.

“Coming down the road, we’ll make those decisions when we get there. But right now, I’m just worried about these last four starts in the regular season and then pitching for this team in October.”

The White Sox are up next Wednesday night on the South Side, not far from his family’s home in Northwest Indiana.

“You take a deep breath and it smells like I’m at Valparaiso High School’s field playing,” Samardzija said. “There’s just a comfort level to being in this area. I always have to show well because I got a lot of people in the stands here that expect a lot out of me. So the weight’s always on my shoulders.”

Don’t let the long hair fool you: “Shark” knows the business, studying the power of the Major League Baseball Players Association, leveraging an NFL career and using Frontline Athlete Management, an agency that likes to push the pitching market with high-profile clients such as Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Mike Hampton, who combined have made roughly $400 million.

Samardzija will test the waters after not jumping on a five-year, $86 million concept the Cubs floated before going full speed ahead on the trade front. He’s 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 12 starts for an Oakland team that has fallen out of first place in the American League West and appears headed toward a one-game playoff as a wild card.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Samardzija said. “I really don’t like to take anything for granted. But, yeah, you know, that’s the goal as an athlete. I think for so long you’re always chasing. You’re always trying to impress, right?

“High school, college and even professionally, you’re always trying to impress the people you’re playing for, or being recruited by or scouted by. So I think as an athlete, it’s always fun to have those tables turned a little bit, where you’re being courted and you get to pick a situation that you feel is best for you.

“You work hard to get to that spot. I think that goes overlooked a lot of times – how difficult it is to get to that situation and be in a situation where you get to choose. I’m excited to keep working and hopefully reach that goal. But like I said, it’s a long ways away and there’s still a lot of games to be played.”

The Cubs are probably looking at 2016 as a breakthrough year for a young lineup built around some combination of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, the elite prospect who headlined the return in the Samardzija trade.

Samardzija could sound edgy and skeptical of the rebuild at Clark and Addison without being a bad teammate. He could demand to be in the rotation without being a bad employee. He could make points about his contract negotiations without coming across as selfish or out of touch. He would be a good fit back inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl, but no one’s expecting a hometown discount.

“It is what it is,” Samardzija said. “You spend the offseason reminiscing and replaying it back in your head, but there’s no time to do that right now. It’s time to prepare for your next start.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs unveil 2015 schedule, open with Cardinals at Wrigley

Patrick Mooney

With an emerging young core and the financial flexibility to make a splash this winter, the Cubs will face expectations next season. It will open April 6 at Wrigley Field against the hated Cardinals.

Major League Baseball unveiled a tentative 2015 schedule on Monday, featuring the Cubs in eight crossover series with the American League Central.

The White Sox will visit Wrigley Field (July 10-12) for a weekend series leading into the All-Star break. The Cubs will head to the South Side for another weekend series (Aug. 14-16).

The Royals (May 29-31), Indians (June 15-16) and Tigers (Aug. 18-19) will come to the North Side next season, which will be Year 4 of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project.

The Cubs will cut down on the frequent-flyer miles for interleague play, traveling to Detroit (June 9-10), Cleveland (June 17-18) and Minnesota (June 19-21). That won’t create the same buzz the Cubs generated while making high-profile trips to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park this season.

Next year features only two three-city road trips for the Cubs (after four three-city road trips in 2014 and five in 2013). The schedule also appears to be easier in April, after brutal starts to the last three seasons, which fueled even more talk about the trade deadline.

Epstein doesn’t plan on the Cubs being “obvious sellers” in 2015. The first month features 22 games, 12 inside The Friendly Confines, a chance to create some momentum.

After opening with the Cardinals, the Cubs will head to Coors Field for a three-game series against the rebuilding Rockies. The Cubs will then get a six-game homestand against two more teams in transition, the Reds and Padres (weather permitting). 

The Cubs will quickly find out how they stack up in the division: Starting April 20, they are scheduled to play 20 straight games against the Pirates, Reds, Brewers and Cardinals.

If the rebuild really is going to turn a corner in 2015 – with the Cubs still relevant deep into the summer – then this should be another revealing stretch: Beginning Aug. 31, they are scheduled to play 24 of their final 31 games within the division, closing with 18 consecutive games against National League Central opponents.

“We want to put our stamp on our division, because that’s the only way to move on,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said recently. “If we don’t take care of our division, then it doesn’t matter how we do outside of it. We’re probably still going to be bottom-third.”

Tribune

Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo itching to return

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO — Even with a discolored lower left leg, Starlin Castro hasn’t ruled out rejoining the Cubs before the end of the season.

"I don’t care if it’s one game," a determined Castro said Monday, six days after suffering a high left ankle sprain. "I don’t care if it’s two games. Hopefully, it’s more than that."

In his first public comments since the injury, Castro stressed his motivation to reach the .300 mark and rejoin a lineup that has received varying degrees of production from rookies Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara.

Even without Castro, who is batting .292 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs, the lineup could receive a boost as soon as this weekend from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who took swings and grounders for the first time since suffering lower back stiffness Aug. 26.

"It feels good," Rizzo said. "It’s the first time I’m pushing it since I was shut down. We’ll see how it responds."

But Castro’s recovery is the most intriguing because of the severity of his injury after a durable career and the possibility he could be dealt this winter for pitching help.

"I don’t really think about this or pay attention," said Castro, who sported a wrap around his lower left leg. "We’ll see. We don’t have the last decision on those kind of things. If it happens, it happens. Hopefully not.

"I want to stay here, especially since we’re really close with young guys we’ve played a lot. As soon as Rizzo and I are (back), we’re going to be a good team."

Castro, 24, admits time is short for a return this month but said the swelling and discoloring has subsided with the aid of hot and cold treatments, range-of-motion exercises and a walking boot.

"I want to finish my season strong," Castro said. "I don’t want to be finished. If I don’t (return), I want to be healthy for the offseason. I don’t want to hurt anything.”

Castro admitted he was fortunate not to suffer a fracture after his foot bent back while sliding into home plate on against the Brewers, adding that the shift in body weight after feeling pain caused the inside of his ankle to suffer the sprain.

Castro admitted he experienced pain and bruising the next day after an MRI revealed the sprain.

Castro has been sharing tips with his teammates when he is not receiving treatment during games, particularly Baez and Soler.

Despite his high strikeout total, Baez has made a favorable impression on Castro since taking over at shortstop.

"I think he’s going to be good," Castro said. "He’s a smart kid who listens. He knows when he’s bad, he knows when he’s good. A lot of young guys think they know everything. You come in here to learn. You have to play hard here."

Rizzo said the two biggest issues — swinging a bat and running — passed initial tests. He hopes to take live batting practice Tuesday but is likely to do his running on a treadmill because of the artificial surface at the Rogers Centre.

"I’m hoping for the weekend, but we’ll see," Rizzo said.

Manager Rick Renteria was guarded about a weekend return by Rizzo, who is batting .278 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs.

"We all have to be mindful for the long-term benefits of having him as a position player for us," Renteria said. "We’re going to take it slow and easy and make sure if he does happen to get back, he’s good to go.”

 Wait till 2015: The Cubs will open the 2015 season at home against the National League Central rival Cardinals on April 6, according to a tentative schedule.

The Cubs will play host to the White Sox on July 10-12, and then travel to U.S. Cellular Field for a rematch Aug. 14-16.

The Cubs will play host to American League Central opponents the Royals (May 29-31), Indians (June 15-16) and Tigers (Aug. 18-19). The Cubs will visit Detroit (June 9-10), Cleveland (June 17-18) and Minnesota (June 19-21).

Rotation shuffle: Renteria confirmed left-hander Travis Wood will have his next start moved to Monday night against the Reds. Jacob Turner will start Sunday against the Pirates.

Tribune

Blue Jays starter Stroman stifles Cubs

Mark Gonzales

TORONTO — Since the last weekend of the 2013 season, the Toronto Blue Jays sent at least 12 talent evaluators to watch Jeff Samardzija pitch until the former Chicago Cubs’ ace was dealt on July 5 to the Oakland Athletics.

But Monday night, it was easy to see why the Blue Jays were unwilling to part with Marcus Stroman, as Stroman pitched more like a staff ace than a 23-year-old rookie making his 18th major league start.

Stroman needed only 93 pitches in pitching the first shutout of his promising career as the Cubs were handed a convincing 8-0 loss at the Rogers Centre.

“I think he’s getting better,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the 5-foot-9 Stroman, a first round pick of the Blue Jays in the 2012 draft, struck out eight, walked none and retired 19 consecutive batters at one juncture before pitching his first complete game.

“He’s got a really good arm. I think the strike efficiency for him was a big component of his ability to do what he did to stay in the game and finish it. I thought we probably went after a few early count pitches and weren’t able to do anything with him.

“I think if you do swing early in the counts, the whole goal is getting a pitch you can put a good swing on, but he had good life. The guys were coming in saying his fastball had very good life.’’

Stroman threw 66 of 93 pitches for strikes (a 71 percent rate). Chris Coghlan nearly knocked out Stroman with a line drive that deflected off Stroman’s glove and caromed to shortstop for the first out of the game. Stroman also was aided by a dazzling play by second baseman Ryan Goins to end the game, but Stroman either jammed the Cubs’ hitters or induced some feeble swings throughout most of the game.

“He got ahead of us with a first-pitch strike, which was huge,” said Cubs third baseman Chris Valaika, who hit a single off Stroman in the ninth. “He had the leverage to go anywhere he wanted. If we swung early in the count, we didn’t put a lot of good swings on him early. He got some quick outs, which gave him a chance to pitch deep into the game like he did.’’

“It was more than just his fastball. The first time around he was getting ahead with his fastball. Later in the game, he started flipping that slider in (the strike zone). He had great stuff, great fastball command. He kept us off-balance all game.”

Stroman (10-5) became the first Blue Jays rookie to win 10 games since Ricky Romero in 2009.

“He looked exactly the way he looked on video,” Renteria said. “Good arm. I thought his command was pretty good. He ended up mixing up the pitches enough, taking enough off to top some balls.”

 After Jorge Soler collected the first hit off Stroman in the second inning, the only suspense occurred with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning with runners at second and third and Jose Bautista at the plate.

The Cubs, trailing 2-0, attempted to pitch careful to Bautista, the Blue Jays’ hottest hitter, with Edwin Encarnacion on deck.

Bautista foiled the strategy by ripping a three-run home run on a 2-1 count off Jacob Turner. Bautista extended his hitting streak to 12 games – hitting eight home runs during that span. His homer was the 32nd of the season and his 200th since joining the Blue Jays.

“It’s one of those situations where you’re trying to make a pitch that if he doesn’t’ swing at it, you can put him on,” Turner said. “If he does, he’s probably out. I didn’t execute the pitch when I needed to. It’s a big moment in the game. From my point of view, I didn’t execute it the way I should have. It’s on me. If we get through that inning where we’re at, it’s a different game.”

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Schwarber 1-for-4, Daytona eliminated

Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Final regular season stats: 138 games, .325 batting average, 43 home runs, 110 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Final regular season stats:  68 games, .295 batting average, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Final regular season stats: 125 games, .270 batting average, 9 home runs, 60 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher/outfielder, Daytona (Class-A)

Monday vs. Fort Myers (Florida State League Championship Series): 1-for-4, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 2-for-13, 4 walks, 6 strikeouts.

Final regular season stats:  72 games, .344 batting average, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Tribune

Monday’s recap: Blue Jays 8, Cubs 0

Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs were limited to three hits by rookie Marcus Stroman and saw their losing streak extended to four games. After allowing a single to rookie Jorge Soler to start the second, Stroman retired 19 consecutive batters before Mike Olt hit a soft single to right with two outs in the eighth.

At the plate

Rookie center fielder Arismendy Alcantara struck out twice and is 4-for-29.

On the mound

With first base open and two outs in the fifth, Jacob Turner allowed a three-run homer to Jose Bautista. The home run was the 200th by Bautista as a member of the Blue Jays.

In the field

Second baseman Logan Watkins committed two fielding errors that led to two runs in the second and seventh.

The number

16: Games in which the Cubs have been shut out this season.

The quote

Cubs third baseman Chris Valaika: “(Stroman) got ahead of us with a first-pitch strike, which was huge. He had the leverage to go anywhere he wanted. If we swung early in the count, we didn’t put a lot of good swings on him early. He got some quick outs, which gave him a chance to pitch deep into the game like he did.”

Up next

Cubs (Arrieta 8-5, 2.81) vs. Blue Jays (Buehrle 11-9, 3.34), 6:07 p.m., Tuesday, CSN.

08 9 / 2014

Tribune

Castillo hopes to be Cubs’ catcher when they turn corner

Mark Gonzales

Welington Castillo has more than enough service time to not be forced to wear the costumes that the Cubs’ rookies sported during their flight to Toronto on Sunday following a 10-4 loss to the Pirates that capped a three-game home sweep.

But Castillo, who has endured at least parts of five consecutive losing seasons with the Cubs, hopes he can produce enough to convince front-office officials he can help aid a young pitching staff that could be fortified by a top-notch starter in the ensuing two offseasons.

"It means a lot to catch those guys," Castillo said. "I just want to be part of this team when we win the championship. I want to be behind the plate to catch or call the last pitch of the World Series. And that starts here – catching those guys, trying to build the relationships and the confidence, and I think it’s going to come from that."

From an offensive standpoint, Castillo’s 11 home runs in 96 games are three more than he produced in 113 games last season. But there were high hopes that Castillo would produced more consistently at the plate, only to see his batting average at .236 — 38 points lower than last season.

"I have a lot of expectations," Castillo said. "My average won’t be there this year, but I still believe in myself and know I can hit. It’s not there this year, but I think my power will be there and my RBIs too. I think I can do more."

The Cubs have been careful not to tax Castillo, 27, because he had knee surgery last September, and Castillo understands the Cubs’ efforts.

But Castillo’s future could depend on his game-calling with a revamped rotation that has seen the departures of Jeff Samardzija, Scott Feldman, Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Jason Hammel over the last three seasons, as well as acquisitions like Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and Brian Schlitter.

"It’s not easy because you have to know what pitch they can throw for strikes, what pitch when they’re behind on the count, what’s their strikeout pitch, what pitch do they command better," Castillo said. "You’re not going to learn that from one time. You need at least a couple times. But there are 19 games left."

Rotation roundup: Left-hander Travis Wood indicated he won’t make his next start until the Reds series Sept. 15-17, which would mean the Cubs would give another start to a youngster against the Pirates next weekend.

One possibility is left-hander Eric Jokisch, a former Northwestern standout who allowed one run in 41/3 innings Sunday in relief of Wood, who was tagged for seven runs on nine hits in 12/3 innings.

"The plan is not exactly set in stone, but I think I’m here to throw extended innings and hopefully maybe get a start here and there," Jokisch said.

Wood, who allowed three home runs, had his ERA swell from 4.81 to 5.15 – more than a two-run increase over his 3.11 mark last season.

"If I missed a pitch, they hit it out of the park," Wood said. "If I executed it, they hit it through the hole. It just wasn’t my day. They had it going on, and it’s a good team over there.

"I’m not nearly as consistent as last year. The walk total will tell you that."

Wood has walked 71 in 1622/3 innings.

Alcantara at top: The Cubs examined their leadoff options Sunday with rookie Arismendy Alcantara, who went 1-for-5.

Alcantara was dropped from the leadoff spot about three weeks ago, but manager Rick Renteria is aware of Alcantara’s past history at the top of the order.

Alcantara’s on-base percentage is only .265, but Renteria pointed out the league average is .315 and that Starlin Castro has a .339 on-base percentage.

"Do I think he should be better?" Renteria said. "Sure. But that comes with experience and time, and hopefully he’s got the skill set that might allow him to do that.”

Renteria added that Alcantara just needs to hit pitches more squarely after laying off breaking pitches he was more susceptible to last month.

 ”Any club is ultimately going to want the guy at the top of the order to get on base consistently, whether through hit or walk,” Renteria said. “Is it possible to function without a super high on-base guy? I think so. It depends on the balance of your lineup. Those are tough pieces to come by, but I think we have potentially a kid who could develop into that. We got a couple within the system.”

Day of rest: Rookie sensation Jorge Soler received Sunday off. Renteria said Soler played 14 innings Saturday, and the Cubs want to be careful about preserving Soler’s hamstrings. The Cubs could enhance the health of Soler’s legs by relegating him to designated hitter duty when the Cubs meet the Blue Jays in an interleague series in Toronto, but Renteria pointed out that the Cubs have a day off scheduled for Thursday.

Tribune

Sunday’s recap: Pirates 10, Cubs 4

Mark Gonzales

The summary: The Cubs suffered their first three-game home sweep of the season and their first three-game sweep since the Diamondbacks took three straight on July 18-20. Left-hander Travis Wood was knocked out during a five-run second inning. Wood was pulled after allowing six consecutive two-out hits, including consecutive home runs by Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen.

At the plate: Mike Olt had the first three-hit game of his career.

On the mound: Left-hander Eric Jokisch made his major league debut and allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings.

In the field: Rookie shortstop Javier Baez made two diving stops to turn hits into outs in the seventh.

The number: 20 – Home runs allowed by Wood in 161 2/3 innings.

The quote: Wood: “Something is differernt, whether it’s the hitters’ approach off me or not being able to execute pitches. It’s something that will be addressed the next few starts.

I feel great, that’s one of the bad things about it.”

Up next: Cubs (Turner 5-8, 5.54) vs. Blue Jays (Stroman 9-5, 3.83), 6:07 p.m., Monday, WGN-9.

Tribune

Series preview: Cubs at Blue Jays

Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Blue Jays lead all-time series 5-4.

Monday: 6:07 p.m., WGN-9.

RH Jacob Turner (5-8, 5.54) vs. RH Marcus Stroman (9-5, 3.83).

Tuesday: 6:07 p.m., CSN.

RH Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.81) vs. LH Mark Buehrle (11-9, 3.34).

Wednesday: 6:07 p.m., CSN.

RH Kyle Hendricks (6-1, 2.02) vs. RH Drew Hutchison (9-11, 4.47).

Who’s hot: Hendricks has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine consecutive starts. Catcher Welington Castillo batted .389 on the Cubs’ homestand. Blue Jays DH Adam Lind is 9-for-18. Right fielder Jose Bautista has an 11-game hitting streak.

Who’s not: Cubs second baseman Javier Baez was 2-for-24 on the homestand, and Arismendy Alcantara was 4-for-26. Blue Jays third baseman Danny Valencia is 2-for-16. Shortstop Jose Reyes is batting .167 in his last 10 games.

Sun-Times

About-face by lefty Travis Wood perplexes Cubs

BY TONI GINNETTI

Exactly two years ago Sunday, Travis Wood was mired in a personal eight-game losing streak as he faced the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

That worst stretch of his career ended with a 12-2 Cubs victory, and Wood went on to transform himself into an All-Star pitcher in 2013.

Where that All-Star has gone in 2014 is one of this season’s painful chapters.

“Last year, he was commanding his fastball and cutter more,’’ catcher Welington Castillo said. “That’s a big key for anyone to have success, to have command of your fastball and cutter.

“This year, he’s been a little wild, but anyone can go through a tough year.’’

“Tough’’ has turned into disappointment for the left-hander, who couldn’t get out of the second inning in an eventual 10-4 loss that gave the wild-card-contending Pirates a three-game sweep in the weekend series.

“It’s nothing that I can feel,’’ he said of a difference from last year. “Obviously, it’s something different, whether it’s the hitters’ approach to me or not being able to execute pitches like I did last year. It’s definitely something to take into my last starts and the offseason [to work on].

“I feel great [physically]. That’s one of the bad things about it. I feel great. but the outcomes aren’t what you want.

“It wears on me pretty heavy, especially when you get the chance to look back at it and think about what you could have been doing differently.’’

Wood’s record fell to 8-12, the same number of losses he had last season, when he finished 9-12. But his ERA last season was 3.11 in 200 innings. This year, his 5.15 ERA speaks for itself, and he likely won’t meet the 200-inning threshold (he’s at 162 2/3).

“I don’t know if it’s a concern,’’ manager Rick Renteria said of his veteran lefty’s situation. “But we certainly need to be sure he’s doing OK [mentally]. I think he is. Nobody prepares and wants to compete as much as Woody.

“He’s done it in the past. Obviously, last year he had a very good year. We have to get Woody back to being Woody.’

His outing Sunday was a low point. Wood lasted only 1 2/3 innings, giving up seven runs and nine hits, including three home runs. Only his one-inning outing Sept. 27, 2013, against the Cardinals was shorter.

Wood surrendered 18 home runs last season in 32 starts. This year, he has given up 20 homers in 29 starts.

But perhaps more telling is his walk total, which is up to 71 compared to 66 all last season.

“I just haven’t been as consistent as last year, and the walk total will tell you that,’’ he said. “That will be something to take into [consideration] my final two starts and definitely into the offseason.’’

Renteria found a positive in the 4 1/3 innings he got from the major-league debut of Eric Jokisch, the Northwestern alum who relieved Wood. He gave up one run and six hits, struck out four and walked none.

“I knew they’d want me to eat up some innings,’’ he said. “I probably threw more pitches than you’d want [not having pitched since Aug. 25], but I got through some innings and helped the team.’’

Blake Parker (two innings) and Kyuji Fujikawa (one inning) gave up four more hits. The 19 hits by the Pirates tied the season high allowed by Cubs pitching.

“If I missed a pitch, they hit it out of the park,’’ Wood said. “If I executed one, they hit it through a hole. It just wasn’t my day.’’

Sun-Times

Arismendy Alcantara might be answer in leadoff spot

BY TONI GINNETTI

The Cubs’ offensive future is highlighted by power, but the lineup still lacks a leadoff man.

The top candidate, rookie Arismendy Alcantara, is hitting .210 in 54 games with a .265 on-base percentage. But the team believes the converting infielder eventually can fill the role.

“Any club is going to want to have a guy at the top of the order who can get on base consistently,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “Is it possible to function without a super high on-base-percentage guy at the top of the order? I think so. It depends on the balance of the rest of your lineup.

“Those [top of the order players] are tough pieces to come by, but we have potentially a kid who can develop into that, if not a couple in the system.’’

Alcantara has batted leadoff in 15 games and likely will stay there the rest of the season.

“It doesn’t hurt us to see as much as we can of him to see how he handles his at-bats,’’ Renteria said. “We know he has the speed to be a top-of-the-order guy, but he also has a history in the minor leagues of being able to get on base, too. There’s nothing that says he can’t do it up here, too.’’

Learning his new center-field position also is a priority for Alcantara as he switches from second base. But Renteria said the team hasn’t decided if Alcantara will play in winter ball.

“That’s a discussion we’ll have to have. We still have [19] more games and we’ll try to keep him in center field as much as we can. [coach] Eric [Hinske] will continue to tutor him and see if we can clean up some of the [defensive] aspects in terms of reading line drives.”

Determining a DH

Jorge Soler got a game off after playing 14 innings Saturday in two losses to the Pirates. The rookie slugger will get periodic rest as the team guards against him redeveloping leg problems.

“We’re going to be consistent with the way we’re trying to manage these guys,’’ Renteria said.

Soler could be a designated-hitter candidate the next three days, when the Cubs visit Toronto for their last interleague series. But Renteria has yet to decide how he will handle the DH spot.

The team has a day off Thursday, which could help Soler play the entire series, Renteria said.

Playoffs

Class A affiliates Daytona and Kane County are contending in their respective playoffs, but Daytona’s game against Fort Myers in the Florida State League was postponed Sunday by rain. Kane County won the Midwest League Western Division on Sunday to advance to the league finals.

Daily Herald

Again, it’s not Travis Wood’s day as Cubs lose

Bruce Miles

When Cubs manager Rick Renteria was asked Sunday about the kind of season lefty Travis Wood has had, he said it’s “probably been a little bit of hit and miss.”

Well, the Pittsburgh Pirates hitters did a whole lot of hitting and very little missing against Wood in a 10-4 victory at Wrigley Field.

The Pirates earned a three-game sweep of the Cubs.

"It wasn’t Woody’s day today, obviously," said Renteria, whose team fell to 64-79. "They came out swinging. He got 2-strike at-bats but ended up not being able to finish them off. They ended up hitting some pitches up in the zone, and it happened kind of quick."

That’s quick as in 1⅔ innings to the tune of 9 hits and 7 runs, with 3 home runs.

"If I missed a pitch, they hit it out of the park," Wood said. "If I executed one, they hit it through the hole. It just wasn’t my day."

For all the fuss about Edwin Jackson, Wood has had just as bad a year coming off an all-star season in 2013.

Wood saw his record fall to 8-12 and his ERA rise from 4.81 to 5.15. A year ago he made his first National League all-star team. He went 9-12 with a 3.11 ERA, reaching the 200-innings mark (exactly) for the first time in his career.

It has been a completely different story this season. Wood’s innings total is 162⅔ and he likely will have 2 or 3 starts left.

One glaring difference in the stats for Wood comes in the WHIP category, or walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched. Last year it was a tidy 1.15, as he gave up 163 hits while walking 66 in his 200 innings.

This year Wood’s WHIP has ballooned to 1.54 with 180 hits and 71 walks. Last season Wood was effective in commanding both sides of the plate.

"Not near as consistent as last year," he said. "The walk total will tell you that. It will be something to take into the final 2 starts and definitely something to take into the off-season."

There was a bright pitching spot for the Cubs on this sunny day.

Coming in to relieve Wood was left-hander Eric Jokisch, a product of Northwestern. In his major-league debut, Jokisch worked 4⅓ innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking nobody and striking out four.

"I felt good," Jokisch said. "I knew that they were going to want me to eat up some innings, so I was trying to pound the strike zone, keep the ball down and get early outs.

"I probably threw more pitches (67) than I wanted to, but overall I got quite a few innings in and tried to help the team out there."

It may be that Jokisch, a starter in the minor leagues, could make a start for the Cubs before the season is over. Renteria said there are no plans now to shut down Wood.

"I think he would be the first one to tell you that he would have wanted a much better season to this point, but he’s continued to grind," the manager said. "He’s a guy that continues to try to give you as many innings as he possibly can. He’s had some games where he’s been able to be efficient enough to extend his innings for us, get us deep into ballgames and there have been some where it was a little bit more difficult.

"But I think Travis is a much better pitcher than he’s probably shown. I think he’d be the first one probably to tell you that. We still have a lot of confidence in him. He’s got 3 more starts. I think he can hopefully finish strong."

Daily Herald

Leadoff spot still an issue for Cubs

Bruce Miles

Finding a leadoff hitter with a good on-base percentage seems to be an annual problem for the Cubs.

During the weekend series against the Pirates, they gave a shot to Arismendy Alcantara, who went 2-for-15 over the three games. He has led off 15 times this year.

Alcantara has speed, and he has flashed some pop at the plate, but his on-base percentage is just .265. Part of that is understandable, as he has played in just 54 major-league games.

"It doesn’t hurt us to see him as much as we can to see how he continues to handle his at-bats," manager Rick Renteria said. "We know he has the speed to be a top-of-the-order-type guy. He has a history in the minor leagues of being able to get on base, too. So there’s nothing that says he can’t do it here."

The Cubs also have used Chris Coghlan in the top spot, and he has an OBP of .348. Coghlan, who signed a minor-league deal last off-season, could be a guy the Cubs keep around next year.

The Cubs are likely to shop for a leadoff-hitting outfielder in the off-season. Even so, they’ll take a good look at Alcantara in spring training.

"We were looking at numbers," Renteria said. "The league average on-base percentage is .315. Starlin (shortstop Castro) is like .329, .330. We’re actually above league average with certain guys.

"Do I think he (Alcantara) should be better? Sure, in a prototypical world. But I think that comes with experience and time. Hopefully he’s got the skill set that might allow him to do that."

Olt makes progress:

Mike Olt, fresh up from the minor leagues, had 3 singles and a walk in Sunday’s 10-4 loss to the Pirates. Olt opened the season with the Cubs, but hitting woes put him in Class AAA Iowa by late July.

He’s hitting .154 with 12 homers and 31 RBI. He has 30 hits overall this season in 195 at-bats. A third baseman by trade, he has been playing first base because Anthony Rizzo is out indefinitely with back problems.

"Mikey did very nice," Rick Renteria said. "Nice at-bat against (Pirates reliever John) Axford there at the end (a walk in the eighth inning). He had some good at-bats. He took some tough breaking balls and made contact. He’s keeping his head down on the ball, and he looks comfortable. It’s good to see."

The 3 hits represented a career high for Olt.

Daily Herald

Pirates rock Wood and sweep Cubs

Bruce Miles

Cubs lefty Travis Wood was rocked for 9 hits and 7 runs in just 1⅔ innings Sunday as the Pittsburgh Pirates earned a three-game sweep with a 10-4 victory at Wrigley Field.

Wood, an all-star last year, fell to 8-12, and his ERA went from 4.81 to 5.15.

"I think he would be the first one to tell you that he would have wanted a much better season to this point, but he’s continued to grind," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team fell to 64-79 and headed out on the road to Toronto.

Wood got two quick outs in the first inning before Andrew McCutchen singled and Neil Walker hit a 2-run homer to left field. It was Walker’s 19th of the season.

The wheels came off completely in the second, when wood threw 39 pitches and gave up 5 runs. Jordy Mercer hit a 2-run homer, and McCutchen followed immediately with a blast of his own, his 22nd of the season.

After an RBI single later in the inning by Jose Tabata, Renteria removed Wood in favor of left-hander Eric Jokisch, a product of Northwestern University. It was Jokisch’s major-league debut, and he made it a respectable one by working 4⅓ innings and giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking none and striking out six.

Cubs.com

Wood bounced early as Cubs fall in series finale

Lefty surrenders seven runs over 1 2/3 innings; late rally not enough

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Before Sunday’s game, Cubs manager Rick Renteria described Travis Wood’s season as being inconsistent, adding that the lefty “is a better pitcher than he’s probably shown.”

The Pirates didn’t give Wood much time to show anything, scoring seven runs in the first two innings to back Gerrit Cole, who helped himself with a two-run home run, and post a 10-4 victory on Sunday over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Wood served up those seven runs on nine hits and one walk over 1 2/3 frames, his shortest outing since he pitched one inning on Sept. 27, 2013, his last start of the season. That abbreviated start was planned because the Cubs wanted the lefty to finish with 200 innings for the year, then shut it down.

Sunday’s performance was unexpected.

"If I missed a pitch, they hit it out of the park, and if I executed one, they hit it in the hole," said Wood, who served up three home runs, including back-to-back blasts by Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen in the second. "It just wasn’t my day. They have a good team over there."

Wood retired the first two batters he faced, then McCutchen singled and Neil Walker followed with his 19th home run. Gaby Sanchez doubled to start the second, and he scored two outs later on Starling Marte’s single.

Marte’s hit was the first of six in a row, which included a two-run homer by Mercer, followed by a solo shot by McCutchen. Walker, Russell Martin and Jose Tabata smacked singles, with Walker scoring on the latter to make it 7-0 and chase Wood from the game.

"It wasn’t Woody’s day today," Renteria said. "They came out swinging and he got two-strike at-bats, but couldn’t finish them off. It happened kind of quick."

Eric Jokisch took over, and the lefty held the Pirates to one run over 4 1/3 innings in his Major League debut.

"I knew they were going to want me to try to eat up some innings, so I was trying to pound the strike zone and keep the ball down and get early outs," Jokisch said. "It all happened so fast. I didn’t have time to think about it. I think I threw two pitches and got a flyout to get out of the inning, and then I kind of settled down into normal game mode."

After the game, the rookies found costumes in their lockers instead of their street clothes, and had to dress up for the road trip to Toronto. Imagine the look on the customs officials faces when they see Jorge Soler in a muscled Superman outfit or Javier Baez as Supergirl. Mike Olt was Batman, Matt Szczur dressed as Spiderman and Brian Schlitter got the Wonder Woman outfit.

"This a normal outfit for me — I like going as Luigi," Jokisch said with a straight face in his Mario Brothers costume. Teammate Kyle Hendricks was Mario.

Back to the game. Cole struck out eight and scattered nine hits over six-plus innings, plus he belted his first career home run, a two-run shot in the seventh. The Cubs ended a 19-inning scoreless drought in the fifth when Ryan Kalish tripled and scored on Olt’s single against Cole. Olt finished with a career-high three hits.

While the Cubs were swept in the series and outscored, 20-7, Cole definitely noticed a difference in the lineup compared to the start of the season when the two teams squared off.

"They have a lot of talented hitters over there," Cole said of the young Cubs. "Their lineup can’t be taken lightly. [Beyond the current stats], I think they’re all really trying to figure stuff out, do stuff the right way. They’re extremely talented, you absolutely have to be careful with them, pitch out of the zone as much as in the zone. It’s about maintaining that leverage in the count, while not really throwing anything over the plate, because they can really crush that."

Wood has at least two starts remaining, and said he was scheduled to face the Reds. If the Cubs stayed in order with the six-man rotation, the lefty would have a rematch with the Pirates in one week. Would he like to face Pittsburgh again?

"Absolutely," Wood said. "If it falls on that, it’d be a great chance to get back at them."

In 2013, Wood ranked among the National League leaders with 24 quality starts and held opponents to a .222 batting average. This season, he has 12 quality starts, and teams were hitting .279 off the lefty.

"I think it’s been a little bit of hit and miss," Renteria said, describing Wood’s season. "I think Travis is a much better pitcher than he’s probably shown, and I think he’d be the first one to tell you that."

Wood isn’t exactly sure what’s happening.

"Obviously, something is different, whether it’s the hitters’ approach off me or just not being able to execute pitches the way I did last year," Wood said. "That’s something to be addressed in these next couple starts.

"I feel great. That’s one of the bad things about this. I feel great, and the outcome is not what you want."

Cubs.com

Renteria believes in Alcantara as leadoff hitter

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — In 89 games at Triple-A Iowa, Arismendy Alcantara posted a .353 on-base percentage. He hasn’t done as well since his promotion to the Cubs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the team’s leadoff man of the future.

"We know he has the speed to be a top-of-the-order guy," manager Rick Renteria said of Alcantara, who has led off in 15 games for the Cubs, including Sunday’s series finale vs. the Pirates. "We also know he has a history in the Minor Leagues of being able to get on base. There’s nothing that says he can’t do it here."

As the Cubs’ leadoff man, Alcantara entered Sunday batting .169 (11-for-65) with five walks.

"We’ll see how the lineup develops," Renteria said of the 2015 Cubs. "Those are things we have to let themselves play out and then make a determination."

The Cubs have used seven different players in the leadoff spot this season, including Emilio Bonifacio, who was traded to the Braves. Alcantara is developing into a Bonifacio-type player, moving from the outfield to second base. Now, if he could get on base more consistently to take advantage of his speed and set up the others in the Cubs’ lineup, they might have something.

"I think that comes with experience and time," Renteria said. "[Alcantara] does have the skill set to allow him to be a leadoff hitter."

Cubs.com

Arrieta looking forward to Interleague set vs. Blue Jays

Righty enjoys pitching at Rogers Centre; Cubs determining DH options

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria is still sorting out his options as to who will be the designated hitter for the three-game Interleague series against the Blue Jays, which starts Monday.

Jake Arrieta, who is slated to start Tuesday, has been looking forward to this series since the season began.

"I do like pitching there," Arrieta said Sunday. "I love the city. It’s always a fun trip."

The numbers don’t exactly back up Arrieta’s sentiments. He’s 1-3 in three career starts in Toronto while with the Orioles, and he has a 7.31 ERA.

"When the roof’s opened and the roof’s closed, the ball carries differently," Arrieta said. "When the roof is closed, it seems it’s a little tougher place to pitch. The majority of it has to do with their high-powered offense. They have a lot of power potential — [Edwin] Encarnacion, [Jose] Bautista, [Colby] Rasmus can hit the ball out of the yard.

"They have a high-powered offense and it’s a typical [American League] East lineup, with some veteran hitters. It’s a team that we know we have to approach with a certain amount of caution and a good game plan to have success."

Arrieta, who has watched the Blue Jays over 3 1/2 seasons while with the Orioles, planned on talking to Jacob Turner and Kyle Hendricks, who will start Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

Renteria said Sunday he wanted to talk to hitting coach Bill Mueller about how to use the designated hitter spot to their advantage. The Cubs gave rookie Jorge Soler a breather on Sunday as part of the plan to avoid reinjuring his legs, and they could let him DH one of the games.

Cubs.com

Cubs fan visits Wrigley for first time after serious accident

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — On Sunday, Lauren Pokuta, 20, was sitting in Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts’ seats in the front row at Wrigley Field, near the dugout. Three years ago, after a near-fatal car accident, her family thought she’d never come to a ballgame again, but thanks to the Cubs, she was motivated.

A cousin, Matt Hummel, contacted the Cubs after Lauren’s accident on Aug. 2, 2011, and asked for help with their fundraising efforts to offset the medical expenses. And the Cubs came through.

The team sent items to be auctioned and put together a video with messages from several players and Ricketts, who told Lauren the Cubs were saving her a seat at Wrigley Field.

On Sunday, she was in that seat.

"That video came when we were in the darkest time of our lives," Lauren’s father, Mike, said Sunday. "It lifted our spirits as a family."

Lauren suffered a traumatic brain injury, along with a broken clavicle, cheekbone, pelvis and a collapsed lung, and she was on life support and in a coma for four weeks and had a feeding tube for nine months.

"[Her rehab] is going real well," Mike said of his daughter. "We’ve truly been blessed. Three years ago, on Aug. 2, was her accident. We said last rites for her twice. She wasn’t supposed to make it. For us to be here today is truly a blessing."

Mike, his wife, Tonja, and their other daughter, Brynne, 21, were at Wrigley Field Sunday with Lauren. Mike’s love of the Cubs began when he lived in Portage Park, and he would watch games on TV with his daughters. They went to three or four games together when the girls were younger.

"We haven’t been to a game as a family since the accident," Mike said.

Mike had stayed in touch with the Cubs since the accident, and he had tickets to a game this year. Mike told Jahaan Blake, director of fan experiences, that the seats were in the upper deck in right field. Blake said Ricketts wanted to host the family.

"Who am I to argue?" Mike said.

On Sunday, they were able to have a hot dog in the sun, see the Cubs against the Pirates and forget about all the rehab and the life-threatening moments.

Lauren hopes to begin online college courses in the spring.

Cubs.com

Blue Jays look to make move in AL Wild Card race

Facing Turner and Cubs, Toronto turns to Stroman at Rogers Centre

By Erik Bacharach

The last time the Cubs and Blue Jays squared off, Chicago was in the midst of a 97-win season. Things have changed since then.

That last matchup came in June 2008. This time around, the Cubs will be fighting to climb out of the National League Central’s basement as they open up a three-game Interleague series at Rogers Centre on Monday night.

Cubs righty Jake Arrieta, who will start Tuesday, has been looking forward to this series since the season began.

"I do like pitching there," Arrieta said Sunday. "I love the city. It’s always a fun trip."

Facing Toronto’s lineup — which has helped keep the team within five games of the second American League Wild Card — is not as much fun.

"When the roof’s opened and the roof’s closed, the ball carries differently," Arrieta said. "When the roof is closed, it seems it’s a little tougher place to pitch. The majority of it has to do with their high-powered offense. They have a lot of power potential — [Edwin] Encarnacion, [Jose] Bautista, [Colby] Rasmus can hit the ball out of the yard.

"They have a high-powered offense and it’s a typical [American League] East lineup, with some veteran hitters," he said. "It’s a team that we know we have to approach with a certain amount of caution and a good game plan to have success."

Arrienta had a front-row seat to watch the Blue Jays during his 3 1/2 seasons with the Orioles, and planned on talking to Jacob Turner and Kyle Hendricks, who will start Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

Turner, who gets the nod in just the 10th game between the two franchises, is fresh off 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Brewers last Monday. The 23-year-old righty is 5-8 with a 5.54 ERA in 24 starts covering 92 2/3 innings.

His counterpart, right-hander Marcus Stroman, is 2-0 over his last two starts with a 1.98 ERA after going winless in his previous four outings with an 8.66 ERA over that stretch.

"It’s just baseball, sometimes you go through a tough stretch," Stroman said. "Same confidence, same game plan, tried to attack hitters each time out. Just went better.

"That’s the biggest thing for me, is constantly trying to fight to stay down in the zone. Sometimes I’m just up and I had a stretch there where I was up in the zone, and I’m happy to back being down and locating my heater down."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria has yet to decide who will serve as the designated hitter for the series. In seven games at AL parks this season, Chicago DH’s have gone 7-for-28 (.250) with a homer and two RBIs. Renteria said Sunday he wanted to talk to hitting coach Bill Mueller about how to use the DH spot to their advantage. The Cubs gave rookie Jorge Soler Sunday off as part of the plan to avoid reinjuring his legs,and could let him DH one of the games.

Cubs: Renteria believes in Alcantara as leadoff hitter

In 89 games at Triple-A Iowa, Arismendy Alcantara posted a .353 on-base percentage. He hasn’t done as well since his promotion to the Cubs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the team’s leadoff man of the future.

"We know he has the speed to be a top-of-the-order guy," Renteria said of Alcantara, who has led off in 15 games, including Sunday’s 10-4 loss to the Pirates. "We also know he has a history in the Minor Leagues of being able to get on base. There’s nothing that says he can’t do it here."

As the Cubs’ leadoff man, Alcantara is batting .171 (12-for-70) with five walks.

"We’ll see how the lineup develops," Renteria said of next year’s club. "Those are things we have to let themselves play out and then make a determination."

Blue Jays: Morrow impressive in ‘pen, wants to start in ‘15

Toronto right-hander Brandon Morrow’s transition to the bullpen has been flawless since he was added to the roster Tuesday.

Morrow received the day off Sunday after tossing a pair of back-to-back scoreless outings as a reliever. It’s a role he hasn’t been in since 2009, but based on the results, the lack of recent experience hasn’t showed.

"Very happy and he feels good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He’s pumping it up there pretty good, too. He feels strong and he’s going to help us the remainder of the season. He missed so much time with the injury, it’s good for his pysche, good for his career, to finish up [strong]."

There has been recent speculation that Morrow could be headed for a bullpen role next season, but he recently stated that his preference is to start. That choice likely will be up to him as it’s unlikely Toronto will pick up his $10 million option for next season, which would make Morrow a free agent.

Worth noting

• In addition to the three-game series in 2008, the Blue Jays in Cubs played three-game sets in ‘05 and in ‘03. Toronto was 5-4 in those nine games.

• The Blue Jays enter the series 37-31 at home, while the Cubs are 29-43 on the road.

ESPNChicago.com

Wood struggles while Jokisch shines

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Two pitchers possibly headed in opposite directions took the mound on Sunday for the Chicago Cubs — though one was making only his major league debut.

Eric Jokisch isn’t the household name that Travis Wood is, after the latter made the All-Star team a year ago, but he shined in his first appearance despite the Cubs losing 10-4 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wood, on the other hand, continued a season-long slump that saw his ERA rise to 5.15.

“If I missed a pitch, they hit it out of the park. If I executed one, they hit in through a hole,” Wood said after lasting just 1⅔ innings.

That statement could sum up his whole season, as he has simply been pounded by the opposition. There have been some good moments, but few and far between. Wood was at a loss for words after giving up nine hits in less than two innings, including three that left the park. In 15 starts this season, he has given up seven hits or more. He did that eight times all of last year.

“Obviously something is different, whether it’s the hitter’s approach off me or not being able to execute pitches like I did last year,” Wood said.

He simply left pitches up and in the hitting zone too often. He has done that a lot. Wood relies on pinpoint control, but for some reason he has been less precise on more occasions than the Cubs would like.

“I think it’s been a little bit of hit and miss,” manager Rick Renteria said before the game. “I think he would be the first one to tell you he would have wanted a much better season to this point.”

Wood doesn’t disagree, and now his ERA is among the worst in baseball. Between him and Edwin Jackson, the Cubs have had to navigate around 40 percent of their starting staff coming up way short. And these are veterans, not youngsters.

That leads us to Jokisch and what it all means for next year. Jokisch was an 11th-round pick in 2010 and received high praise when called up earlier this month.

“An outstanding minor league career,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at the time. “What’s helped him turn the corner is he’s become a true three-pitch pitcher. Has a slider that he can locate. And he still has the swing-and-miss changeup.”

All of it was working for him when he came on in relief of Wood in the second inning. Jokisch pitched the next 6⅓ innings, giving up a run on six hits without walking anyone while striking out four. He struck out the reigning National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, using his fastball, a curve and a slider.

“It all happened so fast, I didn’t really have time to think about it,” Jokisch said of his nerves.

Once he got out of the second inning he was able to settle in and showed why Epstein called him a “long-term starting candidate in the organization.”

The Cubs have a few of those kinds of players as Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Kyle Hendricks and now Jokisch have made their way to the mound for them this year. And several may be around when spring training breaks next season.

There’s an assumption that Wood would be around as well, but times are changing for the Cubs. Let’s put it this way: Can you picture both Wood and Jackson going into spring training as the incumbents in the five-man rotation? Jackson’s contract — two more years at $22 million total — might say he is, but the Cubs can’t really believe that’s the route to go. And they may end up thinking the same of Wood, who’s still arbitration eligible after making $3.9 million this year. He made $527,500 in 2013, the year he made the All-Star team. That’s how baseball works.

“We just have to get Woody back to Woody,” Renteria said. “Whatever that is, we’ll try to figure it out.”

Like others who struggle — Mike Olt and Junior Lake — the leash probably won’t be as long. Production has to come as the Cubs try to put their losing ways behind them. There are enough candidates that no one who has pitched this poorly should be safe.

“Not near as consistent as last year,” Wood said. “That will be something to take into the final two starts and into the offseason.”

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 10, Cubs 4

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 10-4 on Sunday afternoon. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Travis Wood didn’t make it out of the second inning as the Pirates used him for batting practice to the tune of nine hits and seven runs. Neil Walker left the yard with a man on in the first inning while Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen went back-to-back in the second. The Pirates tallied six consecutive hits with two outs to end Wood’s day as his ERA rose to 5.15. The Cubs finally got on the board in the fifth inning as Mike Olt singled one home, then Welington Castillo plated another run in the sixth with a double. But Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole hit his first career home run in the seventh to put an exclamation mark on the day for the visitors. Matt Szczur drove in his first two career RBIs with a hit in the seventh to complete the scoring.

Jokisch debut: Cubs lefty Eric Jokisch made his major league debut in relief of Wood and threw well. He went 6.1 innings, giving up just a run on six hits and no walks. He struck out four using all three of his pitches. The Cubs front office has said that Jokisch is a serious candidate for a starting spot in the rotation moving forward. He was impressive.

What it means: While the game means nothing in the standings for the Cubs, it could mean a lot for Wood. Before the game manager Rick Renteria said his season has been “hit and miss.” Sunday was another miss as he simply put the ball on a tee for the Pirates. His 5.15 ERA is now third worst among all starting pitchers who qualify for the ERA title. Two questions come to mind for Wood: With a surplus of starters — like Jokisch — does Wood get another start this season? And what does his 8-12 record mean for his spot in the rotation next year?

What’s next: The Cubs begin a road trip in Toronto for their final interleague series of the season. Jacob Turner (5-8, 5.54) takes on Marcus Stroman (9-5, 3.83) in the opener on Monday night.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs pitchers rocked as Pirates complete sweep

By TONY ANDRACKI

Sunday morning, the talk around the Cubs was how Travis Wood has three starts left this season to try to turn things around.

Things didn’t work out that way for Wood, who failed to even make it out of the second inning in the series finale with the Pirates Sunday afternoon.

Wood gave up seven runs on nine hits - including three homers - and recorded just five outs as Pittsburgh finished off a sweep of the Cubs with a 10-4 victory in front of 33,894 fans at Wrigley Field.

"It wasn’t Woody’s day today, obivously," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "They came out swinging. He got into a lot of two-strike at-bats but ended up not being able to finish them off. They hit some pitches up in the zone. It happened kinda quick."

The rough day left Wood at 8-12 with a 5.15 ERA the year after earning his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Wood said he feels fine physically and isn’t quite sure what the difference is between last year’s success and this year’s struggles. He did point to the walk rate (3.9 BB:9 this year compared to 3.0 in 2013), but beyond that, he and the Cubs are still searching for answers.

"Nothing I can feel," Wood said. "Obviously something’s different, whether it’s the hitters’ approach off me or just not being able to execute the pitches the way I did last year. But that’s something to be addressed these next couple starts and definitely something to take into the offseason and work on.

"It weighs on me pretty heavy, especially once you get a chance to look back at it and figure out what you could’ve done differently and how you could’ve attacked it differently and come out on top. So that’s what I’ll do over the next couple days and get back at it whenever I go again."

Rookie Eric Jokisch made his MLB debut in relief of Wood and ate up some innings for the Cubs, allowing just one run in 4.1 innings. Renteria admitted the good outing could lead to more of an opportunity for Jokisch in the final three weeks of the season.

"Bright spot, Jokisch did a very nice job," Renteria said. "He did a nice job of quelling it and keeping us in check."

Blake Parker didn’t fare much better than Wood, surrendering a two-run blast to pitcher Gerrit Cole in the seventh inning to close out the scoring for the Pirates. Pittsburgh hitters finished with 19 hits on the afternoon.

Mike Olt, making just his second start since being recalled to the big leagues, set a new career high with three hits and knocked home the Cubs’ first run in the fifth.

Olt entered the day with only 10 singles and 12 homers in the big leagues. He also drew a walk in his fourth trip to the plate, raising his OPS 24 points on the day.

"Mikey did very nice," Renteria said. "Had some good at-bats. Took some tough breaking balls and made contact. He certainly looks comfortable, which is good to see."

Chris Coghlan scored on an error by Pirates left fielder Starling Marte in the sixth and Matt Szczur drove home two more runs in the seventh on a single to right field, the first two RBI of his big-league career.

The Cubs didn’t let the sweep get them down, having some fun with the young players by making all the rookies dress up in superhero costumes for the upcoming road trip that includes stops in Toronto and Pittsburgh.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs will let Javier Baez find his way out of recent slump

TONY ANDRACKI

Look, we know Javier Baez is going to strike out.

If the Cubs’ uber-prospect strikes out while still hitting the ball out of the park every now and then, it’s not a bad thing.

But what about when he isn’t hitting home runs?

Baez is mired in a 2-for-25 stretch right now and hasn’t homered since August 23. The 21-year-old slugger has seven strikeouts in the first two games of the Pirates series at Wrigley Field this weekend, upping his season total to 58 whiffs in 33 games (132 at-bats).

Despite the struggles, the Cubs have no intention of sitting Baez down and giving him a day off to sort through his slump.

"I think it’s actually the opposite," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We need to keep him in there and see if we can get him to trust what he was actually doing before he got here."

The Cubs want to see Baez get back to hitting the ball to the middle of the field and the right side.

[MORE: Cubs get reacquainted with Mike Olt in return to lineup]

His average has dipped to .174 and his OPS is down to .587 - both the lowest marks since his second big-league game - but Renteria doesn’t think Baez is putting too much pressure on himself right now.

"I think he’s getting away a little bit more form his middle-other way approach," Renteria said. "That’s one of the things that he was working on down in the minor leagues. When he finally settled in and started swinging the bat well, one of the things he was doing was hitting the ball more up the middle and to right-center field, which allowed him to see the ball, track the ball a little bit better.

"I don’t see him pressing. I just think he’s away from an aproach that gives him a chance to have success."

08 9 / 2014

CSNChicago.com

Arismendy Alcantara’s speed, versatility has given Cubs a lift

TONY ANDRACKI

It would be easy to forget about Arismendy Alcantara with Jorge Soler setting records and Javier Baez either striking out or homering in seemingly every at-bat.

But Alcantara has kept himself in the conversation with his game-changing speed and unique versatility.

"He’s been pretty impressive," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "There are a lot of things that he brings to the table that are able to help us. And then [Friday], we double-switch and we’re able to bring him into second base [from center field], so his flexibility helps us a lot, too."

Alcantara flashed that speed Friday, leading off the third inning with a bunt hit. He then scored on a sacrifice fly from Jorge Soler that was hit to shallow right field, barely sliding in under the tag from Pirates catcher Russell Martin.

Anybody else on the Cubs’ current roster would not have scored on that play.

"His speed plays; anybody’s speed plays," Renteria said. "But beyond that, as a baseball player, he kinda knows how to use it so that’s doubly important. It’s good to have him. Certainly, his type of speed does help us. Obviously, it created a run yesterday."

Alcantara’s speed also gives the Cubs a different dynamic in the batting order and on the basepaths. He’s already second on the Cubs with seven stolen bases despite playing in only 53 games.

The 22-year-old outfielder had 112 stolen bases in six minor-league seasons in the Cubs’ system, including 21 in 24 attempts at Triple-A before his promotion to the big leagues this year.

Alcantara, a converted infielder, has primarily seen time in center field for the Cubs, a position he played only 11 games at in the minors.

For the most part, he has looked good in the oufield, using his speed to track down balls in the gaps. But Saturday, Alcantara came in on a hard line drive hit right at him that wound up well over his head in center, rolling all the way to the wall.

It was a simple reminder that he still has a learning curve to go through.

"This is the most he’s ever played [out in center field]," Renteria said. "There is a right way to approach a line drive [hit at you] and it’s basically a drop-step and freeze and that gives you an opportunity to read and react.

"When that ball came off the bat [Friday], he was already moving forward. Obviously, that experience that he had [Friday] isn’t something that he wants to continue to happen, but there are things that you can work on to improve that reaction and that position he has on that line drive."

The Cubs will continue to get Alcantara experience in center, but with Starlin Castro likely sidelined for the remainder of the season, Baez has shifted to shortstop full-time, leaving an opening at second base. Alcantara got the start at second in the second game Saturday and led off, showing off his versatility again.

As the Cubs continue to incorporate their elite position-player prospects at the big-league level, Alcantara figures to move more into a super-utility role, playing all over the diamond and hitting at different spots in the lineup.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs get reacquainted with Mike Olt in return to lineup

TONY ANDRACKI

Mike Olt’s grand slam against the White Sox on the South Side seems like a lifetime ago.

That May 8 blast was arguably the highlight of Olt’s season and came in the midst of a stretch where he homered in three straight games. From May 10 through July 22 (his final game before his demotion to Triple-A Iowa), however, Olt hit just .101 with a .452 OPS, striking out 55 times in 109 at-bats.

Olt returned to the big leagues Friday, making a pinch-hit appearance and grounding out to second base before the rains hit. Saturday, he got the start at first base and hit sixth against Pirates southpaw Francisco Liriano.

After a groundout and a strikeout, Olt doubled down the left field line, snapping an 0-for-19 slump in the majors that stretched back to July 8. He struck out looking in the ninth for his fourth and final plate appearance of the evening.

"Not bad. We haven’t seen him in a little bit," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "It looked like he was more confident, more comfortable in the box. I’d have to say that we need to see him a little bit more to see where he’s at."

Olt entered the game with a .138/.221/.351 slash line in the majors, but he seemed to regain his stroke in the minor leagues, hitting .302 with a .933 OPS after his demotion. He also slugged nine doubles and seven homers to go with 24 RBI in 28 games for Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs still don’t know what they have in the 26-year-old infielder, but his development could be one of the more interesting storylines down the stretch for a last-place team trying to find pieces for 2015 and beyond.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs swept out of partial-doubleheader by Pirates

TONY ANDRACKI

The Cubs came into the weekend series against the Pirates on a hot streak, having just swept the playoff-hopeful Milwaukee Brewers.

But storms suddenly popped up on Chicago’s North Side Friday afternoon and the Cubs haven’t scored since, dropping both games of a partial-doubleheader at Wrigley Field after the Pirates’ 5-0 win in Game 2 Saturday evening.

[MORE: Arismendy Alcantara’s speed, versatility has given Cubs a lift]

Felix Doubront made his Wrigley Field debut Saturday (which he described as “awesome”), but the Cubs offense failed to back him, pushing across six hits against Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano and three relievers.

The shutout meant the Cubs played 14 innings of baseball Saturday without scoring (including the final five innings of Friday’s suspended game, played Saturday afternoon).

"We’ve been playing really, really well. Swinging the bats and doing a lot of things in a positive fashion. But today, quite frankly, we just didn’t do much offensively," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

Mike Olt doubled in his first start since returning to the big leagues. Beyond that, the Cubs only managed five singles while striking out 11 times as a team.

This was one of the first times the Cubs have really felt the absence of franchise players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who are both sidelined with potential season-ending injuries.

"Those guys are really important pieces to the team," Renteria said. "I tip my hat to all the kids that are in there right now that are playing because they’ve picked up the slack quite a bit. They’ve done a very nice job. We weren’t able to score any runs the last half of the first game and then this game, but we’ll settle back in. A little hiccup; we’ll make adjustments and keep playing."

Doubront was shaky early, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in the first three innings. He settled down, only allowing one hit in the final two innings, but still wound up with hist first loss as a Cub.

Dan Straily, acquired in the Jeff Samardzija deal with the Oakland A’s, allowed a run in two innings of relief work.

Arodys Vizcaino — the former top prospect who came over from the Atlanta Braves in the Paul Maholm trade in 2012 — made his Cubs debut in the ninth. He gave up a homer and a single in his first big-league inning since September 2011, but dialed his fastball up to 96 mph.

"He’s been working, trying to get himself back and he’s here now," Renteria said. "I know [Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio] and [bullpen coach Lester Strode] are working with him out there in the ‘pen and going to continue and try and clean him up and see where it goes."

CSNChicago.com

Pirates finally overcome Cubs to end suspended game

TONY ANDRACKI

Nearly 27 hours after the game started, the Cubs and Pirates finally concluded their weekend-opening matchup.

Rain halted the series opener Friday afternoon at Wrigley, first in a 37-minute delay and then in an additional one-hour, 15-minute delay before the umpires finally called it with the game tied 3-3 in the seventh.

When play finally resumed at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon, neither team scored until the Pirates pushed across a couple runs in the top of the 11th to claim a 5-3 victory.

Josh Harrison, a former Cubs farmhand, continued his All-Star campaign with an RBI single to break the 3-3 tie in the 11th. It was Harrison’s fourth hit of the game.

A sacrifice fly plated another run before the Cubs went down in order in the bottom of the 11th.

"We had a couple opportunities we weren’t able to cash in on," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "So tip your hat to them. We just fell a little short."

On Friday, the Pirates got on the board in the top of the first with an unearned run on a throwing error by Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena.

The Cubs tallied a pair in the third on a sacrifice fly from rookie sensation Jorge Soler (his 11th RBI in the first eight MLB games of his career) and an unearned tally of their own after an error from Harrison.

Tsuyoshi Wada, who started the game for the Cubs, allowed two more runs to the Pirates in the fourth inning before coming out of the contest with a cramp in his left calf.

Wesley Wright was saddled with the loss for the Cubs, lasting just 2/3 of an inning and allowing two hits, two walks and two runs.

Besides Wright’s “hiccup,” as Renteria called it, the Cubs bullpen had a good game. Six pitchers — Carlos Villanueva, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Brian Schlitter — combined to shut down the Pirates with 6.2 shutout innings between Wada and Wright.

"I thought the bullpen did a nice job, in general," Renteria said. "They kept us in there."

Tribune

Cubs a work in progress, sometimes painfully

Paul Sullivan

Playing out the string in 2014, the only reachable goal for the Cubs appears to be finishing out of last place.

After losing twice to the Pirates on Saturday in the completion of Friday’s suspended game and the regularly scheduled contest, the Cubs are three games behind fourth-place Cincinnati.

Wesley Wright gave up a pair of 11th inning runs in a 5-3 loss in the first game before Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano and the bullpen shut the Cubs down in a 5-0 loss in the nightcap.

Of course, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Rick Renteria both have said the final record doesn’t matter, and what’s really important is the progress being made by the young Cubs’ players.

Growing pains are evident in a few cases, including struggling Javier Baez (.178). But is there enough talent on hand to suggest the Cubs actually could contend one year from now instead of trying to play spoiler, or is that pushing the timeline too much?

"I wouldn’t say it’s pushing it," rookie starter Kyle Hendricks said. "Everyone has seen what the possibilities are and how everyone has played. We have won a lot of ballgames lately and have been in a lot.

"Overall, everyone has played unbelievable. So with more team chemistry coming into next year … Honestly, we just want to finish out this year strong, but keep building those relationships, have good rapport, be good teammates with each other and win some ballgames down the stretch."

The Cubs will have to overcome an all-or-nothing offensive approach with two strikes if they’re to convert the non-believers. The Game 2 starting lineup featured eight positions players who combined to strike-out in 33 percent of their at-bats this season (422 strikeouts in 1,271 at-bats), led by Mike Olt (45 percent), Baez (38), Junior Lake (35), and Arismendy Alcantara (31).

Not surprisingly, The Cubs struck out 11 times, including nine against Liriano in six innings. Obviously the Cubs miss the bats of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

 

"I tip my hat to all the kids because they’ve picked up the slack quite a bit," Renteria said. "We weren’t able to score any runs the last half of the first game and the second game, but we’ll settle back in. A little hiccup."

Tight squeeze: If you ever have squeezed into a “L” train during rush hour on a Monday morning, you probably can empathize with the Cubs’ bullpen.

With September call-ups, they have 13 relievers sitting in the pen down the left field line, not to mention bullpen coach Les Strode, bullpen catcher Chad Noble and Japanese translator Ryo Shinkawa.

"It’s not that bad," reliever Neil Ramirez said. "It’s definitely a tight squeeze, but we fit. We have two benches and then we have a couple of chairs to help out. We fit out there for the most part. Some guys will stretch out and get loose, and when that happens, we get a little but more room."

Castro’s choice: Starlin Castro continues to rehab his ankle sprain in hopes of returning before the end of the season. But after such a nice comeback year for the shortstop, why would the Cubs risk letting Castro even attempt to return for a few meaningless games at the end of the season?

Renteria said it’s up to Castro.

"He’s the one who’s trying to work through it," Renteria said. "Are we going to put any of our players in position to potentially hurt them in the long run? No. But we still have to listen. And if he’s healing and he’s able to move, I have to pay attention to what he’s telling me.

"But we’re very conservative in terms of where we think he’s going to be for the remainder of the season. A high ankle sprain is a pretty significant injury."

Tribune

Saturday’s recap: Pirates 5, Cubs 0

Paul Sullivan

The summary

Francisco Liriano and three relievers shut out the Cubs on six hits, completing the sweep of the pseudo double-header after the suspended game.

At the plate

The Cubs completed the day with no runs over 14 innings in the two games. Javier Baez struck out three times. It was the ninth time in 33 games he has struck out three or more times.

On the mound

Felix Doubront gave up two runs on five hits and two walks over five innings, throwing 81 pitches. In his Cubs debut, Arodys Vizcaino served up a home run to Jordy Mercer, the first batter he faced.

In the field

Baez committed his sixth error — and his first at shortstop — losing his grip while fielding a grounder in the second.

The number

0: Cubs are 0-68 when trailing entering the ninth inning.

The quote

Manager Rick Renteria on whether Baez needs a day off: “No, I think it’s actually the opposite. I’m going to get him to trust what he was actually doing before he got here.”

Up next

Pirates (RH Cole, 7-5, 3.86) at Cubs (LH Wood, 8-11, 4.81), Sunday, 1:20 p.m., WGN-Ch. 9.

Tribune

Suspended game recap: Pirates 5, Cubs 3, 11 innings

The summary

The Pirates scored a pair of runs off Wesley Wright in the 11th inning Saturday to take the game suspended in the seventh inning Friday. Josh Harrison’s base-loaded single snapped the 3-3 tie, and a sacrifice fly brought in an insurance run. The loss snapped a six-game home winning streak for the Cubs.

At the plate

The Cubs managed only seven hits and struck out 11 times, going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Javier Baez had his fifth four-strikeout game. With the winning run on third base and two outs in the 10th inning, manager Rick Renteria let .195-hitting catcher John Baker bat. Baker struck out to end the threat.

On the mound

Wright was tagged with the loss, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks over 2/3 of an inning. The Cubs used nine pitchers over the two-day affair, including six in five innings Saturday.

In the field

The Cubs made two errors, including a poor throw to second by Baker on a steal attempt.

The number

24 hours, 38 minutes. The combined total minutes of rain delays for the Cubs this season.

Sun-Times

Despite double downer, Cubs relievers show something

BY DAVID JUST

The Cubs played 14 innings without scoring a run Saturday against the Pirates.

The first five innings came as the conclusion to Friday’s weather-delayed game, which the Cubs lost 5-3 in 11 innings.

The Pirates then took the nightcap 5-0, preventing the Cubs from even getting a runner to third base.

“It’s hard,” catcher Welington Castillo said of the struggling offense. “But you see a lot of guys here who are hungry to play. We’re going to come back better tomorrow.”

If there was a positive for the Cubs on this long day of September baseball, it was the performance of their core relievers in the series opener.

Thirteen pitchers now occupy the Cubs’ bullpen, and manager Rick Renteria used eight of them in the first game.

Wesley Wright gave up both runs in the 11th, but he followed 62/3 innings of scoreless relief by six pitchers.

Those six pitchers — Carlos Villanueva, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Brian Schlitter — allowed four hits and three walks and struck out nine.

“The bullpen did a nice job in general,” Renteria said. “It kept us in it, and we had a couple of opportunities and weren’t able to cash them in.”

The bullpen quietly has put together a solid season, and until some missteps by the newest additions to the staff in the nightcap, the group has been one of the team’s strengths of late.

The most used relievers include Grimm, Rondon, Schlitter and Strop, who have combined for a workmanlike 3.27 ERA in more than 220 innings.

Cubs relievers have a 3.36 ERA, which is more than half a run better than the starters.

“They are growing together,” Renteria said of the bullpen.

“During the beginning of the season, the hiccups kind of came together, so to speak. So you can take those experiences and build on them.”

Josh Harrison hit an RBI single to center field off Wright, and Tony Sanchez brought in another run on a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs’ offense, as was the case the rest of the day, was unable to respond.

“We have really good guys in the bullpen,” Castillo said.

“They’ve done a good job this year.”

The bullpen wasn’t quite as sturdy in the second game, when little-used relievers Dan Straily, Zac Rosscup and Arodys Vizcaino — all September call-ups — allowed a run apiece.

The Pirates led 2-0 after five innings against starter Felix Doubront, who made a solid showing in his Wrigley debut.

Straily allowed a run on Andrew McCutchen’s single in the seventh inning, and Rosscup gave up another in the eighth on a single by Chris Stewart.

Vizcaino, who made his first major-league appearance since 2011, gave up a leadoff home run to Jordy Mercer in the ninth.

“We’ve got an opportunity to try to clean [Vizcaino] up and see where it goes,” Renteria said.

“[His velocity] wasn’t bad. He got up to 94 and 95 on a couple of pitches.”

Sun-Times

Injured Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo won’t be on rush street

BY DAVID JUST

Manager Rick Renteria said the Cubs will be cautious with shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

With three weeks left, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs rushing veteran players back from injury.

“Are we gonna put any of our players in a position to potentially hurt them in the long run?” Renteria said. “We’ll never do that.”

Castro left the game Tuesday against the Brewers in the first inning with a high ankle sprain, an injury Renteria said was significant.

Renteria said he would talk to Castro as he undergoes rehab and will make a decision down the road on whether to let him play again this season.

“If he’s healing and moving along and able to move,” Renteria said, “I’ve got to pay attention to what he’s got to tell me. But we’re very conservative in terms of where we think he’s gonna be for the rest of the season. We have 21 days left.”

Rizzo was diagnosed with a lower-back strain after an MRI on Tuesday and was told to abstain from baseball activities for the next 10 days.

Javy Baez has been starting at shortstop since Castro’s injury, and Mike Olt started at first in the second game Saturday.

Wada, Castillo injuries

Pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada left the game Friday with cramping, and catcher Welington Castillo was a late scratch with back stiffness.

Castillo was back in the starting lineup for the second game Saturday.

Renteria said Wada wouldn’t miss his usual start in the Cubs’ six-man rotation next week.

Baez’s violent swing

Baez swings the bat with such force and speed that he appeared to hurt himself twice this weekend.

The first came after a swing and miss during his third at-bat Friday.

Then on Saturday, in the same game, he appeared to injure his leg on another swing and miss.

“He tends to roll over his ankle a little bit,” Renteria said. “[It’s] a very, very violent swing.”

Baez struck out seven times in the last two games, bringing his total to 58 in 32 games.

Daily Herald

Miles: An unconventional convention idea for Cubs

Bruce Miles

It’s fun to behold the power of social media, especially when it comes to a brand as big as the Chicago Cubs.

Seeing and talking to former Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano on Friday got me to thinking about several things and throwing ideas out Saturday on Twitter.

One of those ideas was for the Cubs to invite Zambrano, Sammy Sosa and Lou Piniella to next January’s annual fan convention and to let it roll.

Can you imagine how much fun that would be?

I’ve written the last few years about how dull the convention has become. A lot of losing seasons will do that. It’s also true, as one Twitter follower put it, that with Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez at next year’s convention, people should be flocking downtown in the middle of a cold Chicago January.

But as convention originator John McDonough always used to put it, the Cubs convention is as much an alumni reunion as anything else.

You invite Big Z, Sammy and Lou, and you sell out in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Start by introducing each at the opening ceremonies and let the cheers — or boos — rain down as they may.

On the Saturday of the convention, you can conduct separate sessions with each of these larger-than-life characters. Or, to play on an idea of one Twitter follower, maybe you put them all together in a session called “All is Forgiven” and get ubiquitous media gadfly David Kaplan to host it.

Our Twitter thread evolved, or devolved, from there, with some suggesting the Cubs devote a session to the 2003 team.

Let’s think about something here with that. Over the years at the convention, one of the most popular sessions, or variations on a session, has been one on the 1969 Cubs.

The 2003 Cubs came within five outs of the World Series, and there’s always been a bad taste left in people’s mouths about that. (The utterly unlikeable 2004 team may be viewed as an extension of the ‘03 club.)

The 1969 team collapsed down the stretch and did not play one postseason game, but they remain one of the most popular teams in franchise history despite that.

People no doubt remember that team as an oasis of innocence during turbulent social times, and there was great everyman appeal with guys like Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger and Randy Hundley to go along with the superstar power of Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks.

But I’m sensing, also from that same Twitter stream of consciousness, that fans are choosing to remember the good and fun things about the 2003 team. Names such as Eric Karros (who took home videos in ‘03), Mark Grudzielanek and Joe Borowski (they don’t get more everyman than Joe) were tossed about by tweeters, who also cited Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Moises Alou and Matt Clement.

So let’s do this. I want to hear Lou say, “Look, I took Big Z out in Game 1 in Arizona because …”

I want to hear Sammy say, “Heck, yes, I corked the bat, and …”

And I want the Cubs to bring a Gatorade jug up to the stage and let Big Z have one more hack at it.

Finally, as I tweeted: You’re welcome, @Cubs, and I’ll collect my consultant’s fee at the door on my way out.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ offense struggles in double loss

Bruce Miles

The Cubs may be starting to feel the effects of not having Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in their lineup.

They were pretty punchless Saturday in falling twice to the Pittsburgh Pirates on a gorgeous day and evening at Wrigley Field.

The Pirates won the resumption of Friday’s suspended game, 5-3 in 11 innings. In the regularly scheduled game, the Cubs managed just 6 hits in falling 5-0.

Castro and Rizzo both are out indefinitely with injuries.

"Those guys are really important pieces of the team," manager Rick Renteria said. "I tip my hat all the kids that are in there right now who are playing because they’ve actually picked up the slack quite a bit, quite frankly, and they’ve done a nice job.

"We weren’t able to score any runs the last half of the first game and this second game, but we’ll settle back in."

Renteria also said he’s not of a mind to give shortstop Javier Baez (.174) a day off. Baez struck out four times in the first game and three times in the second. He has 58 strikeouts in 132 at-bats.

"I don’t see him pressing," Renteria said. "I think he’s getting away a little bit more from his middle-other-way approach. That’s one of the things he was working on down in the minor leagues.

"When he finally settled in and started swinging the bat well, one of the things he was doing was hitting the ball more to the middle, to right-center field.

"We need to keep him in there and see if we can get him to trust what he was actually doing before he got here."

A Doubront debut at Wrigley:

Lefty Felix Doubront made his Wrigley Field debut by starting the second game. He ran his pitch count up early and lasted 5 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs.

The Cubs obtained Doubront in a July 30 trade with Boston. He pitched for the Cubs on Aug. 30 at St. Louis, but this was his first time pitching at Wrigley.

"Awesome," he said. "Like it."

Doubront is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. He threw 64 pitches over the first three innings.

"I think I went too fast with my mechanics," he said. "I lost my mechanics with a couple pitches and came back against a good team. I came back, repeated my delivery and threw strikes after that."

At long last:

The Cubs got their long-awaited first look at reliever Arodys Vizcaino in the second game. He pitched the ninth inning and gave up a leadoff homer to Jordy Mercer.

Vizcaino came to the Cubs in a July 2012 trade for pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and missed that season as well as the 2013 season. The Cubs made him a September call-up from Class AAA Iowa.

"Actually, I need to see him a little bit more," Rick Renteria said. "I can’t judge him on the one opportunity out there. He’s been working, and he’s been trying to get himself back. He’s here now … He got up to 94, 95 (mph) a couple pitches."

Cubs.com

Cubs shut out in Game 2 of makeshift doubleheader

Doubront solid, but offense struggles after resuming suspended tilt

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — For Felix Doubront, Saturday marked the first time he pitched at Wrigley Field in his career. For Arodys Vizcaino, the ninth inning was huge because it was his first time pitching in the big leagues since 2011.

The moments were nice. But they weren’t enough to stop the Pirates, who got just what they needed, and they did so in nine dry innings.

Francisco Liriano struck out nine and gave up three hits over six scoreless innings to lead the Pirates to a 5-0 victory over the Cubs, and complete a sweep of the game-plus played at Wrigley Field.

The regularly scheduled game was preceded by the completion of a game suspended on Friday because of rain, and the Pirates also won that contest, 5-3, in 11 innings. Pittsburgh is 4 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central.

Counting the five innings played in the first game and the regularly scheduled game, the Cubs were held scoreless for 14 total innings. It’s the 14th time they’ve been shut out this year.

"They’ve been swinging the bats," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the Cubs, who were coming off a sweep of the Brewers. "We’re aware of the scores when we come in, the way they played the teams in front of us. We made pitches, we stayed away from any kind of big innings."

Liriano took advantage of the aggressive young Cubs, and he struck out Javier Baez three times, marking the ninth time in 33 games that the rookie infielder has whiffed three times or more. Baez is batting .174.

"I don’t see him pressing," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the highly regarded prospect. "I think he’s getting away from his middle-away approach. That’s one of the things he was working on down in the Minor Leagues. When he finally settled in and was swinging the bat well, one of the things he was doing was hitting the ball more to the middle to right-center field, which allowed him to see the ball and track the ball a little better.

"I just think he’s away from the approach that gives him a chance to have some success."

Baez has played every game since his callup on Aug. 5, and he is now pressed into everyday duty with Starlin Castro sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Could Baez use a day off?

"I think it’s the opposite," Renteria said. "You need to keep him in there and see if we can get him to trust what he was doing before he got here. The reality is, his approach to the other side of the field is one of the things that will help him."

Doubront took the loss in his second start for Chicago, serving up two runs over five innings. The problem was the third inning, the lefty said. With one out, Andrew McCutchen singled and Neil Walker doubled before Gaby Sanchez’s hard-hit RBI groundout to third baseman Chris Valaika.

"I went too fast with my mechanics [in the third]," Doubront said. "I lost my mechanics, and then came back and repeated my delivery and was able to throw strikes after that."

Doubront needed 64 pitches to get through three innings, then just 17 combined for the fourth and fifth innings.

Jordy Mercer added a leadoff home run in the ninth off Vizcaino, who was making his first Major League appearance since Sept. 27, 2011. The right-hander, acquired from the Braves in July ‘12, has spent the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he had in Spring Training that year.

"His fastball was good," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. "He just hung a slider [to Mercer], and that was it. His fastball was there, and a changeup. For a first outing this year in the big leagues, it was good. I think he’s going to do good. He’s got good stuff. I still believe he can pitch in the big leagues."

So does Vizcaino.

"I’m happy because I’m back again," Vizcaino said. "I wasn’t nervous."

Cubs.com

Cubs drop conclusion of suspended game in extras

Chicago uses nine pitchers over two days, falls in 11th inning

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — It took two days, one hour and 52 minutes of rain, nine pitchers and 11 innings, but the Cubs finally completed their suspended game with the Pirates. They just didn’t get the result they wanted.

Josh Harrison tied a career high with four hits, including a tiebreaking RBI single with one out in the 11th, to lift the Pirates to a 5-3 victory on Saturday over the Cubs and conclude a game suspended because of rain.

With the game tied at 3 and one out in the 11th, Neil Walker doubled against Wesley Wright, the eighth pitcher the Cubs used in the extended game. Gregory Polanco and pinch-hitter Brent Morel both walked to load the bases for Harrison, who lined a single to center and is now is 4-for-5 with the bases loaded this season. Pinch-hitter Tony Sanchez added a sacrifice fly for a 5-3 lead.

"He’s a very good player," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Harrison. "He’s a gifted baseball player. He does a lot of little things. Surprisingly, he shows you some speed, some pop, some tremendously acute aptitude for the game. He’s flexible — they can move him around. He’s a kid who, from what I understand, is a very hard worker and very driven and doesn’t take anything for granted."

However, Harrison moved to shortstop in the 11th and chased down a popup by the Cubs’ Matt Szczur, but he sustained a leg injury and had to leave the game. He was being evaluated with left ankle discomfort and was not in the lineup for the regularly scheduled game.

The loss snapped the Cubs’ home win streak at six, while the Pirates, who are battling for a playoff spot, ended a four-game losing streak.

"I thought the bullpen did a nice job in general," Renteria said. "We had a couple opportunities and weren’t able to cash in on them. We just fell a little short."

Friday’s game was interrupted twice by rain, which has been a recurring theme for the Cubs this season. They now have had 17 games delayed, totaling 24 hours and 38 minutes, and two games have been suspended.

When play was stopped, the two teams were tied at 3 with one out in the Pirates’ seventh. Pittsburgh had tallied in the first when Harrison doubled and scored on an errant throw by third baseman Luis Valbuena.

In the second, Arismendy Alcantara singled and one out later, Valbuena doubled to left, with his ball bouncing into the ivy in left field for a ground-rule double. Alcantara scored on Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly, and one batter later, Valbuena tallied on a throwing error by Harrison to go ahead, 2-1.

Jose Tabata tied the game at 2 with an RBI double over Alcantara in center field in the fourth. Tabata then scored on Harrison’s double.

Rain halted play for 37 minutes in the Pirates’ fifth, and when it resumed, the Cubs tied the game in their half on Chris Valaika’s two-out RBI single.

Cubs.com

Wada not expected to miss a start after early exit

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Tsuyoshi Wada, who had to leave Friday’s game after 3 1/3 innings because of cramping in his left calf, is not expected to miss a start, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Saturday.

Wada, who gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits and one walk, said he’d experienced cramping in his legs before when he pitched in Japan. The Cubs are staying with a six-man rotation, so Wada’s next start would be Friday against the Pirates.

"I don’t see him missing a start," Renteria said.

Catcher Welington Castillo, who was scratched Friday because of lower back tightness, did start Saturday in the regularly scheduled game. The Cubs had to finish Friday’s game, which was suspended after 6 1/3 innings because of rain.

Kyuji Fujikawa was fine after a freak accident during batting practice Saturday when catcher John Baker’s line drive hit the pitcher on the arm while he was shagging in the outfield. The good news for Baker is that it hit Fujikawa on his left arm. The pitcher is right-handed.

Fujikawa got the final out in the 11th inning of the suspended game, throwing only one pitch to get the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen to pop up.

Cubs.com

Time not on Starlin’s side for 2014 return

Shortstop’s high ankle sprain could take at least four weeks to heal

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Starlin Castro, sidelined with a sprained left ankle, has told Cubs manager Rick Renteria that he plans on coming back before the season ends. Unfortunately for the shortstop, he has only three weeks to do so.

Castro suffered the high ankle sprain on Tuesday after an awkward slide into home plate. He wanted to stay in the game, but Renteria said no, and an MRI on Castro’s ankle revealed the injury.

General manager Jed Hoyer said the prognosis is four weeks to recover. There aren’t four weeks left.

"I would have to refer to him to determine if he’s going to be able to come back," Renteria said Saturday of Castro. "He’s the one trying to work through it.

"Are we going to put any of our players in a position to potentially hurt them in the long run? No, we’re not going to do that," Renteria said. "Right now, we’re very conservative in where we think he’s going to be. A high ankle sprain is a pretty significant injury. Everybody heals differently. We have to take it one day at a time. We have to let the process continue to go through in terms of healing and gaining some strength."

The same is true for Anthony Rizzo, who came out of the Aug. 26 game with lower back tightness and has not played since. However, the prognosis for Rizzo is more encouraging. The first baseman could return after the Cubs’ next road trip to Toronto and Pittsburgh.

Cubs.com

Cole leads Bucs in bid for prime playoff position

Just a half-game behind Brewers, Pirates contend with Cubs in finale

By Jackson Alexander

Gerrit Cole looks to rebound from his first loss since returning from the disabled list and send his Pirates to a sweep of the Cubs on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. After two wins on Saturday — the first coming after Friday’s game was suspended due to rain — the Bucs sit only a half-game behind the Brewers for the second spot in the National League Wild Card race.

Cole returned triumphantly from a month-and-a-half DL stint (right lat) in his first two starts. The right-hander posted a 2.77 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings, taking a no-decision both times.

But Cole’s last start did not fare so well. The Cardinals handed him his fifth loss of the season, producing five runs in Cole’s 6 1/3 innings. Matt Holliday drove in three runs, including the decisive single in the seventh as St. Louis won, 5-4, on Monday.

"He’s probably the strongest human in world," said Cole of Holliday. "You jam him, and he hits it to the warning track in right-center."

Cole’s second outing of the year was against the Cubs, and he struck out a season-high 10 in a 5-4 win at Wrigley Field.

Travis Wood gets the call for the Cubs opposite Cole. The left-hander struggled his last time out, lasting just 4 2/3 innings in a 9-6 loss to the Cardinals. Wood allowed four runs, six hits and three walks.

He looks to begin September on the right foot after a solid August (3.71 ERA in six starts).

The Pirates and Wood have already squared off three times this season. Wood’s first start against them was also his best. He surrendered one run and struck out nine in six innings on April 10.

But in the two corresponding starts, he posted a 4.63 ERA.

The Cubs look to avoid being swept for the first time since their July 17-19 series with the Diamondbacks.

Chicago finished 16-14 in August, and it began September with three straight wins.

Pirates: Harrison hurts ankle

Josh Harrison sustained a left ankle injury at the end of the first game of Pittsburgh’s doubleheader Saturday.

Harrison had delivered the game-winning RBI single, his fourth hit of the game, in the top of the 11th to propel his Pittsburgh to a 5-3 win. But in the bottom half, Harrison hurt his ankle after making a running catch and turning to throw it back into the infield.

The injury forced him from the game, and he did not play in the Pirates’ 5-0 victory in the regularly scheduled game on Saturday.

Harrison’s breakout campaign has included a .315/.348/.513 slash line.

Cubs: Baez struggling with strikeouts

Beginning with Friday’s game that carried over into Saturday and including the later game, shortstop Javier Baez had a rough day at the plate. The rookie went 1-for-9 with a walk, and all but one of his eight outs recorded were strikeouts.

Baez upped his strikeout total to 60 in 135 at bats this season.

He didn’t strike out in a 6-3 win over the Brewers on Thursday. This marked Baez’s sixth game — of 33 total — without recording a strikeout for Chicago, and first since Aug. 20.

Worth noting

• Wood has held the current batch of Pirates to a .217 opponents’ batting average.

Cubs.com

Cubs hope new approach pays off for Olt

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Manager Rick Renteria can see a difference in Mike Olt, and hopes it results in a strong finish to the season. Olt, who batted .302 with Triple-A Iowa after struggling to hit .139 with the Cubs, has simplified his approach, and it looks like it’s working.

"Watching him in batting practice, it looks like his stance is a bit wider, and he doesn’t have a lot of movement," Renteria said Saturday. "It’s a simple load-and-go kind of approach, and you can see he’s keeping his head down on the ball more now. Those are things he was working on."

Olt joined the Cubs on Friday after playing two games for Class A Kane County as part of a rehab from a hamstring strain. One thing that hasn’t changed since Opening Day is Olt’s attitude.

"Even when he left, he was still a confident individual," Renteria said. "I think he had an idea of what he wanted to work on. He worked on it, started having some success, and we’re hoping he’s back."

With Anthony Rizzo sidelined because of low back tightness, Olt will likely start at first base.

"Getting back here and getting some more at-bats at the Major League level to see where he’s at is something he wants to see, too," Renteria said. "It’s good for us to have him here."

08 9 / 2014

Cubs.com

Pirates-Cubs opener suspended due to rain

Game to resume Saturday at 2 p.m. CT with scored tied in top of seventh

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs will play one-plus games on Saturday to make up for Friday’s contest, which was suspended with one out in the top of the seventh inning and the scored tied at 3.

Friday’s game will resume at 2 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field, and upon completion, will be followed by the regularly-scheduled game, which was to start at 3:05. Fans with tickets to Saturday’s game can come early.

Friday’s game was interrupted twice by rain, which has been a recurring theme for the Cubs this season. They have now had 18 delays, totaling more than 24 hours.

After the second delay of one hour and 15 minutes, two of the umpires walked around the edge of the tarp and then signaled that the game had been suspended. This is the second game the Cubs have had suspended this year; it also happened Aug. 19 against the Giants.

"I think it was a sound decision," manager Rick Renteria said of Friday’s suspension. "There was some weather coming."

Renteria has spent most of his career in San Diego, where he recalled some significant rain in 1994 or ‘95, and that’s about it. He has never experienced anything like the seemingly non-stop rainfall in Chicago.

"After the first rain delay, I thought, ‘This is what’s been different,’" Renteria said of his first year as manager. "It’s something we have to deal with, and it’s not me, it’s those guys. The players are the ones who have to deal with the delays and getting up and sitting down, and they’ve done a great job. They’ve dealt with it with the least amount of complaints, quite frankly. It is what it is — we can’t control the weather."

There isn’t much the players can do.

"We’ve had bad luck because of all the rain delays and long games," catcher Welington Castillo said. "I think we have to stay with it, because if the other team stays with it, we have to stay with it. We’ll be fine. We have a lot of young guys in here who can handle it."

Before the rain came, Josh Harrison led off the game with a ground-rule double, as the ball disappeared into the ivy covering the left-field wall. Two outs later, he scored on an errant throw by third baseman Luis Valbuena.

The ivy claimed another ball in the Chicago third. Arismendy Alcantara singled and one out later, Valbuena doubled to left, with his ball bouncing into the greenery and vanishing for a ground-rule double. Jorge Soler hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Alcantara, and one batter later, Valbuena tallied on a throwing error by Harrison to put the Cubs ahead, 2-1.

Soler now has either an extra-base hit or an RBI in his first eight games, and he’s the first Major Leaguer to do so since Buddy Blair in 1942 with the Philadephia Athletics.

With a runner at first and one out in the top of the fourth, Jose Tabata hit an RBI double over Alcantara in center field to tie the game at 2. Chicago starter Tsuyoshi Wada was then pulled from the game because of mild left calf cramping, and Carlos Villanueva entered, striking out Vance Worley. Harrison followed with his second double, driving in Tabata, to go ahead, 3-2.

Wada said he’s had this problem before in Japan.

"I’m glad it was more of a cramp," Renteria said. "From all indications, it was from dehydration."

Rain halted play for 37 minutes in the top of the fifth, and when it resumed, the Cubs tied the game in their half on Chris Valaika’s two-out RBI single. The Pirates had one out in the seventh when play was stopped again.

Cubs.com

Calf cramping forces Wada’s exit in fourth

Left-hander affected by heat, not expected to miss next start

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada had to leave Friday’s game in the fourth inning because of cramping in his left leg but was not expected to miss his next start.

With one out in the frame, Wada walked Neil Walker before serving up a double to Jose Tabata that sailed over center fielder Arismendy Alcantara, tying the game at 2.

Wada, who was making his 10th start for the Cubs, threw two pitches to Vance Worley before athletic trainer Ed Halbur went to the mound. He was joined by catcher John Baker, pitching coach Chris Bosio and manager Rick Renteria. After consulting with Wada, the pitcher was then pulled from the game.

The Cubs said Wada had mild left calf cramping. The weather may have been a factor, as it was a steamy 88 degrees and very humid at Wrigley Field.

"I believe [the heat was the problem]," Wada said. "This was something I experienced in Japan in the past as well, so I felt it kind of came up again."

Wada hit two batters in a row in the third inning, and he said that’s when he first experienced the cramp in his leg.

Cubs.com

Soler adds to resume with laser assist to nab Tabata

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Jorge Soler has been impressive at the plate, and on Friday, he showed off his throwing arm.

In the third inning of the Cubs’ game against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, Soler hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1. He now has either an extra-base hit or an RBI in his first eight games, making him the first Major Leaguer to do so since Buddy Blair in 1942 with the Philadephia Athletics.

Soler has been solid in right field. With one out in the sixth, Jose Tabata singled to right and tried to reach second. But Soler threw a perfect strike to shortstop Javier Baez for the out.

"The results that he’s had have been positive," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "The biggest thing is the fact that he’s having great at-bats. He’s really had a solid approach.

"He has a good sense of what he’s doing in the box and a good feel. You know he’s throwing to the right bases, you know he’s attacking balls he has to attack. He’s doing a lot of things — other than what the results are showing — that are allowing him to have success."

Shortly after Soler’s assist, the game was suspended due to rain with the scored tied at 3 in the top of the seventh.

Cubs.com

Cubs’ youth movement moving full steam ahead

Promotions of prospects like Soler, Baez has club playing its best ball of ‘14

Phil Rogers

CHICAGO — The Pirates were off on Thursday, which worked well before their weekend series at Wrigley Field.

"We had to crunch a lot of video," said manager Clint Hurdle.

When the Pirates last played in Chicago, on the second day of summer, the Cubs looked a whole lot different than they do now. The lineup that took the field Friday afternoon included only two players who were in the Major Leagues at the start of the season: third baseman Luis Valbuena and catcher John Baker.

And, as has been the case for about three weeks now, the reinforcements have been holding their own just fine, thank you.

Beginning with the promotion of Arismendy Alcantara on July 9, when Darwin Barney left on paternity leave, the Cubs have been steadily infusing prospects from their highly-regarded farm system into manager Rick Renteria’s lineup.

The results have been so promising that Wednesday night’s game against the Brewers was the second-highest rated game on WGN-TV this season.

Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Alcantara have combined to deliver 18 home runs and 47 RBIs in 362 Major League at-bats. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks, a Dartmouth product acquired from the Rangers who might be the next Orel Hershiser, has gone 6-1 with a 2.02 ERA in 10 starts and earned National League Rookie of the Month honors in August.

And, yes, the Cubs have just scratched the surface of the young talent that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of player development Jason McLeod have been assembling since they arrived three years ago.

They could have also called up third baseman Kris Bryant, who seems poised to follow in the footsteps of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Instead, they opted to leave the third baseman in Triple-A Iowa, most likely delaying his free agency from the fall of 2020 to ‘21.

Bryant, who was the Arizona Fall League’s Most Valuable Player Award winner a year ago, has been a beast since he arrived from the University of San Diego as the second overall pick in the 2013 Draft. He hit .325 with 43 homers (tops in the Minors), 110 RBIs and a 1.098 OPS in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A this year, but Epstein didn’t give him a roster spot.

That’s one reason for the Pirates and the Cubs’ other opponents — including the Cardinals, Dodgers and Brewers — to count their blessings.

By the time Bryant does get to Wrigley Field — by next June, if not on Opening Day — he might find something Cub fans haven’t experienced since 2009: a winning team.

When Epstein unexpectedly promoted Baez on Aug. 5, the Cubs were 47-63. Baez homered against the Rockies in his debut — as Soler would against the Reds on Aug. 27 — and just like that, they became a lot more interesting.

Yes, Baez’s at-bats are adventures. He’s got Gary Sheffield’s bat speed without the ability to make consistent contact (so far, anyway) and looks bad at the plate more than any hitter this side of Justin Verlander. But the ball flies off his bat when he makes contact, and he’s as alert as anyone on the field. The Cubs have been fine since Baez shifted from second base to shortstop after Starlin Castro sprained his ankle, which could keep him out all year.

Chicago is playing its best baseball of the season in the last three weeks, going 12-6 with a roster that has become the youngest in the Major Leagues (26.5 average age).

"There’s no question that they’re a different team now," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "You always want to have fresh legs late in the season, and they’ve certainly got those in abundance.’

Thanks largely to to the play of Soler and a bunt single by Alcantara — pushed perfectly past Pirates starter Vance Worley — the Cubs were tied with the Pirates, 3-3, with one out in the top of the seventh inning on Friday. The game was suspended after a second rain delay, with forecasts showing another storm in the making for Friday night, and will be resumed on Saturday.

Soler has been positively on fire since his promotion from Iowa — well, actually before his promotion. Including his last four games for the I-Cubs, the 22-year-old Cuban has gone 24-for-44 with six homers, 13 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs over his last 12 games. He’s also flashed plus speed on the bases and a strong arm.

Soler went almost all the way to the right-field corner to field a drive by Jose Tabata in the sixth inning on Friday, then threw a strike to Baez to nail Tabata sliding into second base. That play helped preserve a tie that he had contributed to with a sacrifice fly off Worley in the third, after Valbuena was robbed of an RBI when his opposite-field drive one-hopped into the left-field ivy, where it was never seen again.

Second baseman Logan Watkins, another newcomer getting a chance to play with Castro sidelined, made an important play in the field in the fifth inning. Andrew McCutchen had stolen second base after a leadoff single but slid awkwardly, coming off the bat. Watkins kept the tag on him for an out — a rookie getting the best of the reigning NL MVP.

These are moments the Cubs will hold onto into the offseason. In the meantime, they hope to keep doing what they’ve been doing throughout September — making life uncomfortable for contenders.

Cubs.com

Recalled to Cubs, Olt aims to keep working

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Mike Olt, who hit a home run and a double on Thursday for Class A Kane County in a rehab game, was added to the Cubs’ active roster on Friday, and he returns with a more simplified approach at the plate.

Olt was on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, but he batted .139 and was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on July 22. He ended Iowa’s season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury before playing two games with Kane County, hitting a home run in each one.

"Just being back out there was a good thing, and I’m happy my hamstring has reacted the way it has," Olt said Friday of his brief stint with the Class A team.

Olt is expected to get the majority of playing time at first base while Anthony Rizzo nurses a lower back strain.

"That’s fine," Olt said. "It’s too bad Rizzo is down, but with more work, I’ll get more comfortable over there. It’s definitely a work in progress, but it’s coming along."

Olt’s hitting also is a work in progress, and he admitted to creating a lot of bad habits.

"I had to go down and make a physical adjustment," Olt said. "What I was doing up here wasn’t working. You get into a funk, and I went down there and changed it a little bit so it’s a little more simple. I’m able to make adjustments each pitch, instead of waiting until my second or third at-bat to try to make an adjustment. I think that’s a key to having success, especially up here."

Olt’s goal now is to build for the 2015 season.

"Adversity makes you a stronger player, person — so if anything, I’ve become a better baseball player and better person for going through everything I went through," he said.

Despite spending the past six weeks in the Minor Leagues, Olt continues to be tied for the National League lead among rookies in home runs (12), and he’s tied for sixth in RBIs. He batted .302 in 28 games with Iowa.

• Jeimer Candelario hit a walk-off RBI single in the 13th inning Thursday to lead Kane County to a 4-3 win over Wisconsin, and a sweep of the first round of the Midwest League playoffs. Candelario finished 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs.

Cubs.com

Pirates continuing playoff push vs. Cubs

Liriano, Doubront to duel after division foes finish suspended game

By Daniel Kramer

The Cubs have weathered more than 24 hours of rain delays this year.

The latest hiatus came during the seventh inning of Friday’s game against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, with the scored tied at 3. Play will resume at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday, an hour before the intended start time of Game 2 in the three-game weekend series.

Chicago is 22-15 since July 28, second only to Washington in the National League. Yet Pittsburgh is approaching its series at Wrigley Field this weekend like any for a team trying to surge toward a playoff spot. The Bucs are two games out of the second NL Wild Card spot, with Atlanta also one game ahead of them.

The Cubs, riding the production of their second-half callups, are enjoying the final stretch. In the last two weeks, the Cubs have swept two contenders, Baltimore and Milwaukee, and split a four-game series with the lurking Cardinals, who now sit atop the NL Central.

The Cubs have enjoyed recent success without their two All-Stars, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, the latter likely done for the season with a high left ankle sprain.

"It’s been a lot of fun," said manager Rick Renteria, 22 games from capping his first season. "There have been a lot of things — regardless of the record — there have been a lot of things during the course of the season that have been very gratifying.

"When you come in as a new person, I think people wonder if you’ll be consistent, if winning or losing will affect your everyday outlook. I hope we’ve maintained a pretty consistent outlook. I think that’s important. For the most part, I have no complaints."

Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano will make his 25th start Saturday, bringing with him a 3.91 ERA and a 3-10 record. Liriano is one of just 11 pitchers in Major League history with 20-plus starts, an ERA below 4.00 and no more than three victories.

"To me, it’s almost like revisiting Opening Day. No baggage. No numbers, everything fresh with clean scorecards," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said.

Left-hander Felix Doubront will make his second start for the Cubs after arriving in a trade with Boston on July 30. Doubront spend his first month with the Cubs on the disabled list with a left calf strain.

In his first start last Saturday, Doubront led the Cubs to a 5-1 win over the Cardinals after allowing one earned run on seven hits over seven innings in St. Louis.

Cubs: Olt back with Cubs after Minor League stint

Mike Olt returned to the Cubs on Friday for the first time since July 22 after a Minor League stint stemming from a hamstring injury and unsettled production.

Olt was on the Opening Day roster, but he was hitting .139 with 84 strikeouts in 187 at-bats when he was optioned. He was with Triple-A Iowa when its season ended on Monday, then he played two games with Class A Kane County this week, hitting a homer in each one.

"I had to go down and make a physical adjustment," Olt said. "What I was doing up here wasn’t working. You get into a funk, and I went down there and changed it a little bit, so it’s a little more simple. I’m able to make adjustments each pitch, instead of waiting until my second or third at-bat to try to make an adjustment. I think that’s key to having success, especially up here."

Olt will be splitting time with Chris Valaika at first base while Rizzo recovers from a lower back strain.

Pirates: Club focusing on big picture

Hurdle was asked of the team’s approach to a club like the Cubs, who started five rookies on Friday — all called up in the last two months.

"Our perspective needs to be to play the best baseball we can play, not what they’re doing," Hurdle said. "We’ve researched them, video of new people involved. Young team with energy — can’t be focused on what they might do. … we need to play our game, pitch certain way. Get our game in a better place."

Worth noting

• The Cubs enter Saturday’s suspended game riding a six-game win streak at Wrigley Field — their longest since a 14-game run from May 18-June 22, 2008.

• Andrew McCutchen is a lifetime .348 hitter at Wrigley Field, with 14 extra-base hits. McCutchen also has 11 homers against the Cubs since 2011, second only to the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday.

Cubs.com

Castillo scratched; Jackson continues throwing

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs catcher Welington Castillo was scratched from Friday’s suspended game because of low back tightness, something he’s been battling for a couple of weeks. Castillo has been on a roll, and he’s thrown out eight of the last 10 baserunners attempting to steal on him, dating to Aug. 12.

"I told them, ‘Let me try, let me try,’" said Castillo, who felt his back tighten during batting practice. "They crossed me out of the lineup to prevent something bigger in the future. I told them, ‘I’m good to go [Saturday].’ They gave me one more day to get better."

Pitcher Edwin Jackson, sidelined since Aug. 21 with a right lat strain, is continuing to do side work with the hope that he can get in a game before the season ends.

"He’s still coming along," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Jackson before Friday’s opener vs. the Pirates. "We’ll continue to monitor him. We’re still looking forward. The goal is to get him back before the season ends."

First baseman Anthony Rizzo (lower back strain) and shortstop Starlin Castro (left ankle sprain) also were continuing to rehab their injuries.

Cubs.com

Zambrano enjoying life after baseball

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Carlos Zambrano said he tried to play catch recently, and it didn’t go too well. The former Cubs pitcher, who spent 11 seasons in Chicago, stopped by Wrigley Field on Friday. Can he still pitch?

"I don’t think so," said Zambrano, who has retired from the big leagues. "I think I can hit. I was telling one of the [Cubs] scouts that I was playing catch the other day after five months, and I felt like I was throwing a rock. I think I’m going to stay home, see what happens next year. God has the last word."

Zambrano, 33, is enjoying life with his family in Miami, and he is playing golf and fishing.

"I miss Chicago," Zambrano said. "When my kids get vacation from school, I ask them where they want to go on vacation, and they say ‘Chicago.’ You can tell how thankful they are from being in Chicago and growing up here."

Zambrano doesn’t follow the Cubs, but he said he did see Jorge Soler’s at-bat last week against the Reds.

"[Soler] looked good, good approach, and I like what I saw," Zambrano said.

Zambrano knows something about hitting, having belted 24 home runs in 12 big league seasons that included one year with the Marlins in 2012.

The right-hander, known as “Big Z,” will keep an eye on the future Cubs.

"Believe me, when the Cubs go to the World Series, I will be here," Zambrano said.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ Wada leaves game with injury

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada left Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth inning with a mild left calf strain, the club announced.

Wada had just given up a run-scoring double to Jose Tabata allowing the Pirates tie the game 2-2 before he left.

Pitcher Carlos Villanueva took over for Wada and promptly gave up a run scoring hit to Josh Harrison. The Pirates lead 3-2 in the fifth inning as the game is in a rain delay.

Wada is day-to-day, according to the team.

ESPNChicago.com

Mike Olt returns with a ‘fresh start’

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs infielder Mike Olt is back with the team and hoping a fresh start will make a difference for him this time around.

“I had to go down (to the minors) and make a physical adjustment. What I was doing up here wasn’t working,” Olt said before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. “I got into a funk, so I went down there and changed my swing a little bit, made it more simple.”

Olt was the popular pick to have a breakout season after winning a roster spot with a solid spring training, but then the struggles started despite showing off some power in the regular season. With the home runs came the strikeouts. Twelve balls left the park but many more got by him at the plate. He struck out in 40 percent of his at-bats — 84 times overall — before being sent down to Triple-A Iowa in July.

“Created a lot of bad habits and became a pull hitter,” Olt said of his first stint. “That’s just not my game.”

So he went to work and the hits started to come. He batted .302 with seven home runs in 28 games in the minors before going down with a hamstring injury. After a short rehab stint for Class-A Kane County he’s back with the Cubs for the final month of the season with a chance to play third or first base. But he has to have better at-bats. He thinks the time in the minors helped.

“I’m able to make adjustments on each pitch instead of waiting for my second and third at-bat,” he said. “That’s the key to having success, especially up here.”

Adjustments within an at-bat were exactly the thing Olt wasn’t able to do the first time around. Once he got down in the count, he was finished, and usually by strikeout. He hit .123 with runners on and just .139 overall. And no longer is he “next up” within the prospect base of the Cubs. He’ll have to take advantage of whatever playing time he gets.

“It’s a fresh start for me,” Olt declared. “I’m not going to look at numbers or anything like that.

“Adversity makes you a stronger person. You learn from it and you just don’t repeat it.”

ESPNChicago.com

Carlos Zambrano still loves Chicago, fans

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Looking happy and refreshed, former Chicago Cubs controversial pitcher Carlos Zambrano made an appearance at Wrigley Field on Friday, one day before participating in a charity softball event.

"Every time I come to Chicago it’s good to be here and feel the atmosphere of baseball," a smiling Zambrano said before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Zambrano was a polarizing figure during his 11 years in Chicago from 2001-2011 as his tenure ended after former general manager Jim Hendry suspended him after a meltdown in Atlanta when he told Cubs coaches he was retiring.

"I don’t play anymore," Zambrano joked. "It’s not my fault. No one can complain to me."

Zambrano hasn’t officially retired, but he’s not exactly working his way back into pitching shape.

"I was playing catch the other day after five months," he said. "I felt like I was throwing a rock … I think I can (still) hit."

Zambrano’s time with the Cubs was mixed with success and plenty of controversy. From 2003 to 2008 he won at least 13 games a season but fights with teammates and other volatile moments on and off the field highlighted his tenure. There were a few Gatorade buckets that felt Zambrano’s anger. But all that is in the past for him.

"Hundred twenty wins, good ERA, beside a bad episode, I love this town," Zambrano said. "I love the fans and this team."

We’re not sure which “bad episode” he’s referring to but despite Zambrano’s checkered history with the Cubs he seems welcome within the organization. That’s not the case for former Cub Sammy Sosa, who lives in the same city as Zambrano.

"Haven’t talked to him in a while," Zambrano said. "I know he’s in Miami."

There’s still not a clear picture as to why Sosa isn’t welcomed back. He had controversies as well but never fought teammates as openly as Zambrano did. Owner Tom Ricketts has said in the past that some mending of fences has to be done before there’s a Sosa return.

As for Zambrano, he’s not exactly following the Cubs but claims he’ll be there when they “go to the World Series.” He knows of their young talent.

"The other day I saw (Jorge) Soler," Zambrano said. "I saw him take an at-bat against (Jonathan) Broxton in Cincinnati. I liked what I saw, but I’m not a hitting coach."

Zambrano is content to “play golf and raise my kids” in Miami but is glad to be participating in the Larry A. Pogofsky Charity Softball Challenge on Saturday in Schamburg. He says he’ll play catcher.

"I don’t like to lose, remember," Zambrano declared with a wink.

CSNChicago.com

If Cubs win a World Series, Zambrano will be in Chicago

By TONY ANDRACKI

On a hot, muggy day at Wrigley Field, Carlos Zambrano surprised everybody by emerging out of the tunnel in the Cubs’ home dugout.

He came on his own volition, not on an official invite from the team. It’s not like the Cubs have welcomed back “Big Z” with open arms and not Sammy Sosa.

Zambrano is in town for the Larry A. Pogofsky charity softball game Saturday in Schaumburg.

The 33-year-old says he’s done with baseball, that playing catch feels “like I was throwing a rock.” But he does miss the ride.

"A little bit, yes. Being around and playing. I miss a lot of things," he said. "It’s part of who I was here. I used to love - and I still love - coming to Chicago and being with the Chicago Cubs. But now, I’m just in Miami, raising my kids and doing business."

Zambrano was a big part of some very good Cubs teams over the years, including the 2007-08 playoff teams and the infamous 2003 postseason run when the Cubs came five outs short of a World Series.

Zambrano left the team on bad terms, packing up his stuff and storming out of the visiting locker room after being removed from a game when the Cubs were in Atlanta in August 2011. He never pitched again with the Cubs, heading to Ozzie Guillen’s Miami Marlins for the 2012 season as Theo Epstein’s front office took over in Chicago and wanted a change in the clubhouse.

Three years later, Zambrano says he feels no ill will towards the Cubs. Reflecting back on his 11 seasons in Chicago, he said it’s mostly good memories.

"Of course, yeah," Zambrano said. "One hundred twenty wins here, a good ERA. Besides a bad episode, I love this town. I love the fans and I love the team. It’s good to be here."

And what about when - if - the Cubs finally win a World Series and end that century-long championship drought?

"I will come here [to Chicago]. Believe me, I will be here," he said. "When the Cubs go to the World Series, I will be here celebrating."

Zambrano accounted for 1,826.2 innings in a Cubs uniform, making 282 starts and 37 relief appearances. He was known as much for his tantrums - including his dust-up with former catcher Michael Barrett, throwing a ball into the bleachers at Wrigley to show his frustration with an umpire and murdering a Gatorade cooler in the dugout - as he was for his play on the field.

The clubhouse has completely changed since Zambrano was last playing on the North Side, with only Starlin Castro as the true holdover (Welington Castillo played 11 games in Chicago in 2010-11).

The Cubs have lost 273 games the last three seasons while Zambrano wore out his welcome in Miami and tried to make a comeback with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. He said he doesn’t follow the team - or baseball - at all, but did catch one of Jorge Soler’s at-bats randomly the other day.

"I don’t play anymore, man. It’s not my fault," he joked. "For the last three years, it’s not my fault. Nobody can complain to me."

Zambrano said he misses Chicago and admits he doesn’t know what the future holds for him. For now, he’s content to live life in Miami, fishing, taking care of his kids and playing golf.

"Life is good," he said.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs game suspended thanks to more wacky Chicago weather

By TONY ANDRACKI

The Cubs have now spent more than 24 hours — one full day — in rain delays during the 2014 season.

The Cubs and Pirates added another two hours to that total Friday when two different storms put a damper on the afternoon contest.

First, there was a 37-minute rain delay in the fifth inning wherein it did not actually rain at Wrigley Field. Then, after the game resumed, the storms hit and the game was halted again in the seventh, this time for almost an hour-and-a-half. The umpires and Major League Baseball finally decided to suspend the game around 5:45 p.m.

That means the Cubs and Pirates will resume action Saturday at 2 p.m. tied at 3 with one out in the top of the seventh inning.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria admitted it was the right decision but said he never gets used to all the delays.

"(Reporters) keep asking me if there’s anything (unexpected) in my first year as manager and today, I was thinking about it," Renteria said. "After the first rain delay, I thought, this is what’s been different. It’s something that we have to deal with, obviously.

"Not me, those guys. The players are the ones that have to deal with the delays. Getting up, sitting down, getting ready. And they’ve done a great job. They’ve dealt with it with the least amount of complaints."

This is the second suspended game of the year for the Cubs, who also had to make up a game with the Giants in August after TarpGate and a successful appeal from San Francisco.

"We’ve been having some bad luck with all the rain delays and all the long games," said Cubs catcher Welington Castillo, who was scratched from Friday’s lineup with back tightness but says he’s good to go Saturday. "But it will be fine. We have a lot of young guys that can handle it.

"I can’t control (the weather). That’s coming from the sky," Castillo joked. "What can I do? We’re in Chicago."

CSNChicago.com

Mike Olt ready for a fresh start with Cubs

By TONY ANDRACKI

Five months ago, Mike Olt was maybe the most intriguing storyline on the Cubs - a former top prospect who was trying to find his way again and could become part of “The Core.”

The Cubs called Olt back up to the big leagues Friday and really, that same storyline is still intact. Olt is 26 now and hasn’t played in the majors since being demoted to Triple-A Iowa in late July.

MLB rosters expanded last Monday, but Olt was getting over a hamstring issue and spent a couple games with Class-A Kane County on a rehab stint, hitting two homers in the Cougars’ playoff run.

"It’s a fresh start for me," he said. "I’m not going to look at numbers or anything like that. I’m just going to try to get in there and keep doing what I’m doing. Learn from everything and build for next year."

In 72 games with Chicago, Olt flashed his prodigious power (12 homers) but had only 10 singles and struck out 84 times in 187 at-bats.

He seems to have found his stroke again back in the minors, hitting .302 with a .933 OPS, seven homers and 24 RBI in 28 games with Triple-A Iowa.

"I had to go down and make a physical adjustment," he said. "What I was doing up here wasn’t working. You get into a funk. I went down there and changed my swing a bit. Made it so it’s a little more simple.

"I’m able to make adjustments each pitch now instead of waiting for my second or third at-bat to make an adjustment. I think that’s the key to kind of hanving success, especially up here."

Olt, the 2012 Texas Rangers minor league player of the year, was rated the No. 22 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season. But his career was almost derailed with vision/eye issues last year and the Rangers included him in the Matt Garza deal in July 2013.

Olt looked to be on his way back up, earning a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster after a strong spring training. But his slump only worsened as the regular season went along. He was just 5-for-66 (.076 average) from May 28 through July 22 (his last game before the demotion).

"Adversity makes you a stronger player, person," he said. "So, if anything, I’ve become a better baseball player, a better person from going through everything I went through and you just learn from it and you just don’t repeat it."

Olt had some fun down in the minors, playing alongside Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Manny Ramirez in Triple-A and then getting injected into the Cougars’ playoff race after a stint on the disabled list.

He said he’s healthy now and spent the time in the minors working on his swing, getting back to hitting the ball with authority to the right side of the field.

"That’s always been my strength," he said. "I created a lot of bad habits and became more of a pull hitter when I was up here before. And that’s just not my game, so the fact that I’m using that part of the field now helps me contribute way more often."

Luis Valbuena has held down the fort at third base while Olt was away and has been playing well of late. But with Anthony Rizzo sidelined due to a back injury, there is an opening at first with the Cubs.

"I think he’ll play some first base," manager Rick Renteria said. "We’ll take it day-to-day, see how his legs are doing."

Olt called his defense at first base a “work in progress,” but it will give him a chance to get on the field. The Cubs still need to see what they have in him to determine if he fits into the franchise’s future plans at all.

"I just want to finish strong and keep building on what I did in the minor leagues," Olt said. "Just continue to learn from everything and get better for next year."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Pierce Johnson learning to ride the ups and downs

By TONY ANDRACKI

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

That old adage always pops up this time of year in the baseball world and it fits just fine with Pierce Johnson’s season, too.

Johnson, one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects, got a delayed start to his 2014 campaign thanks to a hamstring injury and only appeared in six games before landing on the disabled list again with a calf injury in late May.

But he finished strong, earning the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the month award for August while going 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in six starts with Double-A Tennessee.

"It was a little frustrating," Johnson admitted to Tennessee Smokies radio broadcaster Mick Gillispie. "Especially the fact that I worked really hard this offseason to put on weight, get stronger and come in this year really prepared. Nothing I can do about it. It’s just a little hiccup."

Johnson, the Cubs’ supplemental-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft (43rd overall), found his name on preseason top prospect rankings. Despite the injuries, he managed to make 20 appearances (19 starts) this season.

The 23-year-0ld righty finished 5-5 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, allowing only 64 hits in 102.2 innings while striking out 99 batters. He credited his defense playing behind him while also admitting the movement he gets on his pitches - namely his fastball - plays a big part in inducing soft contact.

But Johnson has struggled with his control in his professional career, walking four batters per nine innings. He was well above that pace in 2014, shooting all the way up to 5 BB/9.

Johnson knows he has to work on his control and said he hopes to iron some things out and possibly make the leap to the majors at some point in 2015.

The Cubs have a slew of elite position-player prospects, but they don’t have much in the way of high-end pitchers in the system. Johnson and Tennessee teammate C.J. Edwards are the top two pitching prospects in an organization looking for some young arms to pair with all the sluggers.

"It makes me want to work a little harder because I know I’ve got a great opportunity ahead of me," Johnson told Gillispie. "It’s fun to see guys like [Kyle] Hendricks and [Dallas] Beeler go up there and do really well because those are guys that I know.

"Hopefully I’m not far behind. I’m happy to see them doing it and hopefully I can be with them soon enough."

Johnson will turn 24 in May and he’s seen how the Cubs have rebuilt the system, playing alongside guys like Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell.

Can this be the group to help the Cubs reach the promised land? Johnson thinks so.

"If the lineup pans out with all the position players, I think everybody is going to hit 30 home runs. It’s crazy," he said. "… There will probably be some trades coming up, but in all honesty, I think we have a good core group of guys who can break the curse."

Tribune

Confidence and quality at-bats key for Jorge Soler

Fred Mitchell

Baseball is a game of failure, or at least trying to handle it.

Those players who can maintain a strong level of confidence throughout an arduous season are a step ahead of the competition.

Rookie Jorge Soler has provided a small but impressive sample size on the major league level thus far. The Cubs right fielder exudes confidence and so far that has helped him on the field.

When he drove in a run in the third inning of Friday’s 3-3 suspended game against the Pirates with a sacrifice fly, he became the first major league player since Buddy Blair of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1942 to produce either an extra-base hit or an RBI in each of his first eight major league games.

"The biggest thing is he is having really great at-bats," manager Rick Renteria said. "He really has a solid approach, a good sense of being in the (batter’s) box.

"He also has a really good feel in the outfield. When you see him out there you know he is throwing to the right bases, you know he is attacking balls that he has to attack. He is doing a lot of things other than what the results are showing."

Soler showed off his arm in the sixth inning Friday when Jose Tabata lined a hit into the right field corner. Almost as if daring Tabata to try for a double, Soler retrieved the ball, planted his feet and fired a perfect one-hop throw to second base that nailed Tabata easily.

"Does the (early success) alleviate in some way some potential pressure that might be developing once you get here? Probably," Renteria said. "Confidence is one of those unmeasured aspects that separates a lot of players. He certainly has a lot of confidence right now."

Former Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who took self confidence to an extreme, visited the Cubs dugout before Friday’s game. He said he does not follow baseball closely now, but he did take notice of Soler when the Cubs played the Reds last week.

"He looked good," Zambrano said. "He has a good approach. I liked what I saw. But I am not a hitting coach."

Speaking of Zambrano: “Big Z” is in town to participate in a charity softball game this weekend. Asked if he feels he still could pitch in the big leagues, he said: “I don’t think so. I think I can hit. I was telling one of the (Cubs) scouts that I was playing catch the other day after five months, and I felt like I was throwing a rock. I think I’m going to stay home, see what happens next year.”

Zambrano lives in Miami now with his wife and children.

Work in progress: Third baseman Mike Olt returned Friday from his injury rehab assignment at Class A Kane County.

Olt hit .139 with four doubles, 12 home runs and 30 RBI in 72 games before being optioned to Triple-A Iowa on July 22. He hit .302 with nine doubles, seven homers and 24 RBIs in 28 games before suffering a hamstring strain. He hit a home run in each of his last two games at Kane County.

"I had to make a physical adjustment," said Olt, who pinch-hit and grounded out in the fifth inning Friday. "You get into a funk, and I went down (to Triple A) and changed a little bit so it’s a little simpler. I’m able to make adjustments each pitch instead of waiting until my second or third at-bat to try to make an adjustment. That’s a key to having success, especially up here."

Not yet: Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson still is sidelined with a muscle strain near his right shoulder he sustained Aug. 21.

"He’s still coming along," Renteria said. "The goal is to get him back before the season ends."

Extra innings: Catcher Welington Castillo was a late scratch before Friday’s game because of tightness in his lower back. “I will be back (Saturday),” Castillo said. … Tsuyoshi Wada left after 31/3 innings Friday because of left calf cramping in the extreme heat (88 degrees) and humidity.

Tribune

Friday’s recap: Cubs-Pirates suspended tied 3-3

Staff

The summary

Friday’s Cubs-Pirates game was suspended tied 3-3 with one out in the top of the seventh inning and will resume at 2 p.m. Saturday.

It’s the Cubs’ second suspended game this season, with the first Aug. 19 against the Giants in a game the Cubs eventually won.

The game first was interrupted in the top of the fifth inning when dark clouds hovered and the grounds crew pro-actively covered the infield with the tarp. After that 37-minute delay in which no rain fell, the game was resumed until the rain hit hard in the seventh.

The Cubs have endured more than 24 hours of rain delays covering 17 games this season.

At the plate

Chris Valaika tied it 3-3 with an RBI single in the fifth. Arismendy Alcantara has hit safely in seven of his last eight home games.

On the mound

Tsuyoshi Wada allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and left after 31/3 innings with cramping in his left calf.

In the field

The Pirates have committed two errors through six innings, allowing the Cubs to score an unearned run.

The quote

Rick Renteria on the many rain delays: “You (media) guys have been asking me what has been different this year. And, today, I was thinking about it. After the first rain delay, I thought: This is what has been different.”

Up next

Pirates (Liriano 3-10, 3.91) at Cubs (Doubront (1-0, 1.29), 3:05 p.m., Saturday, CSN.

Sun-Times

Cubs’ youngsters will see steady diet of contenders

BY DAVID JUST

The Cubs are focused in these final weeks on developing all the young talent that has filled the ­clubhouse.

Their schedule should give them all the experience they can handle.

The Cubs, who are outperforming nearly every team in the National League the last five weeks, will play all but three of their remaining games against playoff ­contenders.

The stretch not only will provide good training to the rookies, but could serve as an early litmus test of what’s to come in 2015.

“These guys are just going out there and taking care of business,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We’re not naïve, we know how it affects the landscape of postseason play for a lot of clubs.

“These guys are really just ­concentrating on playing the game and letting that aspect of it take care of itself. … Even if we were in contention, I’d just want these guys to play the game.”

The challenging final month continued Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the game was suspended after two weather delays with a 3-3 tie in the top of the seventh. The game will resume at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wrigley Field.

The Pirates entered the weekend 1 ½ games out of the second wild-card spot. They face the Cubs six more times, including Saturday’s doubleheader.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who experienced a dose of the Cubs’ spoiler potential after being swept this week, are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the second wild-card spot and four games out of the NL Central lead. The Brewers and the Cubs will meet again in the final weekend.

The Cubs have won 22 games since July 28, a feat only the National League East-leading Washington Nationals have matched.

So despite the Cubs’ spot in the cellar of the NL Central, the team won’t provide a respite for those in contention.

“We think about that and being able to face those teams in playoff races is good experience,” Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada said through a translator. “It’s an honor to be in that situation.”

Wada pitched 3 1/3 innings before exiting with mild cramping in his left calf. He surrendered three hits, three runs, two earned, and struck out two. After the game Wada said his leg felt fine.

Jorge Soler has spearheaded the Cubs’ most recent surge, and he continued to impress on Friday.

The rookie drove in the Cubs’ first run with a sacrifice fly to right field in the second inning. He became the first player with an extra-base hit or an RBI in each of his first eight games since Buddy Blair of the 1942 Philadelphia Athletics.

Soler also showcased his arm by throwing out Jose Tabata with a long peg to second base from deep right field after a single in the sixth.

“The more that you see all these young men play,” Renteria said, “there are things we notice about them that are good, other things that can be improved upon, but certainly they give you what they have.”

Other contenders remaining on the Cubs schedule include the Blue Jays (4 ½ games out of the wild-card spot), Dodgers (two games up in NL West) and Cardinals (four games up in NL Central).

All but six of the Cubs’ games will be against teams in first place or within 1 ½ games of a playoff spot.

NOTES: Mike Olt was back with the team for the first time since July 22. He did not play, but Rick Renteria said Olt will see time at first base this month.

◆ Catcher Welington Castillo was a late scratch from the starting lineup with stiffness in his back. He is considered day-to-day and said he would be available Saturday.

◆ The Cubs have had more than 24 hours worth of rain delays.

Daily Herald

Rain, rain just won’t go away

Bruce Miles

Twenty-four hours.

One full day.

While riding out a second storm Friday at Wrigley Field, the Cubs made an announcement that they now have “enjoyed” a full 24 hours of rain delays this season.

We’re not sure if that’s a milestone to be celebrated or not, but the Cubs have endured some doozies this season, including a 6-hour, 31-minute delay over a couple of days with the Giants last month that prompted a protest.

There were a pair of delays Friday, forcing the suspension of the Cubs’ game against the Pirates until 2 p.m. Saturday. The two teams already are scheduled for a 3 p.m. Saturday game.

The suspended contest will resume in the top of the seventh inning with the scored tied at 3-3.

"I don’t know if you ever get used to it," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "I think it was a sound decision. We have some more weather coming. I think it was the right thing to do for everyone."

Friday was a strange one all the way around. Shortly after 3 p.m., the skies darkened and the wind whipped up. Umpires called for the grounds crew to put the tarp down. That delay lasted 37 minutes, but most of the water blew over.

After play resumed, the clouds opened suddenly about 4:25, prompting another delay. It rained off and on, but umpires eventually inspected the field and suspended the game.

Renteria has been asked to reflect on his first year as manager. He said the weather has been a hallmark.

"You guys keep asking me if there’s anything in my first year as a manager, and today I was thinking about it," he said. "After the first rain delay, I thought, ‘This is what’s been different.’ It’s something that we have to deal with obviously. Not me, those guys (the players). The players are the ones who have to deal with all the delays and getting up and sitting down and getting ready.

"They’ve doe a great job, actually. They’ve dealt with it with the least amount of complaints, quite frankly. They could very easily use it as something to complain about."

As far as the game itself, the Cubs lost starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada in the fourth inning because of “mild left-calf cramping.” He gave up 3 hits in 3⅓ innings, and the Pirates scored twice in the fourth to take a 3-2 lead.

"No problem at all right now," Wada said afterward through his translator. "This was something that I experienced in Japan in the past as well. So I just felt that it kind of came up again."

The Cubs scored twice in the third inning, getting a sacrifice fly from Jorge Soler and scoring another run on an error. They tied the game in the fifth on an RBI single by Chris Valaika.

For Soler, he has recorded at least 1 RBI in seven of his first eight big-league games. He is the first player since Buddy Blair of the 1942 Philadelphia Athletics to record at least 1 RBI and / or 1 extra-base hit in each of his first eight career games.

Soler also had an assist from right field in the sixth, throwing out Jose Tabata trying to stretch a single into a double.

Daily Herald

Zambrano drops by the Friendly Confines

Bruce Miles

Former Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano paid a visit to Wrigley Field before Friday’s game.

Zambrano said hello to Cubs people and did his usual friendly sparring with the media. Now 33 and out of baseball, Zambrano looked to be in good physical shape. But could he still pitch?

"I don’t think so," he said.

How about hitting?

"I think so, yeah," he answered enthusiastically. "I was telling one of the scouts that I was playing catch the other day, and I felt like I was throwing a rock."

Zambrano spent 11 seasons with the Cubs, from 2001-11. He put up a record of 125-81 with a 3.60 ERA. The Cubs traded him to the Marlins before the 2012 season, and he finished his career in Miami that year, going 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA.

"I miss Chicago, yes," he said. "When my kids get vacation from school, I ask them where they want to go on vacation, and they say Chicago. You can tell how thankful they are from being in Chicago and growing up here."

Zambrano had several tempestuous moments with the Cubs, including walking out on the team in 2011. As for the team’s record since then, he takes no blame.

"It’s not my fault," he said. "It’s three years. It’s not my fault."

Cubs call up Olt:

As expected, third baseman-first baseman Mike Olt was recalled from Class AAA Iowa. Olt spent the previous two days rehabbing with the Kane County Cougars after suffering a hamstring injury while with Iowa.

Olt hit 2 homers in two days to help the Cougars advance to the second round of the Midwest League playoffs.

He started the year with the Cubs and hit 12 home runs, but he also batted .139 with 84 strikeouts in 212 plate appearances. That prompted the Cubs to option him to Iowa in late July. He suffered a hamstring injury while at Iowa.

"I became more of a pull hitter when I was up here before, and that’s not my game," he said. "The fact that I’m using the other field now helps contribute (to better results).

"Adversity makes me a stronger player, person. If anything, I’ve become a better baseball player and a better person from going through everything I went through."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Olt will get some playing time at first base. Chris Valaika has been filling in at first for Anthony Rizzo, who is out indefinitely with a back ailment.

This and that:

Catcher Welington Castillo was a late lineup scratch because of low-back tightness. John Baker started in place of Castillo. The Cubs are carrying three catchers, with Rafael Lopez with the team as a September call-up.

"I’ve been feeling like that for the last two weeks," said Castillo, who added he’d be ready to play Saturday. "Just a little tightness."

Daily Herald

Pirates-Cubs suspended by rain, restarts Saturday

Bruce Miles

Another game, another set of rain delays at Wrigley Field.

Dark skies and high winds hit the ballpark shortly after 3 p.m. Friday and halted the game between the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates for 47 minutes. Little rain fell, but umpires were cautious because of the lightning, dark clouds and winds.

Just before 4:30, the skies opened again, and umpires eventually suspended the game until 2 p.m. Saturday, one hour ahead of the regularly scheduled game.

The Cubs and Pirates were tied at 3-3 after six innings.

Cubs starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada left the game with one out in the fourth inning with what the Cubs said was mild cramping in his left calf. Wada gave up 3 hits and 3 runs, 2 earned. He was relieved by Carlos Villanueva.

The Pirates opened the scoring in the first inning. Josh Harrison led off with a double. Wada got two outs before Harrison scored on a throwing error by third baseman Luis Valbuena.

The Cubs took a 2-1 lead in the third. Arismendy Alcantara led off with a double. One out later, Valbuena doubled into the vines, forcing Alcantara to stop at third. Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly scored Alcantara. After Chris Coghlan walked, Valbuena scored on a throwing error by Pirates third baseman Harrison on Chris Valaika’s grounder.

Wada ran into trouble in the fourth. Neil Walker walked with one out and scored on Jose Tabata’s double to center, a ball that fooled Alcantara, who broke in, only to see the ball sail over his head and to the wall. After pitcher Vance Worley struck out. Harrison doubled home Tabata.

08 9 / 2014

Daily Herald

Olt eager to rejoin Cubs

Bruce Miles

Mike Olt sounded eager Thursday to get back with the Cubs.

Olt finished up an injury rehab assignment by playing first base for the Kane County Cougars in Game 2 of their Midwest League playoff series against Wisconsin. On Friday, the Cubs will recall him to the major-league roster.

Olt has been playing for the Cubs’ Class AAA Iowa affiliate, where he was sent July 22 after struggling at the plate. In the first game of the playoff with the Cougars on Wednesday, Olt was 2-for-3 with a 3-run homer. He had been on Iowa’s disabled list with a strained left hamstring.

"I’m excited," he said after finishing batting practice. "I want to end the year on a good note. Start fresh. I’m going to try to go in there with a whole-other-season (mindset). Just finish this month strong and build from what I learned this season and get strong and better for next year."

In 212 plate appearances with the Cubs, mainly as a third baseman, Olt had a line of .139/.222/.353 with 12 home runs and 30 RBI. He also had 84 strikeouts.

During the 2013 season in both the Texas Rangers’ and Cubs’ systems, he battled vision problems.

"I made some adjustments down in Triple-A," he said. "My body feels good. I feel like I’m going after pitches and doing damage to the ones up in the zone and not missing them like I was in the big leagues."

He said past problems had nothing to do with his struggles with the Cubs this year.

"I wasn’t picking up the pitches well; it had nothing to do with my eyesight," he said. "I created a lot of bad habits with my swing. I had a huge leg kick, and my head was moving a lot. Going back to Triple-A, I started with the basics. I widened my stance up. I don’t have a leg kick as much anymore. I’ve been more consistent figuring out if I’m on time or not. That was the big problem up there. I couldn’t judge if I was on time with the pitcher until maybe the fourth pitch. By that time, you’re 0-2."

Olt credited Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper with helping him get back to some basics. In 115 plate appearances with the I-Cubs, he went .302/.348/.585 with 7 homers, 24 RBI and 33 strikeouts.

"I think it was a good thing," he said. "I think they did the right thing sending me down. I’m not going to get discouraged over something like that. I’m just going to get better. I got down there and worked hard. Harper did a good job trying to go back to the basics and start small and building up."

Finding the winning way:

Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks made an interesting comment after Wednesday night’s 6-2 victory over the Brewers. Hendricks came up from Iowa July 10 and has gone 6-1 with a 2.02 ERA.

He was asked about the attitude in the Cubs clubhouse in light of their recent winning ways.

"There’s a lot of energy," he said. "When I first came up, it’s not like there was a lack of energy, but it’s almost like we’re expecting to win more (now). Just having a lot of young guys in here, we’re just all trying to play as best we can to kind of make our stand.

"At the same time, we won down in the minor leagues, so we kind of have that bred into us that we need to win and we want to win. Having that along with the good veteran we have around here, it’s just been a good mix so far, and it’s worked."

Kane County manager Mark Johnson said that’s what the organization is trying to stress.

"Absolutely," he said. "We’ve been emphasizing the winning culture and coming to the field every day to get better and improve and to try to win ballgames. When you try to get better individually, defensively, mentally, physically, on and off the field, that’s what we try to incorporate and hopefully it happens. It’s been big point of emphasis with the Cubs and the Cubs way."

Daily Herald

Cubs raise 2015 season-ticket prices on best seats

Bruce Miles

The Cubs sent out season-ticket invoices Thursday, and there are price increases for some of the most popular seating areas.

According to the Cubs, “nearly 80 percent of our Season Ticket Holder invoices are going down or staying flat.”

Season ticket prices will increase, however, in the popular Club, Field and lower Terrace Reserved Infield sections, which Cubs officials consider as “some of the best seats” at Wrigley Field. According to the Cubs, the average increase in these popular seats is 6 percent.

While Cubs officials point out this is the first increase in four years since the Ricketts family assumed ownership, the team also has not has a winning season since 2009, and attendance at Wrigley Field has shown an annual decline since 2008.

The Cubs began the 2014 season with the third highest average ticket price ($44.16) in Major League Baseball, and the highest in the National League, according to figures compiled by Team Marketing Report for its 2014 MLB Fan Cost Index. In addition, average attendance at Wrigley has fallen every year from the 2008 season (40,743) to 2013 (32,626), according to baseball-reference.com. Attendance this season, which has included a yearlong 100th anniversary celebration at Wrigley Field, is slightly up with the Cubs averaging 32,649 per game through 68 games.

There also are several new elements to the renewal process this year, according to Cubs officials, including an earlier time line for payment. Ten percent must be paid by Oct. 13, with the final balance due Jan. 13, 2015.

Here are the key points:

Invoice timing:

"First, we moved up the release of Season Ticket Holder invoices by a month based on overwhelming feedback to add more time between the invoice release date and final payment due date," according to the statement by Cubs officials. "The final payment due date will be January 13, 2015 adding an extra month of time in the collection process for final payment."

Invoice format:

"We have also changed the format of the Season Ticket invoices for 2015. Previously, the Season Ticket invoice was sent via email as an attachment with several pages of information that needed to be printed and returned. To eliminate the cumbersome and time-consuming printing process, the 2015 Season Ticket invoice is hosted on a personalized webpage. As part of this new feature, Season Ticket Holders can share with this web portal with ticket partners. The webpage is organized with tabs to allow Season Ticket Holders to easily access information about their account and the renewal process."

Here is a sample link provided by the Cubs to show what ticketholders will see.

New installment-plan option:

While season ticket holders can utilize the traditional option of one early 10 percent payment followed by the 90 percent balance due Jan. 13, 2015, the Cubs also have a balanced payment option as well.

"Wwe are offering a four-month installment plan with 25 percent of your Season Ticket balance due at each payment date," according to the Cubs.

Fans who purchase the Double Play Plan also will see a slight increase due to one additional game being added, Cubs officials said. Those who purchase the Combination Plan, however, will have a slight decrease in cost due to one fewer game in that package.

Cubs.com

Cubs scout knew Soler was special from start

Eljaua, who first saw rookie in ‘09, not surprised by motivated outfielder’s emergence

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Louie Eljaua remembers the first time he saw Jorge Soler in 2009, and he recalls how impressed he was at the then-teenage outfielder’s size and skills. And Eljaua isn’t surprised that Soler has made a smooth transition to the big leagues, saying the 22-year-old was motivated after seeing five Cuban players in this year’s All-Star Game.

"[Soler] felt he could be as good or better as those guys," said Eljaua, special assistant to the general manager and director of international operations for the Cubs. "He said, ‘Maybe I’ll be there next year.’"

The Cubs would like to see Soler included among the elite players. Could he be an All-Star in 2015? Anything’s possible.

Since Soler’s promotion from Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 27, the Cubs’ No. 5-ranked prospect has been on the fast track. He is 12-for-26 with five doubles and three home runs, and on Wednesday, he hit a two-run double in the Cubs’ 6-2 win over the Brewers. Soler has at least one RBI in six of his first seven big league games, and he is the second player in franchise history with at least 10 or more RBIs in his first seven career games. He’s the first in Major League Baseball with an extra-base hit and an RBI in his first four big league games.

On Friday, Soler’s parents and his younger sister will be at Wrigley Field to see him play there for the first time. It’s been a long journey.

Eljaua was in Venezuela scouting a junior national baseball tournament in September 2009 when he first saw Soler, who was starting in left for the Cuban team. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were on the U.S. squad, which beat the Cubans twice, including a 6-1 win in the championship. Soler homered in the first meeting with the U.S. squad.

"He was impressive from a baseball standpoint, a tools standpoint," Eljaua said. "We see all kinds of players, all shapes and sizes, but when you see a kid that physically impressive and strong with the tools, it gets your attention. He played third base at the time. When we were scouting him in the Dominican, we let him take ground balls at third because it was his favorite position at the time."

Cubs fans can relax — Soler won’t be challenging top prospect Kris Bryant for third base next year.

Eljaua said the Cubs were scouting both Yoenis Cespedes and Soler in 2012.

"Probably Soler was a better fit for us for what we were trying to accomplish building the organization, signing players for the future, acquiring young talent," Eljaua said. "That’s not to say we didn’t like Cespedes, because we did, but if we had to fit one or the other, this was a better fit."

The Cubs eventually signed Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012, and the assimilation began.

"When we signed him, we thought he’d be a guy who could come relatively quick because of his tool set, because of his advanced strike-zone awareness," Eljaua said. "He’s been a kid who showed you the ability to put together good at-bats and not be a free swinger. He has strike-zone discipline and knowledge.

"All the great hitters have that innate ability to be selectively aggressive, if you want to call it that. He always had that ability and showed that to us."

But Eljaua was a little surprised at how quickly Soler advanced this year because of setbacks with injuries. The outfielder was limited to 55 games last season because of a fractured left shin, and in his first at-bat with Double-A Tennessee this year, he suffered a right hamstring strain. Soler spent a majority of the season in Mesa, Ariz., to rehab at the Cubs’ spring complex. The medical staff did more than strengthen his legs; they overhauled his diet, his posture, how he runs.

It was when Soler rejoined Tennessee that he proclaimed it was his time, and he produced, batting .415 in 22 games there. And he then batted .282 in 32 games at Triple-A Iowa before his callup.

"I always knew if he stayed on the field consistently, it would be a matter of time before he would get here," Eljaua said, sitting in the Cubs’ dugout at Wrigley Field.

Soler is motivated. His father came to the U.S. when Soler did in 2012, and his mother and sister just joined them this year. Soler also is expecting his first child, due Sept. 15.

"Everything came to fruition at the same time, and he stayed healthy and really took off," Eljaua said.

Eljaua is Cuban, although he was born in the U.S. His parents were able to obtain a visa in the 1960s. Eljaua has not talked to Soler about the de

tails of his defection. It’s personal.

"I know it’s not an easy decision or an easy choice to make," Eljaua said.

In April 2013 while playing for Class A Advanced Daytona, Soler was in the headlines for the wrong reasons when he was suspended five games for approaching the opposing team’s dugout wielding a bat.

"Some of the stuff that was written about him that happened last year is out of character for him," Eljaua said. "It’s part of the learning curve and process of being in this country. The Cubans have a little different learning process because of where they come from, the culture, the political situation, what they have access to, what they don’t have access to.

"It takes a while to adjust to things in this country, both on the field and off the field," he said. "That’s true of the Latin kids in general, but I would say with the Cubans, there are different challenges that some kids don’t face."

Eljaua said some of the details of the incident were exaggerated, but he would not go into details. He did not expect to ever see Soler have an outburst like that again.

"We know the type of kid he is, and he’s a good kid," Eljaua said.

In the offseason, Soler will return to Florida to be with his family. Several of the Cuban Major Leaguers live near each other and train together. That also helps in the transition to the big leagues.

"He’s a good-looking kid, great smile, good personality," Eljaua said of Soler. "As an organization, as people who were involved in the whole process with him, it’s fun to watch and hopefully just a glimpse of things to come."

Cubs.com

New portal allows Cubs fans to see 2015 seats online

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs season-ticket holders will be able to view their 2015 seats online through a new interactive portal, which was sent via e-mail on Thursday and details the pricing and includes a message from manager Rick Renteria, plus highlights from the 2014 season.

For the past three years, the Cubs have opened up Wrigley Field in the offseason to give season-ticket holders a chance to relocate their seats. But Wrigley Field will be closed because of renovations, scheduled to begin Sept. 25, so season-ticket holders will only be able to view their options online.

Cubs.com

White Sox, Cubs help fund youth sports programs

Clubs contribute $250,000 apiece to support baseball, softball efforts in city

By Jake Kring-Schreifels

Chicago’s inner-city youth baseball and softball programs received another significant boost on Thursday, this time with support from the city and its Major League teams.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with city officials, announced $6.5 million in new investments for Chicago parks aided by the White Sox and Cubs, who joined forces with the Park District capital investment to each contribute $250,000 to keep expanding baseball and softball programming.

As part of the financial investment, Palmer Park, Tuley Park and Jackie Robinson Park Southwest Elementary will all receive new turf fields, concessions, restrooms and other renovations. Youth programming will also expand citywide to allow children more opportunities to participate in organized baseball and softball.

"Though professional baseball fan allegiances may at times split the city in half, I commend the White Sox and the Cubs for coming together with the city to support all of Chicago’s children, no matter the neighborhood," Emanuel said.

Cubs.com

Schwarber, Johnson earn Cubs’ monthly Minors honors

Class A catcher/outfielder hit .330 in August; righty had 1.72 ERA in six starts

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs named Class A Advanced Daytona catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber and Double-A Tennessee right-hander Pierce Johnson as the Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for August.

Schwarber, 21, batted .330 with 20 runs, 14 walks, eight doubles, eight homers and 17 RBIs in 28 August games for Daytona. He compiled a 15-game hitting streak from Aug. 14-27, going 25-for-60 (.417) with nine multihit efforts and 14 RBIs in that stretch.

The Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the June First-Year Player Draft and their No. 7-ranked prospect, Schwarber posted a .403 on-base percentage and a .660 slugging percentage, good for a 1.063 OPS, and was named the Florida State League Player of the Week for Aug. 18-24.

In 72 games this season between short-season Boise, Class A Kane County and Daytona, Schwarber batted .344 with 55 runs, 39 walks, 18 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs and 53 RBIs. He played 36 games in left field and caught 20 games, throwing out 11 of 32 (34 percent) stolen-base attempts.

Schwarber drove in six runs in Daytona’s two-game sweep of Dunedin in the first round of the Florida State League playoffs.

Johnson, 23, went 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA, giving up six earned runs over 31 1/3 innings, with 34 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP in six August starts for Tennessee. His .186 opponent batting average ranked fourth lowest among Southern League pitchers while his 1.72 ERA ranked fifth lowest. Johnson recorded three straight scoreless starts, Aug. 3-15, going 2-0 with 21 strikeouts and six hits and six walks allowed in 16 innings.

In his third pro season, Johnson, the Cubs’ No. 10 prospect, posted a 2.54 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) between Kane County and Tennessee. He was selected by the Cubs in the sandwich round (43rd overall) of the 2012 Draft out of Missouri State University.

ESPNChicago.com

Just how good was Soler’s first week?

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The list of Chicago Cubs rookie Jorge Soler’s early season accomplishments continues to grow with each game. And he will just be starting his second week in the big leagues when he takes the field Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Here’s what he has done so far in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, in going 12-for-26 (.462) including three home runs, five doubles and 10 RBIs through seven games:

• Over the past 60 years, only Yasiel Puig, Paul Molitor and Mitchell Page produced at least 10 hits and 10 RBIs in their first seven career games.

• Soler tied the modern major-league record for consecutive games with an extra-base hit from the start of a career with five. The only other players to accomplish that in each of their first five big-league games were Will Middlebrooks in 2012 and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter in 1938.

• Soler hit three home runs in his first three games. Javier Baez did the same earlier this season. The Cubs’ duo joined Joe Cunningham (1954) as the only three players since 1900 to go long three times that quickly.

• And Soler is the fourth player in history to have an RBI in at least six of his first seven major-league games.

Soler’s start is even better when you consider his age (22) and time in the minor leagues. Because of injuries he has totaled only one full season of at-bats despite being down on the farm from 2012 to ‘14.

"His at-bats are very close to what’s been described to what he’s been doing in the minor leagues," manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. "If you described them from the minor-league reports, it’s exactly what’s happening here right now. It’s a great thing to see."

That easy transition is the reason Soler is accomplishing so much. An initial burst has been followed up with plenty of good at-bats, even when the hits aren’t coming. Pitchers haven’t found a weakness as he has muscled balls to left field and also showed incredible power to the opposite field.

"He’s got a gift," Renteria said. "He’s got a great eye and is very calm in the box."

It’s important to understand the difference between Soler and fellow Cuban phenom Jose Abreu. Abreu came ready-made. He started this year with the White Sox at 27 years old with plenty of experience in Cuba. Soler is five years younger and with that much less time on the field.

"What he’s doing at that age and experience level is unbelievable," teammate Carlos Villanueva said.

And of course the difference between the starts Soler and Baez have had to their careers surrounds plate discipline and the swings and misses. Soler’s strikeout percentage is about 21 percent. Baez is nearly double that number. You get the feeling that gap between the two may always be there.

So what’s next for Soler? A hit on Friday would give him one in eight straight games. Only four players since 1920 have begun their careers with a hit in eight straight to go along with 10 or more RBIs. The last time it happened was 1993.

ESPN Stats & Information along with the Elias Sports Bureau should just monitor his every at-bat. At this rate, there’s bound to be a new accomplishment whenever he steps to the plate.

ESPNChicago.com

Starlin Castro proved ‘13 season was fluke

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Even if he doesn’t play another game this season, Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has already proved again he’s a near-elite player at his position.

Castro, who has a high ankle sprain but might not be finished for 2014, rebounded from a disastrous 2013 to make his third All-Star Game. More important, he may have won back a skeptical fan base.

"We give him a lot of credit because he’s had to take it on, and it’s been his responsibility to change the way people view him," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. "I think he’s done a really nice job."

Castro, 24, tied his career high in home runs with 14. His .292 batting average is nearly 50 points higher than last season, and the pressure of batting cleanup was never an issue for him. He batted .328 with runners on base and .286 with runners in scoring position. He did his job.

"He didn’t start off the way anybody would have wanted him to start off," Renteria said. "He kept working and grinding. His defense started to get better and his offense continued to take off. He worked himself back into an All-Star role again."

After getting into the best shape of his career over the winter, Castro injured a hamstring early in spring training. He missed most of the Cactus League but made sure he was ready for Opening Day. But was he? He went hitless in his first nine at-bats, then was 1-for-13 and 2-for-17. He just didn’t look comfortable at the plate. It was at this point you had to wonder if his previous bad year combined with his spring injury was going to get the best of him. Would we look back at 2014 and realize Castro’s year was derailed when he pulled that hamstring in Game 2 of spring training? He answered that quickly, going 7-for-his-next-12, and never looked back.

"In my mind’s eye, he’s had a very productive season," Renteria said. "He’s dealt with a lot of different things very positively. He’s worked extremely hard."

It sounded like a cliché late last season when Castro showed some signs of life and declared that he was getting back to “being myself.” The Cubs famously tried to get more power and plate discipline out of him, and it didn’t work. At least not on their timetable. Being himself has translated into numbers this season that are nearly identical to his numbers before the 2013 season, when he slumped to .245 with a .284 on-base percentage along with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs.

"He relaxed and was comfortable with who he is and where he’s at on the team," his agent Paul Kinzer said. "He communicates well with Renteria. He’s growing.

"He had fun again. That’s an important thing for those guys. They enjoy coming to the ballpark every day."

Castro is as happy-go-lucky as they come — and that attitude helps his game. It wasn’t the case late in 2013, especially on the day former manager Dale Sveum batted him eighth for the first time that season.

"I don’t like it there," Castro said with a scowl at the time. "He asked me if I like it, I told him no."

But that’s all in the past now. Castro’s numbers have rebounded.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.86) is in line with his production from 2010 to ‘12 as his overall walks and strikeouts have both gone up. But where he’s surpassed his old self is with his power. Maybe he saw better pitches batting behind Anthony Rizzo or maybe he felt the inherent need in the cleanup spot, but his home run percentage is a career-high 2.5 percent this season.

Same goes for his overall ability to drive the ball for extra-base hits. He squared more balls up this season, as his line-drive percentage went from 18.6 percent in 2013 to 25.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And where he was indecisive last season, often letting hittable fastballs go by, he’s hit .339 off them in 2014. That’s been the key to his resurgence.

The irony is it all happened on Castro’s timetable, not the Cubs’. It’s something team president Theo Epstein forecast nearly a year ago.

"Starlin is somebody we just want to be himself," Epstein said on Sept. 19, 2013. "He’s a pretty unique hitter. I think we made efforts to introduce him to the concept of getting pitches he can really drive, because in the long run that will benefit him. But if that can’t be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, then you just have to let time play its course and he’ll naturally evolve that way."

Castro has done just that. And defensively, it’s been a very good year for him as well. Errors never tell the whole story about a fielder, but in Castro’s case, there’s meaning. He committed a career-low 15 this season with a career-high .973 fielding percentage.

In the past, Castro had a tendency to make errors on the routine plays, sometimes from mental lapses. There were rushed throws on slow runners and too much time taken on the fast ones. That led to miscues. Many of those lapses were eliminated this season. No one is perfect — Castro stared at a ball to the wall recently and didn’t make second base — but those kinds of mental breakdowns used to be the norm, now they’re becoming the exception. And he’s only 24 years old.

That brings us to the trade rumors. The moment the Cubs acquired Addison Russell from the Oakland Athletics in July, media-driven talk of moving Castro popped up. There’s little doubt the Cubs have a surplus of middle infielders and one could be moved for some pitching.

"He’s our shortstop," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "And there’s a reason why we have Javy [Baez] playing second base right now."

That’s for now, of course. Things can change this offseason or beyond. No one can handicap whether Castro will be the Cubs’ shortstop next season because no one knows the offers they might get. The point is, no longer are they possibly trying to “dump” Castro — a thought from a year ago. He’s a major asset. If the right deal comes along, the Cubs should make the move because they do have that surplus and Castro isn’t untradable.

But he is a three-time All-Star who has proved everything that Russell and Baez have yet to, so the deal has to be right. The Cubs know that. And if they move Castro, they can thank him for returning to All-Star form and netting them a big return. He’s had a very good year at the toughest position in baseball.

"All in all, this year has been extremely positive," Renteria said.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs raise ticket prices in three sections

By Jon Greenberg

The Chicago Cubs are raising ticket prices in three popular sections next season, which will result in a 2 percent average ticket increase, according to the team.

Cubs vice president of sales and partnerships Colin Faulker said, “80 percent of our season ticket invoices will stay flat or go down.”

For the 2014 season, the Cubs’ average ticket price was $44.16, according to Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index, but that figure didn’t include club box infield seats, which the Cubs and Team Marketing Report consider “premium” seats. That section is one of the three seeing an increase.

Club box infield seats are going up from $98.26 to $104.50, field box infield seats are going from $80.53 to $84.47 and a new “terrace preferred” section, made up of the first seven rows of terrace reserved, are going from $35.78 to $39.32. That makes up about 20 percent of the park.

The Cubs haven’t raised ticket prices since doing so in the Ricketts family’s first season as owners in 2010, and with good reason. The Cubs lost 288 games in the past three seasons and have seen attendance fall from 3,168,859 in 2009 to 2,642,682 in 2013. This season, the Cubs are averaging 33,728, down 558 fans per game from this point last season, according to Baseball Reference.

The Cubs have sent out invoices and have created an online hub for season ticket holders to renew, and if they choose, relocate their seats.

Faulkner said internal data shows that tickets in the three increased sections have seen an “uptick” in secondary market data. That means season ticket holders are getting more money for their seats, which indicates an increase in demand.

"That’s a really interesting one," Faulkner said. "We looked at that data, and really the seats in rows 7-13 are totally different from rows 14-23. A guy in row 23 and a guy in row 7 are going to notice those are not the same seat. We felt we needed to create two different price scales here."

Faulkner said the Cubs say an increase in renewal rates last season and their annual survey shows a similar trend coming for 2015. He added that the “show-up rate” is percentage points higher this year than last year, another internal indicator for fan optimism.

"Internally we’re optimistic for the future and our plan for sustained success," Faulkner said. "I think our fans are optimistic that the team has shown tangible progress on and off the field, and our fans responding to it positively."

While invoices are being received now, the first payment isn’t due until Oct. 13. Fans have a choice of paying 10 percent then and 90 percent on Jan. 13, or making four auto-drafted monthly payments of 25 percent.

If you pay by check, you get an autographed Javier Baez baseball.

CSNChicago.com

Why Jorge Soler told the Cubs: ‘This is my time, watch me’

Patrick Mooney

Jorge Soler called his shot: “This is my time. Watch me.”

That’s what Soler communicated to Cub officials this summer, ending his rehab assignment at the team’s Arizona complex and promising to deliver on the enormous potential that got the Cuban outfielder a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract.

At that point, Soler had played seven games above the A-ball level — one in April, six in May — during his professional career. A series of hamstring injuries created more big-picture questions about his future.

If it wasn’t envy, Soler definitely noticed the way uber-prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant blew up at Triple-A Iowa. Soler also saw how White Sox slugger Jose Abreu and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig led the wave of Cuban players starring in The Show.

Soler’s slow acclimation process accelerated suddenly. He put up a 1.538 OPS when he returned to Double-A Tennessee for 15 games in July. He worked with Manny Ramirez and generated eight homers, 11 doubles and 29 RBIs in 32 games at Iowa. He hit a 423-foot bomb with his first big-league swing.

“It’s maybe a combination of a couple things,” said Louie Eljaua, the Cubs director of international operations. “One of them may have been the way some of his countrymen have performed in the big leagues — maybe a little more urgency to get here and show what he can do. (There were) five Cubans in the All-Star Game. That might have lit a little fire underneath him.

“He said: ‘Well, I’m as good or better than those guys.’ So I said: ‘Well, let’s go.’”

At the age of 22, Soler also felt a different responsibility with a baby on the way and a mid-September due date. Soler got more comfortable in recent months after his mother and sister joined his father in the United States.

They will all be together on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where Jorge Jr. will be a marquee attraction when the Cubs open a three-game series against a Pittsburgh Pirates team trying to stay in the playoff hunt.

“His life, both on and off the field, (is) getting back to some normalcy,” Eljaua said.

The new normal

Soler’s hitting .462 with three homers and 10 RBIs in his first 10 games in the majors. He’s running so fast the helmet flies off his head. He’s making a leaping catch before slamming into the bricks and ivy.

Soler’s generating force with that 6-foot-4, 215-pound NFL frame that makes it look like he could be playing on Sundays at Soldier Field. A full-body assessment in Mesa from the training staff and strength/conditioning coaches analyzed his stride and posture, trying to redistribute his muscle mass, reduce stress and create more fluid, athletic movements.

Eljaua first remembered seeing Soler around the age of 15 or 16 at an international tournament in Venezuela. Soler played third base, competing against Team USA, a group headlined by future All-Stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

“You knew this guy was going to be something special,” Eljaua said. “Power. Speed. Tools coming out of his pores.”

But Eljaua isn’t just a talent scout. He has to be a cultural ambassador, a moneyman, a recruiter and a father figure/psychologist if the player signs. All those factors came into play in the Soler sweepstakes.

Former general manager Jim Hendry hired Eljaua as a special assistant in December 2008 after they worked together with the Florida Marlins. Eljaua grew up in Miami and began working for the Marlins around the 1992 expansion draft.

Back then, Eljaua remembered it cost the Marlins $9,000 to sign Edgar Renteria out of Colombia. By 1999, Eljaua would sign Miguel Cabrera out of Venezuela for $1.8 million. Compared to those investments, the Soler bidding would get crazy, but the same lessons applied here: Get in early, get to know the family and establish a sense of trust.

A perfect fit

While Chicago fed the “Theo-mania” hype, Soler became a No. 1 priority during the first few weeks of the Epstein administration.

“It was kind of the first one we zeroed in on when Theo came (aboard),” Eljaua said. “Everybody had a hand in it, from ownership on down. It was a total group effort.”

Around Thanksgiving 2011, a group of Cub executives that included general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player development chief Jason McLeod traveled to the Dominican Republic on a scouting mission.

“All the boxes checked out,” Eljaua said. “Not just from a baseball standpoint but from a makeup standpoint, what we were trying to accomplish here, the types of player we were going to try to bring into the organization.

“The more time we spent with him, the more we saw him, the more we liked him and the more we knew that this was a guy we were going to make a run at and we should make a strong push to get.”

That’s why Cub officials framed Soler’s bat-grabbing, bench-clearing incident as an isolated, misunderstood, out-of-character moment last year at advanced Class-A Daytona.

While anonymous scouts questioned his effort in the Arizona Fall League — Soler was told to ease up after recovering from a stress fracture in his left shin — they kept saying: We know the kid.

Eljaua thought Soler’s father, Jorge Sr., appreciated his Cuban background (his parents left Cuba for Miami before he was born). Oneri Fleita, the former vice president of player personnel, had helped make the Cubs a brand name internationally with a network that included Paul Weaver, Alex Suarez and Jose Serra, the scout who signed a teenager named Starlin Castro.

“It was almost like a perfect fit,” Eljaua said. “They liked where we were going as an organization. We kind of sold him on the fact that he was going to be one of the guys we were going to hopefully build our future around. It helped that we’re an organization that has really committed to Latin players.”

Even chairman Tom Ricketts did a meet-and-greet with Soler during a trip to the Dominican Republic.

“Tom speaks a little Spanish,” Eljaua said. “So he threw some Spanish at him, and they thought, ‘Wow, the owner speaks Spanish, too.’”

Evil Empire

A new collective bargaining agreement created even more leverage for Praver Shapiro Sports Management, the agency that represents Soler. This would be the last talent/money grab before the July 2, 2012, deadline and severe restrictions to international spending.

The Cubs wouldn’t get beat by “The Evil Empire,” the tag Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino gave the New York Yankees after losing the Jose Contreras sweepstakes.

Epstein, the youngest general manager in baseball history, had been on the job for nearly a month when the Cuban pitcher established residency in Nicaragua just before Christmas 2002.

During the Contreras negotiations, Epstein and Eljaua — Boston’s director of international scouting at the time — took over the small hacienda-style hotel in Managua. That was supposed to freeze out the Yankees, forcing them to stay at the InterContinental, about 20 minutes away from the action.

“I did buy up all the rooms,” Eljaua said. “That rumor is true.”

Epstein and Eljaua spent nights smoking cigars and sipping rum with Contreras, selling him on the Red Sox and winning it all at Fenway Park. Until the Yankees offered a four-year, $32 million deal and the New York media ran wild with stories about Epstein being so angry he trashed his hotel room.

“Total fabrication,” Eljaua said, laughing. “I don’t know where they got that from. I mean, we were upset, but it wasn’t like anything was broken or anything was thrown. We were disappointed, I’d say, more than anything else, because that was another one we worked really hard on and spent a lot of time with him, building a relationship … and we didn’t get him.

“That was a weird one, man. It’s almost like we got the rug taken out from under us. We thought we had him. It ended up working out for everybody.”

The Cubs have been bridesmaids for too many international free agents, but Soler’s showing why they felt like they couldn’t lose out on the young Cuban outfielder.

“You’ve been on both sides of the coin,” Eljaua said. “Luckily, we came out winning on this one.”

CSNChicago.com

Albert Almora feels he grew up a lot with Cubs this year

By TONY ANDRACKI

Albert Almora won’t be playing in Chicago at all this September, but that doesn’t mean the Cubs prospect didn’t take major steps forward in 2014.

Almora, the first draft pick of Theo Epstein’s front office (taken sixth overall in 2012), got off to a slow start with Advanced Class-A Daytona this season. He hit just .241 with a .582 OPS in his first 62 games with Daytona, a far cry from the .329/.376/.466 line he posted in 2013.

But from June 19 through late July, Almora went on a tear, hitting .373 with a .988 OPS in 27 games, including 14 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, five homers), 20 RBI and 25 runs.

It was enough to earn the 20-year-old outfielder a call-up to Double-A Tennessee, playing in a Southern League where the average age of the players is 24.5 years.

Almora only hit .234 in 36 games with Tennessee to close out the year, but believes he’s taken steps forward during a trying season.

"It’s been a really productive year," he told Smokies radio announcer Mick Gillispie. "I’ve had to deal with a lot of adversity - personal and on-field issues. I really feel like I grew up a lot this season.

"Going through bad series and bad months and being able to turn it around and start getting back on track, it’s been my best year as a professional so far."

Up until this year, Almora has spent his entire life playing up a couple levels, playing with guys like Manny Machado as a teenager in South Florida and getting by on his natural ability.

But going through some adversity for the first time ever may have been just what he needed.

"I’ve been fortunate enough to do pretty well at what I do," he told Gillispie. "To struggle and have to learn how to get out of that and mature from that, it’s a blessing."

In the two-plus years in the Cubs’ system, Almora has impressed with his maturity and natural leadership skills, often being described as wise beyond his years.

When Gillispie asked Almora about how he gets out of slumps, the young centerfielder sounded like a 10-year veteran. He understands easing your mind may be the only way to get out of prolonged struggles at the plate.

"Sometimes, we think too much and that always gets in our way," Almora said.

Rated as the No. 36 prospect in the game in Baseball America’s preseason rankings, Almora is part of the group of position players that has instilled so much positivity around the future of the Cubs.

Jorge Soler and Javier Baez are already in Chicago, going through the ups and downs alongside guys like Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks and Neil Ramirez.

Meanwhile, Almora closed out the year trying to regain his foothold in the Cubs’ system while Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber appear on the fast track to Wrigley Field.

Is this the group of guys that will finally end the 105-plus-year championship drought?

"We don’t sit around and talk about breaking the curse," Almora told Gillispie. "We’re just winning baseball games. We just go out there and play where we’re at right now and play hard and when our time comes, that’s when we’ll think about that."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs name Schwarber, Johnson minor league players of the month

By TONY ANDRACKI

Kyle Schwarber’s head-turning season continued as the Cubs named him the organization’s minor league player of the month.

Schwarber, the fourth overall pick in June’s Major League Baseball Draft, hit .330 with a 1.063 OPS, eight homers and 17 RBI in August.

On the season, Schwarber is hitting .344 with a 1.061 OPS, 18 homers, 53 RBI and 55 runs in 72 games across three levels.

He is currently leading Advanced Class-A Daytona in their bid for a second straight Florida State League championship. Daytona kicks off the FSL championship Thursday night against Fort Myers.

Pierce Johnson was also honored, being named the Cubs minor league pitcher of the month. The 23-year-old righty went 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in August while striking out 34 batters in 31.1 innings across six starts with Double-A Tennessee.

His season has been derailed a bit by injuries, but Johnson has put together another nice campaign with a 5-5 record, 2.54 ERA and 1.18 WHIP to go along with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings and only 5.6 hits per nine.

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Schwarber hitless in loss

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Final regular season stats: 138 games, .325 batting average, 43 home runs, 110 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Final regular season stats:  68 games, .295 batting average, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Final regular season stats: 125 games, .270 batting average, 9 home runs, 60 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher/outfielder, Daytona (Class-A)

Thursday at Fort Myers (Florida State League Championship Series): 0-for-3, walk.

Trending: 2-for-13, grand slam, 6 RBIs, 3 strikeouts in 3 playoff games.

Final regular season stats:  72 games, .344 batting average, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Tribune

Key word for Cubs’ Kris Bryant: Flexibility

Mark Gonzales

It could be a matter of where Kris Bryant ends up playing before when he finally receives the promotion to the majors that Cubs fans eagerly anticipate.

In this era of versatility, the Cubs are trying to emulate the recent success of the flexible division rival Cardinals. Bryant presents an interesting case as Javier Baez fills in at shortstop for three-time All-Star Starlin Castro and Addison Russell recently completed a successful season at shortstop for Double-A Tennessee.

It’s another reason the Cubs are deliberate in their projections for players after Bryant just completed a storied 2014 season at Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

The latest consideration into the mix is the improvement of the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bryant at third base this season.

"He played a lot better at the end of the season than earlier (at Tennessee)," one National League scout said. "He’s so long, but he can get to balls hit to either side of him. He has to bend a long way to get to some grounders, but I saw a marked improvement. He has a plus-arm, and his hands are soft.

"Is he ready? No question. I see the Cubs’ point about not wanting to start his (service time) clock. But talent-wise, he’s ready to go."

While President Theo Epstein told Bryant to take a rest before preparing for what the Cubs hope is a seven-month season in 2015, auditions are on-going at the major league level.

The latest could include Mike Olt, who is expected to rejoin the Cubs this weekend after salvaging his season at Iowa with seven home runs, 24 RBIs and a .302 batting average in 28 games after batting .139 with 84 strikeouts in 187 at-bats for the Cubs.

Olt is expected to play first base but played most of the season at third before his demotion in late July.

The Cubs haven’t ruled out Bryant moving to the outfield, but Jorge Soler has displayed in a short time that he can take over right field, and Arismendy Alcantara has made a smooth transition to center field, although the Cubs may start him at second base against left-handed starters in the final 31/2 weeks.

There is a possibility the Cubs will trade Castro, who is under contract through 2019, to acquire high-ceiling pitching. But Castro rebounded from a miserable 2013 season and was featured as part of a video on a website for fans looking to renew their season tickets for 2015.

Russell, whom many outside evaluators consider the Cubs’ best defensive shortstop, likely needs another full season at Triple A. If the Cubs are committed to Baez as their second baseman of the future, they would have to seek a shortstop as a plug-in for 2015 if Castro goes.

In the meantime, Bryant is likely to work out with gloves suitable for third base and the outfield.

Tribune

Cubs’ Schwarber, Johnson earn minor league honors

Mark Gonzales

Kyle Schwarber added another notch on his belt of accomplishments Thursday, as he and pitcher Pierce Johnson were honored by the Chicago Cubs as their minor league player and pitcher of the month for August.

Schwarber, the Cubs’ first pick in the June amateur draft, batted .330 with 20 runs, eight doubles, eight home runs and 17 RBIs in 28 games in August for Class-A Daytona. Schwarber had a 15-game hitting streak from Aug. 14-27, batting .417 with 14 RBIs during that span.

Schwarber hit six home runs during a five-game span Aug. 21-24. He earned Florida State League player of the week honors for Aug. 18-24.

Schwarber, who hit a grand slam and two-run single in the first two games of the FSL playoffs against Dunedin, batted .344 with 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 53 RBIs in 72 games for Class-A Boise, Class-A Kane County and Daytona. Schwarber played 36 games in left field and was successful in throwing out 11 of 32 base stealers in 20 games at catcher.

Johnson, 23, was 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings in six starts for Double-A Tennessee. Opponents batted only .186 against Johnson, and he didn’t allow a run in three consecutive starts from Aug. 3-15 (allowing six hits and six walks while striking out 21 in 16 innings).

Johnson, the 43rd overall selection in the 2012 draft out of Missouri State, posted a 2.54 ERA in 102 2/3 innings and 20 games at Kane County and Tennessee this season. He missed the first part of the season due to a hamstring injury.

Tribune

Top Cubs seats to increase by 6 percent in 2015

Mark Gonzales

The Cubs have accommodated season ticket holders who requested more time to pay their invoices.

At the same time, those fans holding premium seats will have to pay an average of 6 percent more to see the likes of young stars Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kyle Hendricks and, eventually, Kris Bryant.

The Cubs are making some significant changes as they address the preferences of their season ticket holders while adjusting to the demand for the best seats as part of their anticipated renaissance.

The season ticket increase will occur in the club, field and lower terrace reserved infield sections. The Cubs said this was determined after a thorough analysis and review of ticket sales in the primary and secondary markets, and this represents the first price increase in four years since the Ricketts family has owned the team.

About 80 percent of the season ticket holder invoices will remain the same or dip in price.

In a significant change, the Cubs have provided a website for their season ticket holders, featuring tabs for them to obtain information about their account, the renewal process, payment options, seating and pricing and seat relocation options.

The website also includes stories about the Cubs’ top prospects as well as a brief video featuring Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, Baez, Soler, Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara.

In past seasons, the season ticket invoices were sent by email with an attachment including several pages of information that were required to be printed out and returned.

The Cubs released their season ticket invoices one month earlier than they had been, with the final payment due Jan. 13, 2015. The traditional option of paying 10 percent of the ticket balance Oct. 13 with the remaining 90 percent due Jan. 13, 2015 remains intact.

The Cubs also are offering a new installment plan in which season ticket holders can pay in four-month installments of 25 percent due at each payment date.

Ratings bonanza: Did all it take was for Cubs fans to get whiff of the future in Soler, Baez and Hendricks to get them to watch their games again?

 With the three young players leading the way Wednesday night, the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over the Brewers did a 3.20 rating on CSN. That means an estimated 115,000 homes tuned into an otherwise meaningless September game for the Cubs.

The rating was CSN’s second highest of the year for a Cubs game, trailing only the Cubs-White Sox game on May 5, which did a 3.37. The 3.20 rating also was more than double the 1.5 season average for the Cubs on CSN.

The game peaked at a 4.1 rating (143,000). Overall, thanks to the Cubs, CSN was the third highest-rated network in the Chicago market during prime time (7-10 p.m.).

The rating bodes well for the Cubs, who still are in negotiations for the WGN-9 component of their TV deal. It shows that their ratings could soar if they become competitive again.

Extra innings: Catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber and pitcher Pierce Johnson were honored as the Cubs’ minor league player and pitcher of the month for August, respectively.

Schwarber, 21, the Cubs’ first pick in the June amateur draft, batted .330 with 20 runs, eight doubles, eight home runs and 17 RBIs in 28 games in August for Class A Daytona. Schwarber had a 15-game hitting streak from Aug. 14-27, batting .417 with 14 RBIs during that span.

Johnson, 23, was 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 311/3 innings in six starts for Double-A Tennessee. Opponents batted only .186 against Johnson, and he didn’t allow a run in three consecutive starts from Aug. 3-15 (allowing six hits and six walks while striking out 21 in 16 innings).

Tribune

Up next: Pirates at Cubs

Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Pirates 9-4.

Friday: 1:20 p.m., WGN-9.

RH Vance Worley (6-4, 3.01) vs. LH Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.79).

Saturday: 3:05 p.m., CSN.

LH Francisco Liriano (3-10, 3.91) vs. LH Felix Doubront (3-4, 5.56).

Sunday: 1:20 p.m., WGN-9.

RH Gerrit Cole (7-5, 3.86) vs. LH Travis Wood (8-11, 4.81).

Who’s hot: Josh Harrison is batting .378 (14-for-37) in his last nine games. Liriano has allowed two runs in his last 13 innings. The Cubs have won a season-high six consecutive home games. Rookie Jorge Soler has hit safely in each of his first seven games.

Who’s not: The Pirates have lost four consecutive games and have scored three runs or fewer in seven of their last 10. Neil Walker is batting .194 in his last 10 games. Rookies Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are in slumps, 4-for-32 and 4-for-29, respectively.

Sun-Times

Theo not concerned about Javy Baez’s plate woes

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

Theo Epstein warned us there’d be days like this.

So did Javy Baez’s minor-league history.

Maybe not quite so many days like this, maybe not quite this many strikeouts.

But this is why the Cubs’ big-swinging prospect is here now, playing every day, whether he strikes out four times or, on rare occasions such as Wednesday night, none.

And even as Jorge Soler has joined him at the big-league level, and stolen a significant amount of his thunder, the front office is as firm in its let-him-play approach to Baez’s 2014 debut as it was in Boston when calling up Dustin Pedroia for a .191 final month of the 2006 season.

The Cubs still cannot be certain exactly what they have in the No.  9 overall draft pick from 2011, and they certainly won’t try to tell you he’s going to be the MVP Pedroia was within two seasons.

But this is just an exaggerated version of the growing pains the Cubs expect from many of their top prospects just now starting to come through the system.

“As tough as it can be to watch sometimes, this is exactly what Javy needs,” said Epstein, the Cubs’ third-year president. “He’s going to end up going into the offseason reflecting back on this, and over time, it’ll sink in: Despite what pitchers do to him, he controls the at-bat. He can’t get away from his strengths.

“He can do as much damage as anyone in the game when he is patient and gets a pitch to drive and doesn’t try to do too much and uses the whole field. And those things, you can’t just tell somebody. . . . Players need to figure it out over time.”

The classic danger in that approach, of course, is the fine line a team might walk with a young player’s confidence, especially when the kid is striking out 40 percent of the time, compared to just six walks, and is struggling to hit .179.

But Baez, who had the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck before he ever played a professional game, has never lacked confidence.

And even as the second-youngest player in the National League, he carries the same swagger he had after hitting a game-winning home run in his debut and two homers in his third game.

It’s part of why the Cubs give him the green light on 3-0 counts, which he used to ground out Monday night.

And he hasn’t stopped thinking about his approach, no matter how big he keeps swinging.

In the nine games since Anthony Rizzo left the lineup — he was Baez’s primary protection in the 3-spot — Baez has put the ball in play more, decreased his strikeouts slightly and even drawn walks the last two games.

He said he hasn’t seen much of a difference in the way pitchers have handled him since Rizzo has been out, but figures he’s handling them better.

“I’m getting more fastballs, and they’re pitching me more in the zone,” he said, “because I’m laying more off the breaking balls on the ground.”

Not even Baez knows whether the adjustments will lead to a significant turnaround in the last few weeks of the season or what next year will look like when he’ll be judged on performance.

But Epstein reminds critics the slow start is also a pattern with Baez, who hit only .142 through 28 games in Class AAA Iowa this year before taking off.

“It takes him a little bit of time to have that light go on at a new level,” Epstein said. “It’s part of his aggressive nature. But he doesn’t back down. He’s very strong-willed. He has a strong mental makeup. He will continue to fight and scrap until he does figure it out, and when he does, he makes up for it.

“Like someone’s got to pay, and it’ll be fun when [they do].”

04 9 / 2014

Sun-Times

Kyle Hendricks continues mastery as Cubs top Brewers 6-2

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

They look almost as different as two players can look, the linebacker-looking, power-hitting Jorge Soler and the accountant-looking, finesse-pitching Kyle Hendricks.

But the two rookies who came up big again in the Cubs’ 6-2, series-sweeping victory Wednesday over the Brewers look a lot alike to manager Rick Renteria.

“If Kyle is my guy that’s got a low heartbeat on the hill, then maybe [Soler’s] my guy that really slows it down in the box as a hitter,” said Renteria, who watched Soler leg out his fifth double in seven big-league games that drove in two runs.

Hendricks? He had what he called “by far the worst stuff I’ve had” in 10 big-league starts but navigated constant traffic on the bases to get two outs deep into the sixth and help the Cubs win for the ninth time in one of his starts.

“He continued to show no panic,” Renteria said of the kid who learned before the game that he was the National League’s Rookie of the Month for August.

“You try to come in with the least amount of expectations as possible,” he said of whether he envisioned being this effective this quickly. “My focus is just making good pitches when I’m out there.”

The Cubs swept a contender (also the Orioles) for the second time in four series and are 9-4 in that stretch.

“If we keep this rolling, showing teams we can play going into next year, we’ll have something special,” said Chris Valaika, who homered in the second.

Notes

Kris Bryant, who leads pro baseball with 43 home runs, was named USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year.

Third baseman Mike Olt (hamstring) was scheduled to play Wednesday and Thursday in Class A Kane Countys playoff series as an injury-rehab stint, then get recalled for the series opener Friday against the Pirates.

After determining outfielder Ryan Sweeneys hamstring injury is likely to keep him sidelined the last 3½ weeks, the Cubs moved him to the 60-day disabled list to create a 40-man roster space and called up outfielder Ryan Kalish from Class AAA Iowa.

Soler is the second player in franchise history with at least 10 RBI in his first seven games ( Mandy Brooks , 12 in 1925).

Sun-Times

Starlin Castro’s injury sparks trade rumors

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

Less than two months after a trade started the talk in July, all it took was a high ankle sprain on Sept. 2 for the speculation to start all over again.

This time rising to this level: Has Starlin Castro played his last game as a Cub?

The Cubs continue to insist Castro is their shortstop. But no one in the organization has denied some of their newly overstocked inventory of young middle-infield talent could be in play this winter when they start getting aggressive in filling long-term needs, such as frontline pitching.

And when the team suggested the injury Castro suffered Tuesday against the Brewers might end his season, could it mean the franchise’s first three-time All-Star shortstop in four decades was done as a Cub when he crossed the plate in agony after a gruesome-looking slide.

“He’s our shortstop,” general manager Jed Hoyer reiterated Wednesday. “And there’s a reason why we have Javy [Baez] playing second base right now.”

But Baez is the Cubs’ every-day shortstop the rest of the season, Hoyer said, unless Castro beats the four-week prognosis for his injury and returns by Sept. 28 — as he seems to think he can.

This despite the fact the Cubs rave about Baez’s ability at short — “It’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than second,” Hoyer said — and say it’s second base where he needs the most work.

If Castro’s the shortstop next April and Baez is the potential/projected second baseman, why not keep Baez working at second the last month and play Arismendy Alcantara, another natural shortstop, there?

“It’s a fair question, but we’ll put Javy at short,” Hoyer said, explaining that it’s about assuring depth going forward.

Castro and his agent were told since July when coveted shortstop prospect Addison Russell was acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade from Oakland that it had no bearing on Castro’s continued status as the Cubs’ long-term shortstop in the front office’s mind.

But sources said when the Cubs made the trade, they intended to dangle their new surplus of valuable shortstops to several potential trading partners in their search for young power starting pitchers.

The New York Mets, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins all have shortstop needs and stores of young pitching. And each is said to have eyeballed one or more of the Cubs’ young shortstops.

Even team president Theo Epstein said after acquiring Russell that while the Cubs like the idea of all the shortstops finding homes in the same Cubs lineup, he won’t rule out dealing from the strength.

The downside to dealing Castro is he’s the only one in the bunch who has proved he can perform at a high level in the majors. He’s the Cubs’ first shortstop with at least three All-Star selections since Don Kessinger.

He has more hits than any shortstop over the last four seasons, led the league in hits in 2011 at 21 and at some point next season is all but assured — barring another injury — of reaching 1,000 career hits at 25.

“He showed more power than he’d shown earlier in his career,” Hoyer said.

“He’s still hitting for a high batting average. It’s too bad. He was on a hot streak right now, and he was probably hoping to get his batting average over .300.”

Since struggling in July, Castro was on a 40-for-103 (.388) tear that boosted his average to .292, which would be his best in three years (.307 in 2011).

“We’re operating under the assumption he’s going to be out for the year,” Hoyer said.

“We’re not going to shut him down. His mentality right now is that he can beat four weeks and come back. And we’re not going to defeat that. If nothing else, that’ll send him off into the offseason healthy and ready to go.”

Daily Herald

Baez, Soler on center stage for Cubs

Bruce Miles

No, Cubs fans probably won’t be able to watch a lineup featuring Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez the rest of the way this year.

And, no, manager Rick Renteria won’t be able to see his batting order of the future do damage in September.

But, yes, there are plenty of reasons to stay tuned.

Castro (ankle) and Rizzo (back) both are likely out for the year with injuries.

Fear not. Soler and Baez are still playing, and Kyle Hendricks is still pitching.

The Cubs jumped all over former teammate Matt Garza for 8 hits and 6 runs in 3 innings Wednesday night, and Hendricks fell one out short of a quality start as the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2 for a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field.

Although the Cubs would love to play spoilers at full strength, they’ll have to settle for taking a look at some other players.

"It’s disappointing," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "There will be a lot of time to see those guys together. We were all excited to see our whole lineup put together and see how they produce together, but there’s time for that."

The Cubs got the bounce-back years they were looking for from Castro and Rizzo, so in that sense it’s mission accomplished for 2014. That’s why Renteria wasn’t fretting over what might have been.

"I think it’s probably an easier thing for me to do now that I’ve seen Starlin and Riz at their best," he said. "I think the most important thing now is for me to see the other guys and see how they fall into the lineups that we end up putting forth the next month.

"I think the foundation that Riz and Starlin have laid out and a lot of the guys that have been here all year even before the young men that have come here, they’ve done some very positive things. It will be easier than people might think for me to kind of envision how we might roll the lineup out."

With Castro out, Baez moves back from second base to his more natural position of shortstop. Hoyer reiterated that Castro is the Cubs’ shortstop, both now and going forward. Even though it might benefit Baez to play second base, the Cubs seem to feel it’s best to have him at short.

"For me, I think it’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than at second," Hoyer said. "He makes plays more instinctually when he’s playing short. His movements look more natural than they do at second base. I think that will come."

As for Hendricks (6-1, 2.02 ERA), he was named the National League rookie of the month for August, when he went 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA.

Against the Brewers, he breezed through the first 5 innings, giving up only a run in the second. He threw 25 pitches in the sixth and left with the bases loaded before Justin Grimm bailed him out. Hendricks neither walked nor struck out anyone in his 5⅔ innings.

"Overall I didn’t have my stuff out there tonight," he said. "I had to battle. I gave up some weak hits, but overall I didn’t make a lot of good pitches. Luckily I was able to get away with it somehow."

Daily Herald

Castro likely out for season with ankle sprain

Bruce Miles

The Cubs will allow Starlin Castro to hope against hope that he can play again this season, but they’ve effectively shut him down for the year.

The news could have been much worse.

An MRI and X-rays on Castro’s left ankle revealed a high-ankle sprain, but that’s enough of an injury to keep the all-star shortstop out for four weeks, according to general manager Jed Hoyer.

Castro injured himself sliding awkwardly into home plate in the first inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field. Hoyer expressed relief there were no fractures.

"His mentality right now is he can beat four weeks and come back," the GM said. "We’re not going to defeat that because if nothing else, it will send him into the off-season healthy and ready to go. Our assumption is that it’s probably season ending, but if he does surprise us and come back a little bit early, we wouldn’t be against having him play again because it would send him into the off-season on a good note."

Manager Rick Renteria said Castro indeed wanted to stay in the game even as he limped off the field.

"He was in that hallway right there and pretty upset when I told him to go in and get seen by PJ (trainer Mainville) and get evaluated," Renteria said. "He didn’t want to come out."

Castro has a batting line of .292/.339/.438 with 14 homers and 65 RBI. Last year, he finished at .245/.284/.347 with 10 homers and 44 RBI.

"We give him a lot of credit because he’s had to take it all in and try to make it his responsibility to try to change the way people view him," Renteria said. "I think he’s done a really nice job. I think he’s dealt with a lot of different things very positively. He’s worked extremely hard.

"In the beginning of the season, he didn’t start off the way anybody would have wanted him to start off. He kept working and grinding. His defense started to get better. His offense continued to take off. He worked himself back into an all-star role again. All in all, I think the movement he’s had this year has been really positive."

Cubs bring Kalish back:

The Cubs transferred outfielder Ryan Sweeney from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL with a left-hamstring strain. They selected the contract of outfielder Ryan Kalish from Class AAA Iowa.

Kalish was on the Cubs’ opening-day roster before being sent to Iowa in May.

Third baseman Mike Olt, who was on the big club until being sent to Iowa in July, is rehabbing an injury in the playoffs with the Class A Kane County Cougars. He was scheduled to play for the Cougars Wednesday and Thursday, and the Cubs will bring him back to the big club after that if all goes well.

NU product happy to be here:

Left-hander Eric Jokisch, a product of Northwestern University, said he was surprised to get the call to the major leagues Tuesday. He was not on the 40-man roster, but he had a solid season at Iowa.

"It was a little bit of a surprise," he said. "I was excited once I heard it. It was one of those days you dream of, to get called up. I’m excited to get an opportunity to play.

"I’ve done a lot of hard work to do what they gave me in my player plan. I think I’ve really improved on the weaknesses in my game, and hopefully it will all translate here."

Cubs.com

Hendricks, Soler keep rolling as Cubs sweep Brewers

Righty improves to 6-1 with win; slugger drives in two more runs

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Rookie Kyle Hendricks is pitching in September the way he did last month, while Jorge Soler just keeps on hitting.

Named the National League Rookie of the Month after an unbeaten August, Hendricks scattered nine hits over 5 2/3 innings, Soler drove in two runs, and Chris Valaika smacked a two-run home run to lead the Cubs to a 6-2 victory Wednesday night over the skidding Brewers, who lost their eighth straight game.

Milwaukee’s loss, coupled with St. Louis’ 1-0 win over Pittsburgh, dropped the Brewers three games back in the NL Central. It was the Cubs’ sixth straight home win, and first three-game home series sweep against the Brewers since Aug. 23-25, 2004.

Hendricks, who compiled a 1.69 ERA and 4-0 record in six August starts, did not walk a batter or strike anyone out. He needed just seven pitches to get through the first inning — all strikes — but it was a struggle after that.

"That’s what you like coming out of the gate," Hendricks said of the first, "but overall, I didn’t have my stuff tonight and I had to battle. I gave up some weak hits, but overall, I didn’t make a lot of good pitches. Luckily, I was able to get away with it, and guys put up a lot of runs early, which is nice. I had some balls hit hard in play that guys made good plays on."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria usually brings up Hendricks’ calm demeanor, and Wednesday was no different. But it was a challenge for the right-hander.

"This start was a lot different than all the other ones I’ve had," Hendricks said. "It was by far the worst stuff I had. It was just one of those days. I was glad, No. 1, they put up some runs for me, and after that, I was able to limit the damage."

The Cubs were without their two All-Stars, Starlin Castro, who is likely lost for the season with a high ankle sprain suffered Tuesday night, and Anthony Rizzo, who has tightness in his lower back. Soler has picked up the slack in his first first week in the big leagues.

The rookie outfielder delivered a two-run double in the third, and is the second player in Cubs history with at least 10 RBIs in his first seven Major League games, joining Mandy Brooks, who drove in 12 runs in his first seven games in 1925.

"His at-bats are very close to what’s been described as what he’s been doing in the Minor Leagues," Renteria said. "If you described them in the Minor League reports, it’s exactly what’s happening now. He’s got a gift, got a good eye, he’s very calm in the box. If Kyle is my guy with a slow heartbeat on the hill, maybe [Soler] is the guy who slows it down in the box."

The Brewers took a 1-0 lead in the second on Logan Schafer’s RBI single, but it was short-lived. Logan Watkins singled with two outs in the Cubs’ second, and scored on Valaika’s home run, which landed in the back of the left-field bleachers.

Chicago batted around in the third against Matt Garza, and had two on and one out when Soler doubled to left. He then scored on Welington Castillo’s double to put the Cubs ahead, 5-1. One out later, Watkins added an RBI single.

"We had some big, run-producing at-bats," Renteria said. "We had some good things going on today."

Garza was making his first start since coming off the disabled list because of an oblique strain, and threw 61 pitches over three innings against his former team before he was pulled.

"There was the one pitch that was a bad pitch, it was probably a slider to Valaika in the second," Garza said. "That’s it. Everything else, they found holes. They just keep finding them. It’s kind of been this trend that we’ve been on. Everything happens to fall for everybody, and we just can’t buy a hit."

The Brewers loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and scored on an error by Valaika, who couldn’t handle a chopper by pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay. But that was it, and that was the difference for Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke.

"We’re still not getting that big hit that we have to have to get back in games, or to at least move ahead of somebody," Roenicke said.

Renteria pulled Hendricks with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, and Justin Grimm got Jean Segura to fly out to right to end the inning. It could’ve been a chance for Renteria to let Hendricks figure out how to get out of the mess.

"I’ve allowed him many teaching moments already during the season," Renteria said. "He talked me out of taking him out in Cincinnati. In this instance, I made the decision."

The Cubs now have won a season-high six straight home games for the first time since June 29-July 15, 2002, when they swept the Astros and D-backs.

"We’re playing good baseball now," Valaika said. "I’ve seen it all year with these guys in Triple-A. If we keep this rolling, showing teams we can play going into next year, I think we’ll have something special."

Cubs.com

Despite prognosis, Starlin expects to return

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The prognosis is for Starlin Castro to miss four weeks to recover from a high ankle sprain, but the Cubs’ shortstop isn’t ready to end his season and has vowed to come back this year. Castro was injured in an awkward slide at home plate Tuesday night

"We’re operating under the assumption that he’s out for the year," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We’re not going to shut him down. He’s going to work hard to come back. His mentality is he can beat four weeks and come back. If nothing else, it will send him into the offseason healthy."

Castro didn’t want to leave Tuesday’s game after he was injured and tried to talk manager Rick Renteria into letting him take the field.

"He was in that hallway [near the Cubs’ dugout], pretty upset when I told him to go in and see [the athletic trainer] and get evaluated," Renteria said.

Castro has played in 134 of the Cubs’ 140 games, and only missed extended time when he went on the bereavement list. His goal this spring was to play 162 games.

"This is going to eat at him to be out," Hoyer said.

If Castro’s season is done, he rebounded from a disappointing 2013, when he batted .245 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs. This season, Castro hit .292 with 14 home runs, matching his career high, and 65 RBIs, and was named to the National League All-Star team for the third time.

Cubs strength coach Tim Buss spent a few weeks in the Dominican Republic with Castro this past offseason to prepare for the current season, and may do so again, Hoyer said.

"He’s probably done better than most expected or anticipated, and maybe he’s done as well as he’s wanted to do," Renteria said. "In my mind’s eye, I think he’s had a very productive season."

Renteria talked to Castro Wednesday.

"His spirits are up and he said, ‘I’ll be back,’" Renteria said.

Cubs.com

Kalish returns to Cubs; Olt could be next

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Ryan Kalish was packing up his apartment in Chicago on Wednesday, and was eating at Chipotle when he got a call from his agent, who said the Cubs had asked if the outfielder wanted to keep playing.

Kalish said yes, and was at Wrigley Field about one hour later as the Cubs selected the outfielder’s contract from Triple-A Iowa. Ryan Sweeney, on the disabled list since Aug. 27 with a left hamstring strain, was transferred to the 60-day disabled list, and is done for the season. And Mike Olt could join the Cubs on Friday.

Kalish, 26, was on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster and batted .242 in 39 big league games before being optioned to Iowa on May 26. He hit .251 with 14 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 37 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 87 games with the Minor League team.

He had kept his apartment in Chicago, but was shipping some winter clothes home to Venice, Calif., when his agent called.

"It was 5 o’clock, and I got here at 6," he said at Wrigley Field after a pinch-hit appearance in a 6-2 win over the Brewers.

Kalish missed all of 2013 after undergoing right shoulder surgery.

"The last month, I really got feeling good, my body started feeling really good," Kalish said. "It was a good year for me. I’m happy to be healthy, No. 1. I finished up good there and was just hanging out."

Olt also began the season with the Cubs but the third baseman was demoted to Iowa on July 22 after batting .139 in 72 games with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs. He ended the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, and began a rehab assignment Wednesday with Class A Kane County in a big way. The third baseman went 2-for-3, hitting a three-run homer in Kane County’s 7-3 win over Wisconsin in the first game of the best-of-three Midwest League playoffs.

If all goes well, Olt could join the Cubs on Friday, general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Cubs.com

Baez to play shortstop in Castro’s absence

Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Javier Baez will take over at shortstop with Starlin Castro sidelined with an ankle sprain, but Cubs manager Rick Renteria may do some mixing and matching in the final month.

Baez has been playing second base since he was called up to the big leagues Aug. 5. So, who’s the Cubs’ shortstop in 2015?

"[Castro] is our shortstop," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "There’s a reason we’ve had Javy playing second base right now. The nice thing is we have depth at a position where few people have depth. Our shortstop goes down, and we can move Javy over and feel comfortable. If we were in a pennant race, most teams lose a shortstop, and they’re scrambling. These two injuries reinforce the value of depth."

The other injury Hoyer was referring to was a mild back strain that has sidelined first baseman Anthony Rizzo indefinitely. Castro is expected to miss the rest of the season with the high ankle sprain, suffered Tuesday night on an awkward slide at home plate.

Baez has primarily played shortstop, so the switch to second has required some patience.

"For me, it’s obvious how much more comfortable [Baez] is at shortstop than at second base," Hoyer said. "His movements look more natural than they do at second base. I think that will come."

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara moved to center field when Baez was called up, but could play some second base. Logan Watkins will get a lot of starts at second, too, as part of the domino effect with Castro’s injury.

Hoyer said they want to emphasize to players the importance of being able to play multiple positions.

"Some guys look at it as a slight," Hoyer said. "It’s not a slight, it’s making sure we have the best team possible."

Cubs.com

Worley looks to get Bucs back on track in Chicago

Club tries to end skid, stay in playoff chase facing Cubs lefty Wada

By Stephen Pianovich

The Pirates hobble into Wrigley Field this weekend losers of four straight and already matching their regular-season loss total from last season with 68.

The good news for the Bucs is that they’re still in the thick of the playoff hunt, and have 23 games left to put themselves in a postseason position. They’ll look to end their skid Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

"We’ve gotta keep battling, keep going, keep moving," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "We’re coming into a hot team like the Cubs, who are swinging really well. We’ve got to stay on top of our game, and try to finish strong."

Pittsburgh comes into the series after dropping a Sunday game against the Reds and then being swept out of St. Louis. The Pirates’ most recent loss came Wednesday in walk-off fashion as Peter Bourjos’ single gave the Cardinals a 1-0 win and five-game lead over the Bucs in the National League Central. The Pirates also trail Milwaukee by two games for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Pittsburgh was outscored by just four runs in the three-game series, and lost two one-run games. They’re now 2-12 in games decided by one run against the Cardinals and Brewers this season.

"This was a great series. Nip-and-tuck and push-and-shove and tug-of-war every step," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We battled, threw everything we had at them. They were just a little bit better than us in every game.

"We’re playing competitive baseball, we’ve just got find a way to score a run every now and then. We’re not gonna back down. We’ll take the day off, catch our breath, and put some stakes down in Chicago — and get ready to throw everything we got at the Cubs."

Vance Worley — who got the win the last time the Pirates notched one in the “W” column — will look to point the team back in the right direction. The right-hander threw 6 1/3 innings and allowed just one earned run against the Reds on Saturday, as the Pirates held on for a 3-2 win.

Japanese rookie Tsuyoshi Wada will get the ball for the Cubs. It will be the 10th Major League start for the 33-year-old, his first against the Pirates.

Wada has had quality starts in five of those starts, including his previous appearance, when he allowed three earned runs in six innings to the Cardinals. Wada took the loss in the start, which ended a personal three-game winning streak. However, he has a 2.25 ERA and .195 opponents’ batting average in his last four starts.

Pirates: Harrison named NL Player of the Month

Josh Harrison has gone from a utility man who played sparingly to NL All-Star to the NL’s best player — at least for the most recent full month on the calendar.

Harrison was named the NL Player of the Month for August on Wednesday after leading the league in extra-base hits (19), slugging percentage (.602) and hits (41). Harrison had a .976 OPS in the month and a .347 average, which pushed him into the conversation for the NL batting title.

The 27-year-old settled into a role as the Bucs’ everyday third baseman, and had nine RBIs in the month — five of which came Aug. 22 against Milwaukee. Harrison had another impressive performance a week later, when he hit the game-tying triple, scored the game-winning run and made a trio of highlight-reel plays in a 2-1 win against the Reds.

Harrison is the second Pittsburgh player to win the award this season, joining reigning NL MVP Award winner McCutchen, who earned the distinction for June.

Cubs: Kalish returns; Olt could be next

The Cubs selected the contract of outfielder Ryan Kalish from Triple-A Iowa and transferred outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday. And Mike Olt may join the big league team by Friday.

Kalish, 26, was on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster and batted .242 in 39 big league games before being optioned to Iowa on May 26. He hit .251 with 14 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 37 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 87 games with the Minor League team.

Sweeney was placed on the disabled list Aug. 27 with a left hamstring strain and had been rehabbing at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa, Ariz. General manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday that Sweeney was not expected back this season.

Olt also began the season with the Cubs, but the third baseman was demoted to Iowa on July 22 after batting .139 in 72 games, hitting 12 home runs and 30 RBIs. He ended the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, and began a rehab assignment Wednesday with Class A Kane County. Olt went 2-for-3 with a three-run homer on Wednesday and was expected to play Thursday for the Cougars, who are in the Midwest League playoffs. If all continues as planned, Olt will join the Cubs Friday.

Worth noting

•  The Cubs, who will send three lefty starters to the mound in the series, have won a season-high six consecutive home games dating to Aug. 22, and are now two games above .500 at Wrigley Field this season with a 35-33 record.

•  The Pirates are 44-28 at home this season, but just 27-40 on the road. The Bucs had a .543 winning percentage away from PNC Park last season, going 44-37.

Cubs.com

Hendricks takes home NL Rookie of Month for August

By Stephen Pianovich

It’s difficult to have a better first full calendar month in the Majors than Kyle Hendricks had in August. The Cubs starter was rewarded for it with the National League Rookie of the Month Award on Wednesday.

Hendricks, a right-hander, went 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in August, going at least seven innings in four of his six starts and not allowing more than two earned runs in any of them. Hendricks, who made his big league debut on July 10, had the best ERA among qualifying NL rookies, and his 37 1/3 innings pitched and .206 opponents’ batting average were both second.

The Cubs went 6-0 in the month when Hendricks took the hill, and he became their first player to win the award since Anthony Rizzo did so in July 2012. He is the first Cubs pitcher to win the award since it started being handed out in 2001.

Hendricks’ teammate, Jorge Soler, also received votes, as did San Francisco’s Joe Panik, Arizona’s Ender Inciarte and David Peralta, Philadelphia’s Ken Giles, Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and St. Louis’ Kolten Wong.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ youth movement playing out well

Rogers By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Even as veteran players continue to be hit by injuries, the Chicago Cubs keep on winning. Backups have become starters and former minor leaguers are playing major roles. The Cubs might not be contending, but they’re doing a good job of preventing others from stepping on them and into the playoffs.

“There’s a lot of energy,” starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks (6-1) said after beating the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2 Wednesday night. “It’s almost like we’re expecting to win more, I guess. We’re all just playing as best we can to kind of make our stamp.

“But at the same time, we won down in the minor leagues so we kind of have that bred into us — that we need to win, that we want to win. It’s been a good mix so far, and it’s worked.”

Hendricks admittedly had “by far” his worst stuff on Wednesday since coming up to the majors. Even so, it translated into a two-run performance over 5 2/3 innings. The Cubs swept the Brewers at home for the first time since 2004, giving the baseball world another preview of what’s to come.

“With so many good players on one team, you walk around and play with a little bit more confidence, a little more swagger,” Cubs infielder Logan Watkins said. “We’re up here now, and nothing has really changed.”

That’s because when Triple-A Iowa was at full strength and producing earlier this season, they were nearly unbeatable. That team is basically in the majors now — save for Kris Bryant — and the winning has picked up again. And they’re doing it without Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who are both out with injuries. So others have to pick up the slack.

Watkins has been on fire (.414) since his recall from Triple-A, and now he’ll get more playing time with Castro sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Chris Valaika isn’t a household name, but he’s taking Rizzo’s spot at first base. He was in the minors with all the top prospects and sees the same thing everyone else does.

“Right now we’re playing like we should, and that outcome is showing,” Valaika said after homering in Wednesday’s game. “I think there are some really special people in this clubhouse that’s going to make this city proud.”

The competition for rosters spots and playing time in 2015 has begun. No longer are the Cubs employing bodies just to keep spots warm for better players. These are the better players, including Jorge Soler, whose two-run double helped him reached 10 RBIs to become just the second Cub to drive in double-digit runs in his first seven games. And Javier Baez, who’ll play shortstop in Castro’s absence, doubled and walked in the win.

“It gives us something to put our eyes on because they’re here,” manager Rick Renteria said of all the youth. “We’re using it to kind of get to know them a little more. That’s what I would say, we’re getting to know them. There’s a big trust factor being developed here, and they’re pulling for each other.”

This is the plan the Cubs’ front office envisioned from the get-go: A young group of talented players coming together with a winning mindset. It didn’t just happen all at once.

“I think that’s a testament to the coaching we have in the minors,” Hendricks said. “Just getting us ready for this level.”

Big names and small are contributing to the Cubs’ success right now. This is where the seeds for winning get planted, from starter to role player alike.

“Every day you’re in a uniform you have an opportunity,” Valaika said. “It’s exciting with all the young guys up here. Hopefully we keep this going right into next year.”

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 6, Brewers 2

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2 on Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How It Happened: The bottom of the Cubs’ order got them on the board with two outs in the second inning, as Logan Watkins singled and Chris Valaika homered to erase a 1-0 deficit. The Cubs proceeded to pound Milwaukee starter Matt Garza in the next inning, scoring four more times and chasing him after just three innings. A Jorge Soler hustle double brought home two, while RBI hits by Welington Castillo and Watkins plated two more. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks gave up some hits but not much damage until the sixth inning, when he loaded the bases. An error by Valaika extended the inning and reliever Justin Grimm got the final out on a fly ball. Hendricks went 5 2/3 innings, giving up nine hits and two runs. His ERA is 2.02.

Soler milestone: Soler became just the second Cub to drive in at least 10 runs in his first seven games. His two-run double in the third inning gave him 10 RBIs.

What it means: The Cubs’ offense continues to roll without mainstays Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Soler is simply a presence in the middle of the order, and pitchers are having a hard time finding his holes. Garza tried to jam him several times, and on his second at-bat Soler was able to pull his hands in and muscle a ball out to left field, scoring two. It was the key hit of the game. But contributors like Watkins and Valaika also are big reasons the Cubs keep winning. They swept the Brewers out of town — for the first time since 2004 — and now are 3-0 this month after a winning August.

Rookie of the Month: Hendricks took home August honors and might be on his way to September glory after winning again. He wasn’t as sharp as normal, though he didn’t walk anyone. He also didn’t record any strikeouts. He battled his way to the win despite the nine hits. As usual, he minimized the damage.

What’s next: The Cubs get the day off Thursday, then open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley on Friday. Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.79) takes on Vance Worley (6-4, 3.01) at 1:20 p.m. CT.

ESPNChicago.com

Injuries opening door for young talent

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — A slew of injuries to the Chicago Cubs have opened the door for even more young players to take the field in the final month of the season.

If you are keeping track at home, Anthony Rizzo (back) and Starlin Castro (ankle) are down. Both might be done for the year, as the Cubs will take no chances with their all-stars — not this season. Outfielders Justin Ruggiano (ankle) and Ryan Sweeney (hamstring) have been moved to the 60-day disabled list, so their seasons are definitely over. Mike Olt has been nursing a hamstring injury but should return soon.

“These two injuries [to Castro and Rizzo], to me, they reinforce the value of depth,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. “This kind of thing happens in a pennant race. There are no excuses. You have to have guys that can go in.”

If there is a silver lining regarding the injuries to the Cubs’ stars, it is that neither appears to be a problem heading into 2015. Rizzo had it right when he said Tuesday that he wants to get healthy “for the offseason,” not during it. Both Rizzo and Castro had rebounded from subpar 2013 campaigns. Now it’s about who takes over for them.

“It’s not a slight moving around [the diamond],” Hoyer said. “It’s about making the best team possible.”

So Javier Baez will move back to shortstop, though his future looks to be at second base. Hoyer figures keeping him sharp there might pay off when it really matters someday.

Logan Watkins will get his chances at second base, as Hoyer indicated he looks “more comfortable” this time around in the big leagues.

Arismendy Alcantara will stay in center but could see some time at second as well when a tough lefty takes the mound.

Indeed, the Cubs will make the most of this injury situation by looking at other players, plenty of whom will be here next season.

“I think we have a fairly good idea where people are going to be,” Hoyer said. “We always talk about it. You have to have redundancy at different positions.”

But are the Cubs hindering a player’s progress on defense by moving him around? Every game Baez plays at shortstop in Castro’s absence, for example, is one fewer he’ll play at second base.

“For me, it’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than at second,” Hoyer said.

Then why give him the reps there? Yes, he could be at shortstop someday in a pennant race, if Castro is injured again. But it’s more than likely he’ll be at second base for the playoff push, as Castro isn’t exactly injury prone.

“Like I said, we have to make sure he can do it,” Hoyer said on the matter. “It’s a fair question, but I think we’ll put Javier at short. I’m not saying he wouldn’t potentially have some games where he moves over, but right now he’s at shortstop every day.”

So the Cubs are simply going to move on from their injury situation and prepare their roster for next year. The battle is on for backups, as Watkins will get a good look just like Luis Valbuena has as a quasi-starter, with Sweeney and Ryan Kalish before him. By the way, Kalish is back, and Olt is rehabbing with Kane County for two games, then he will join the Cubs and get his reps at first base. Got it?

The Cubs are playing musical chairs due to injuries, but they keep winning, while finding out what they have for 2015.

ESPNChicago.com

Hendricks wins NL Rookie of the Month

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks has been named National League Rookie of the Month for August after posting a 4-0 record with a 1.69 ERA. The Cubs went undefeated in all six of his August starts.

Hendricks, 24, gave up seven earned runs in 37.1 innings-pitched while holding opponents to a .206 batting average. August was the first time since 1956 a Cubs rookie finished a calendar month with a perfect 4-0 mark and it’s the first Rookie of the Month award a Cub has won since Anthony Rizzo in July 2012.

Hendricks is also the first Cubs pitcher to win Rookie of the Month since the inception of the award in 2001. He will receive a specially designed trophy to commemorate the award.

Hendricks takes on the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday night and is looking to become the fourth pitcher in history to win six of his first 10 starts with an ERA under 2.00, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

ESPNChicago.com

Starlin Castro has high ankle sprain

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has a high left ankle sprain and is likely to miss the rest of the regular season, according to general manager Jed Hoyer.

"Right now the prognosis is four weeks to come back," Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. "We’re not going to shut him down. His mentality is he can beat four weeks and come back."

Castro, 24, injured himself sliding into home in the first inning of Tuesday’s 7-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers as his cleat got caught in the dirt around home plate. He limped off under his own power and X-rays showed no fractures. He underwent an MRI to rule out any ligament damage.

Castro was unavailable for reporters on Wednesday afternoon as he was receiving treatment on the ankle.

"(His) spirits are up and he said ‘I’ll be back,’" manager Rick Renteria relayed.

Castro made his third All-Star team this season and was hitting .292 while already tying a career high in home runs with 14.

"In my mind’s eye he’s had a very productive season," Renteria said. "He’s dealt with a lot of different things very positively. He’s worked extremely hard."

Castro was criticized often last season as he struggled to a .245 batting average but got into the best shape of his career over the winter. A hamstring injury caused him to miss most of spring training and slowed his start to the season but as he got healthy he took off.

Late last month he went on the bereavement list after a car accident in the Dominican Republic claimed the lives of several people close to him. He missed his first five games of the year but came back playing well. He has a nine game hitting streak after Tuesday’s first inning single but that might be the last hit of his season.

Second baseman Javier Baez will move over to play shortstop, the position he played almost his entire minor league career.

"Right now our shortstop goes down and we can feel really comfortable," Hoyer said of Baez.

CSNChicago.com

Kyle Hendricks vs. Matt Garza: Cubs flip script on Brewers

Patrick Mooney

Riding the high, Matt Garza zinged the Cubs after beating his old team in late April, saying the Milwaukee Brewers don’t go out hoping to win and repeating what he told Jeff Samardzija privately: “Pitch your way out of there.”

The Brewers left Miller Park that night with a 17-6 record and a 4.5-game lead in the division. They were the hottest team in baseball.

Samardzija did pitch his way out of Chicago, and the Cubs (64-76) are still in last place. But rookies like Kyle Hendricks and Jorge Soler flipped the script on Wednesday night, sweeping the Brewers out of Wrigley Field with a 6-2 victory in front of 31,251.

Recovering from an oblique injury, Garza got rocked in his first start since Aug. 3, giving up six runs in three innings and leaving after 61 pitches. The Brewers (73-66) now trail the St. Louis Cardinals by three games, heading into a four-game showdown with the division leaders that begins Thursday night in Milwaukee.

Where Garza is all adrenaline, Hendricks doesn’t seem to have a pulse on the mound. Before beating the Brewers, Hendricks was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month for August (4-0, 1.69 ERA).

Did you envision that kind of success at this level?

“Not necessarily,” Hendricks said. “You try and come in with the least amount of expectations as possible. My focus was just making good pitches when I’m out there. If I can focus on that, hopefully everything else will take care of itself.

“It was just lucky that month that I made a lot of good pitches and was able to win some ballgames.”

Hendricks might be lucky and good. The 24-year-old right-hander didn’t have his best stuff, giving up nine hits in 5.2 innings and getting pulled after 80 pitches. But the Dartmouth College graduate found a way to limit the Brewers to two runs, giving up zero walks and getting no strikeouts.

Soler is hitting .462 with 10 RBI in his first seven games. Javier Baez is taking over at shortstop. Chris Coghlan (four straight multi-hit games, 22 this season) has taken care of the leadoff spot. A young bullpen is closing out games.

“There’s a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “It’s almost like we’re expecting to win more, I guess. Just having a lot of young guys in here and we’re just all trying to play as best we can to kind of make our stamp. But at the same time, we won down in the minor leagues, so we kind of have that bred into us that we need to win and we want to win.”

CSNChicago.com

Javier Baez takes over as Cubs shortstop

Patrick Mooney

The shortstop takeover had its first highlight-reel play when Javier Baez jumped, fully extended his left arm and caught a line drive at the edge of the outfield grass.

Aramis Ramirez rarely shows emotions, but the ex-Cub threw his arms up in frustration on Wednesday night after getting robbed of a leadoff single in the second inning. That’s the way things have been going for the Milwaukee Brewers during their downward spiral.

Yes, Baez looked right at home during a 6-2 victory at Wrigley Field, part of the fallout from Starlin Castro’s high ankle sprain, which will likely end the All-Star shortstop’s season.

We can come up with trade proposals and play fantasy baseball all winter.

But with Castro hobbling and first baseman Anthony Rizzo (back) sidelined indefinitely – and the Cubs hoping to see a competitive window opening soon – it’s time to start thinking of building a roster No. 1 through No. 25 and not simply The Core and Everyone Else.

“We’re not in a pennant race,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But if we were in a pennant race, most teams lose a shortstop and they’re scrambling. These two injuries, to me, reinforce the value of depth. This kind of thing happens in a pennant race. There’s no excuses. You have to have guys that can go in and we happen to have a really able replacement at shortstop.”

After making big strides as the Triple-A Iowa shortstop – and starting the second-base transition in July – Baez has struggled going to his backhand after playing for so long on the left side of the infield.

“It’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than at second,” Hoyer said. “He makes plays more instinctually when he’s playing short. His movements look more natural than they do at second base. I think that will come.”

Baez said: “I feel comfortable now in both positions.”

Hoyer pointed to Darwin Barney, who began to move off shortstop when Castro made the leap from Double-A Tennessee to The Show in 2010. Barney learned some of the intricacies of playing second base from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the Iowa manager at the time, and won a Gold Glove in 2012.

“When we first came over here,” Hoyer said, “people talked about Barney not looking natural at second base, and then obviously he took off after a full spring training and a full transition there. I just think it takes time to feel natural. (Baez has) played shortstop his whole life. To me, he looks a lot more comfortable at short than he does at second right now.”

Given that reality – and if his future’s at second base – why not just play Baez there in September to get the experience?

“Because we have to make sure he can remain at shortstop and be able to do it,” Hoyer said. “We probably would have felt the same way about Barney. He was always sort of right in our minds as a guy we could put at shortstop for a long period if we needed to.

“It’s a fair question, but we’ll put Javy at short. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have some potential games where he moves over. But right now, he’s going to play shortstop every day.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs think Starlin Castro’s bounce-back season is over

Patrick Mooney

Has Starlin Castro answered all the questions about being the long-term solution at shortstop?

The Cubs will have a lot to think about this winter with Javier Baez, Addison Russell and the war chest they’ve assembled to get pitching, whether it’s through a free-agent megadeal or a blockbuster trade involving their surplus of up-the-middle players.

This discussion would have started Sept. 29, but Castro’s bounce-back season is essentially over after MRIs and X-rays revealed a high ankle sprain. That might be the best-case scenario after Castro slid awkwardly into home plate, grabbed his left knee and slithered in the dirt on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

“We don’t really have any (questions),” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. “He’s our shortstop and there’s a reason that we have Javy playing second base right now. The nice thing is we have some depth at a position (where) few people have depth. Now our shortstop goes down and we can move Javy over there and feel really comfortable.”

The Cubs had a sinking feeling watching Castro’s left leg get tangled up, forcing him to limp off the field during the first inning of a 7-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Instead of holding a Derrick Rose, franchise-altering press conference, Hoyer sat in the dugout with reporters and framed it as relatively good news.

“We ruled out any fractures, any breaks. No torn ligaments, anything like that,” Hoyer said. “Right now, the prognosis would probably be four weeks to come back. We’re sort of operating under the assumption he’s going to be out for the year.

“We’re not going to shut him down. He’s certainly going to work hard to come back. His mentality right now is that he can beat four weeks and come back.”

That’s Castro, an ironman who wants to go all 162 every season and felt he could play through the injury.

“He’s going to do everything he can,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He was in that hallway (off the dugout) pretty upset when I told him to just go in and get seen by (athletic trainer PJ Mainville). He didn’t want to come out.”

The stunted development of young core players like Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo got manager Dale Sveum fired last year. Castro responded during the offseason by training with strength/conditioning coordinator Tim Buss back home in the Dominican Republic and working out at the IMG Academy in Florida before reporting to spring training.

After a strained hamstring wiped out most of his Cactus League schedule, Castro got ready in time and earned his third All-Star selection, hitting .292 with 14 homers, 65 RBI and a .777 OPS.

“He’s probably done better than most expected or anticipated,” Renteria said. “We give him a lot of credit because he’s had to take it on and (make it) his responsibility to kind of try and change the way people view him.

“He’s dealt with a lot of different things very positively. He’s worked extremely hard. The beginning of the season didn’t start off the way anybody would have wanted (and) he kept grinding. His defense started to get better and his offense continued to take off. He worked himself back into an All-Star role.”

Castro is still only 24 and remains under club control through 2020, but he seems much older after watching the franchise teardown/rebuild and weathering all the media storms.

With Castro limping and Rizzo sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, the Cubs won’t get to see them playing alongside uber-prospects Baez and Jorge Soler.

“It’s disappointing,” Hoyer said. “There will be a lot of time to see those guys together. We were all excited to see that whole lineup together and see how they produced together.

“Frankly, the way the injury looked (Tuesday) night, I think we all probably had some worse thoughts about the offseason and what that would entail. All things considered, I think this is pretty good news.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks earns NL Rookie of the Month honors

Staff

Kyle Hendricks’ success is earning national attention now.

Major League Baseball named Hendricks the National League Rookie of the Month for August. The Cubs righty was a perfect 4-0 in six August starts with a 1.69 ERA, allowing only seven earned runs in 37.1 innings pitched. He also struck out 20 and walked just six.

Hendricks, 24, is 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in nine starts this season. The Cubs are 8-1 in games he pitches.

Hendricks is the first Cubs rookie to win the NL award since Anthony Rizzo took home the honors in July 2012 and Hendricks is also the first Cubs pitcher to collect the accolade since 2001.

CSNChicago.com

Kris Bryant minor league player of the year? Of course

TONY ANDRACKI

USA TODAY Sports named Cubs prospect Kris Bryant the Minor League Player of the Year Wednesday, which should come as no surprise to anybody.

Bryant has gotten more attention playing in the minor leagues than most MLB players this season. Of course, leading professional baseball with 43 homers will certainly do a lot to help boost a player’s profile (he also finished with a .325/.438/.661 slash line, 110 RBI and 118 runs).

Bryant was also named to Baseball America’s minor-league All-Star team, claiming third base on a roster that includes Red Sox prospects Mookie Betts and Henry Owens as well as Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson and Rangers slugger Joey Gallo (who finished the season with 42 homers).

Of course, all of that isn’t enough to earn Bryant a call-up, as the Cubs have stuck to the plan and will not bring him to Chicago this month.

Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, Wil Myers (then with the Royals, now with the Rays) and Arizona’s Paul Goldscmidt were the last three USAT Minor League POY winners.

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Schwarber delivers 2-run single

Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Final regular-season stats: 138 games, .325 batting average, 43 home runs, 110 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Final regular-season stats:  68 games, .295 batting average, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Final regular-season stats: 125 games, .270 batting average, 9 home runs, 60 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher/outfielder, Daytona (Class-A)

Wednesday at Dunedin (Florida State League North Championship Series): 1-for-5, 2-run single, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 2-for-10, grand slam , 6 RBIs, 3 strikeouts in playoffs.

Final regular-season stats:  72 games, .344 batting average, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Tribune

Cubs aim for ‘something special’

Mark Gonzales

After getting punched for most of five months, the Chicago Cubs would have a reason to gloat after damaging the National League Central title hopes of Milwaukee with their first three-game home sweep of the Brewers in 10 seasons.

But even after knocking out former salty teammate Matt Garza after three innings in a 6-2 win Wednesday night, the Cubs merely focused on how they can improve with greater goals in sight.

“We’re playing good baseball right now,” said Chris Valaika, who spent most of this season at Triple-A Iowa but hit a two-run home run in place of Anthony Rizzo. “I’ve seen it all year with these guys at Triple-A and coming up there and having success. I’m very proud of the way they’re going about it.

“If we keep this rolling, showing teams we can play going into next year, I think we’ll have something special.’’

Kyle Hendricks was his biggest critic, but he earned his fifth consecutive win despite not possessing sharpness.

“That was, by far, the worst stuff I had,” said Hendricks, who scattered nine hits in 5 2/3 innings and was pulled after only 80 pitches. “It was just one of those days I didn’t have it.”

But it was an encouraging sign that Hendricks (6-1) earned a win without his best stuff, and he’s noticed a  positive vibe thanks to a blend of contributions from rookies and players battling to win roster spots in 2015.

“There’s a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “When I first came up (in July), it’s not like there was a lack of energy. But it’s almost like we’re expecting to win more, I guess. Just having a lot of young guys in there, we’re just trying to play as best we can to make our stamp.

“At the same time, we won in the minor leagues, so we have that bred into us that we need to win and want to win. Having that, along with good veteran players around here, it’s just been a good mix so far, and it’s worked.”

Hendricks gave some of the credit to the minor league coaches for their preparation and the major league staff for providing comfort.

It also helps that the Cubs continue to get a spark from rookies like Jorge Soler, who hit a two-run bloop double during a four-run third. Soler became the first Cubs player to hit safely in his first seven career games since Junior Lake last July, and Soler is the first player in franchise history to have at least 10 RBIs in his first seven games since Mandy Brooks had 12 RBIs from May 30-June 7, 1925.

Soler’s success has shifted some of the scrutiny away from Javier Baez, who snapped an 0-for-13 slump with a double in the first inning but is batting .179 with a .217 on-base percentage.

 Baez downplayed any suggestion that pitchers are pitching him tougher with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo out of the lineup. He did say he was seeing more fastballs, a fact that was supported by his four-strikeout game against Madison Bumgarner of the Giants on fastballs in the low 90 mph range.

“For me, no matter where I hit in the lineup, I’m going to try to hit the ball hard,” Baez said.

Tribune

With Cubs’ Castro likely out for season, Baez moves to SS

Mark Gonzales

Moving Javier Baez to shortstop wasn’t what the Cubs had in mind when they stockpiled that position with the acquisition of minor league prospect Addison Russell on July 5.

But depth will be a key issue if the Cubs want to embark on their ascent to playoff contention.

That’s why general manager Jed Hoyer had no qualms about moving Baez to shortstop, his original position, from second base for the remainder of the season after three-time All-Star Starlin Castro was lost probably for the rest of the season with a high left ankle sprain.

"Right now our shortstop goes down, and we feel very comfortable," Hoyer said Wednesday after an MRI and other tests confirmed Castro suffered no fracture or ligament or tendon tears. "We’re not in a pennant race. But if we were, most teams lose a shortstop, and they’re scrambling."

With the likelihood Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo (lower back strain) are out for the rest of the season, there will be more opportunities for second baseman Logan Watkins and first baseman Mike Olt (who hit a three-run homer for Class A Kane County Wednesday on a rehab assignment) as well as more time for team officials to evaluate their 25-man roster for 2015.

"These two injuries reinforce the value of depth," Hoyer said. "These kind of things happens in a pennant race. There are no excuses, you have to have guys who can go in. We happen to have an able replacement at shortstop.”

But Hoyer emphasized Castro, 24, who rebounded to bat .292 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs this season after a poor 2013, will remain the shortstop once he returns despite speculation of a potential position switch or trade.

"(Castro) is our shortstop," Hoyer emphasized. "There’s a reason we have Javy playing second base right now."

Baez, who doubled in the first inning off Matt Garza to snap an 0-for-13 slump, continues to play exceptionally well at shortstop. He leaped to rob Aramis Ramirez of a hit in the second.

"It’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than second," Hoyer said. "He makes plays more instinctively at shortstop. His movements are more natural than at second base."

Hoyer stressed Baez will get more accustomed to second in the same manner as Darwin Barney, who moved from short to second after Castro was promoted to the majors in 2010 but maintained the skills to play short in the event of an injury.

"You have to have redundancies at different positions," said Hoyer in assessing the Baez move. "You can’t have any excuses in a pennant race if a guy gets hurt. You have to be able to move forward. A lot of our competitors do a good job of making sure guys are still versatile and guys can move around. Just because (Arismendy) Alcantara has been our center fielder for a while doesn’t mean he should lose the ability to play second base if we happen to have a surplus of outfielders and need a second baseman.

 ”We’ll work very hard in spring training and re-emphasize guys being able to play multiple spots. Sometimes guys look at it as a slight moving around. It’s not a slight. It’s making sure we field the best team possible and making sure guys have versatility.”

Castro, meanwhile, told manager Rick Renteria he was determined to return this season, although witnesses said Castro had difficulty moving as he spent most of the afternoon receiving treatment.

"He was in good spirits and said, ‘I’ll be back,’" Renteria said. The loss of Castro and Rizzo (who hasn’t played since Aug. 26) didn’t dishearten Renteria as he evaluates his young hitters.

"I’ll be honest," Renteria said. "It’s probably easier thing for me now that I’ve seen Starlin and Rizz at their best. The most important thing for me now is seeing the other guys and seeing how they fall into the lineups we need (in September). That should give us enough of a glimpse of how we might want to line them up in the near future. But Starlin and Rizzo have done some positive things."

Extra innings: Outfielder Ryan Kalish was added to the 40-man roster and promoted from Iowa, with outfielder Ryan Sweeney transferred to the 60-day disabled list. … Rookie Kyle Hendricks was named the National League pitcher of the month for August after posting a 4-0 record and 1.69 ERA.

03 9 / 2014

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Epstein to Bryant: Prepare for 7-month season in 2015

By Mark Gonzales

Anthony Rizzo’s extended absence would have cleared more at-bats for slugging prospect Kris Bryant.

But the Cubs — despite their recent improvement with a batch of recently promoted prospects — remain in a long-term mode.

Rizzo faces the possibility of missing the rest of the season after an MRI revealed a lower back strain that will sideline him for at least 10 more days. Bryant, 22, who led the minor leagues with 43 home runs in addition to 110 RBIs and a .325 batting average — was told recently by President Theo Epstein to take a break before preparing for what they hope is a seven-month season in 2015.

The Cubs also could be looking at a return to shortstop for Javier Baez for at least the next few games. Starlin Castro left Tuesday night’s game after suffering a left ankle sprain while sliding into home plate for the second of four runs in the first inning against the Brewers.

Initial tests ruled out a fracture, but Castro underwent an MRI to determine if there was any other damage.

“He walked himself off the field, which is a good sign,” manager Rick Renteria smiled. “He didn’t want to come out of the game.

Losing Castro, who is batting .292 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs, for an extended period would provide more playing time for infielder Logan Watkins but not Bryant, who wasn’t among the seven players promoted from Triple-A Iowa before Tuesday’s game.

The Cubs have said all along they wouldn’t promote Bryant to the majors this season. Epstein revealed the offseason plan he delivered to Bryant during a telephone call.

“The fact is we’re not in a pennant race, and he’s a first-year professional who didn’t miss any time,” Epstein said. “It’s a long season, a long grind whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest and go through some active rest physically and let some things soak in mentally and come back ready to go for what we hope will we’ll be a seventh-month season for him next year.

“I think he’s close enough to where he can start setting his sights on the big leagues. Whenever that time comes, we don’t know, but it’s getting closer. There’s a good chance that as he continues to develop, he’ll spend the vast majority of 2015 in the big leagues.”

Epstein stressed the Cubs’ mission is to find a way to be competitive in 2015, but not at the expense of their long-term future. He said it is rare for a player finishing his first full professional season to be promoted to the majors unless he could address a “dire” need for a playoff contender.

“Kris is as advanced and as mature and as professional of a prospect as we’ve had,” Epstein said. “He’s as low-maintenance of a prospect we’ve had. I think he handles new situations well.”

Epstein intimated that Bryant might not start 2015 with the Cubs.

“If anyone can jump into a big-league picture in the middle of a season and not miss a beat, it’s Kris Bryant.”

Rizzo, meanwhile, missed his eighth consecutive start and will be relegated to core exercises once the stiffness subsides.

“If I am shut down, I’m shut down,” Rizzo said. “My main concern is being at full strength in the offseason, getting ready for next year. I want to come back and play. It’s not fun sitting around. It’s something where we all decided we’re not going to go crazy and rush to get back and have it reoccur over and over. We want this to be the first and last time it happens.’’

After enduring a third consecutive losing season, Rizzo seemed excited about next season with young players like Jorge Soler in the mix.

“We’re pretty good,” Rizzo said. “It’s exciting because everyone feels it. The last couple years were rough, hearing about these guys coming up. And now finally get here and it’s going to be fun to watch them because I got to see them get off to a great start. There’s going to be a point where (Soler) struggles, and it’s going to be fun to watch them go through their bumps and bruises. So did I. We’ll all do it together.’’

Extra innings: Infielder Mike Olt will join the Cubs after he completes a minor league rehab assignment with Class A Kane County, Epstein said. Olt is recovering from a hamstring injury suffered at Iowa. … The Cubs will employ a six-man rotation through this week: Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood and Jacob Turner. Left-hander Eric Jokisch and Dan Straily, both promoted from Iowa, could receive a start before the season ends. … Reliever Arodys Vizcaino, who pitched for the Braves in 2011 before missing the next two seasons because of arm injuries, was promoted from Iowa.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Schwarber hits grand slam

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-)A

Final regular season stats: 138 games, .325 batting average, 43 home runs, 110 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Final regular season stats:  68 games, .295 batting average, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Final regular season stats: 125 games, .270 batting average, 9 home runs, 60 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher/outfielder, Daytona (Class-A)

Tuesday vs. Dunedin (Florida State League North Championship Series): 1-for-5, grand slam, strikeout.

Final regular season stats:  72 games, .344 batting average, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday’s recap: Cubs 7, Brewers 1

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs, seeking to ruin the Brewers’ playoff hopes, didn’t miss a beat despite first baseman Anthony Rizzo missing his eighth consecutive game and shortstop Starlin Castro suffering a left ankle sprain that could sideline him indefinitely. The Cubs supported Jake Arrieta with four runs in the first and added three more in the fifth.

At the plate

Jorge Soler hit an RBI single to left field to score Castro in the first, and fellow rookie Arismendy Alcantara hit his eighth home run in the fifth. Soler has at least one RBI in five of his first six games.

On the mound

Jake Arrieta retired nine consecutive batters after allowing an RBI single to Ryan Braun in the third.

In the field

Rookie Javier Baez moved from second base to shortstop after Castro’s injury and completed a double play to end the eighth.

The number

5 – Homers by Alcanatara in his last 10 games.

The quote

Arrieta: “We’re figuring out ways to put all the facets of the game together at the same time.”

Up next

Brewers (Garza 7-7, 3.58) vs. Cubs (Hendricks 5-1, 1.91), 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Epstein: Baez’s strikeout part of learning process

By Mark Gonzales

The sight of watching rookie slugger Javier Baez strike out 51 times in only 119 at-bats has been difficult for Chicago Cubs fans to stomach.

But President Theo Epstein maintains the early struggles are part of the learning process in Baez’s development, and he actually sees benefits to Baez’s prolific strikeout rate.

“This is reality for young players, almost without exception,” Epstein said before Tuesday night’s game. “Young players come up and after an initial period of success where adrenaline is carrying you, the league adjusts and their weaknesses get exploited. And it’s a struggle to adjust back, to adjust your game and cover those holes and force the league to adjust to you again.

“It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game. As tough as it can be to watch sometimes, this is exactly what Javy needs. He’ll end up going into the off-season reflecting on this, and over time it will sink in.  Despite what pitchers do to him, he controls the at-bat and can’t get away from his strengths. He can do as much damage as anyone in the game if he’s patient and can get a pitch to drive and not do too much and use the whole field.”

Epstein is fully aware of Baez’s history of initially struggling and eventually rebounding with a vengeance, as he displayed this season at Triple-A Iowa.

“You just can’t tell somebody,” Epstein said. “Players need to figure it out naturally over time. That is Javy’s pattern. It takes time for that light to go on. He doesn’t back off. He’s got a strong mental makeup and will continue to fight until he does figure it out. When he does, someone is going to play. It will be fun when it happens.”

Chicago Tribune

Rizzo out of Cubs’ lineup

By Mark Gonzales

The Chicago Cubs have won three of their past five games without slugger Anthony Rizzo, who won’t start Tuesday night against Milwaukee for his eighth consecutive game.

Rizzo, who has 30 home runs, possibly could undergo an MRI to determine the extent of his discomfort.

Luis Valbuena, who has hit a home run in four of his past seven games, will bat in the cleanup spot, with Chris Valaika starting at first base in place of Rizzo.

The Cubs and the Oakland Athletics are tied for the major league lead with 26 home runs from the third base position, with Valbuena hitting 14 of his 16 homers as a third baseman.

Here’s the Cubs’ lineup:

Coghlan LF

Baez 2B

Castro SS

Valbuena 3B

Soler RF

Castillo C

Alcantara CF

Valaika 1B

Arrieta P

Chicago Tribune

Cubs add seven to roster, but not Bryant

By Mark Gonzales

As expected, the Chicago Cubs didn’t promote minor league home run champion Kris Bryant to their major league roster Tuesday.

But the Cubs did add seven players to their major league roster in what figures to be a thorough evaluation during the final four weeks.

The Cubs added pitchers Brian Schlitter, Dan Straily, Eric Jokisch, Arodys Vizcaino and Zac Rosscup, outfielder Junior Lake and catcher Rafael Lopez from Triple-A Iowa.

Jokisch, Vizcaino and Lopez will be making their Cubs debuts. Vizcaino made 11 appearances for the Atlanta Braves in 2011 but missed the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of right elbow injuries.

Vizcaino had a 5.40 ERA in 17 appearances for Iowa and had a combined 3.51 ERA in 40 games at Class-A Daytona, Double-A Tennessee and Iowa.

Jokisch, a left-hander who was 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts for Iowa, figures to receive a start before the regular season concludes on Sept. 28. Jokisch starred at Northwestern.

Justin Ruggiano, who underwent ankle surgery last week, was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Bryant, 22, hit 43 home runs and drove in 110 runs with .325 batting average at Tennessee and Iowa in his first full professional season. Bryant’s 43 homers led all of minor league baseball.

Chicago Sun-Times

Kris Bryant’s absence as rosters expand worth a second guess

By Gordon Wittenmyer

It’s been a foregone conclusion for weeks, if not a year or more, that the Cubs’ best prospect would not get called up this season, even in September.

But is it the right decision that Kris Bryant didn’t get a promotion when rosters expanded this week? Is it even the best decision for the Cubs?

It’s certainly not the fair and just baseball decision for Bryant, who leads professional baseball with 43 home runs, is expected to earn Minor League Player of the Year honors and who outperformed minor league teammates Javy Baez and Jorge Soler – both of whom were awarded big-league debuts by the club last month.

Even team president Theo Epstein said, “He did everything he can do. He lived up to his end of the bargain.”

Obviously, from a business standpoint, it seems to make little sense to start Bryant’s service-time clock in September with no playoff implications. And since he’s not on the 40-man roster, nor required to be in order to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter, that spot can be used to protect another minor-leaguer.

“But if this is a performance-driven industry as it should be, Bryant deserves the callup, based on performance,” said Scott Boras, Bryant’s agent. “What’s best for the player, what’s best for the team in 2015? The goal here is trying to make the team the best it can be in 2015. And what can you do to ready him for that?”

Boras’ argument that Bryant would benefit from the acclimation process of a big-league environment and competition level to better “hit the ground running” in 2015 is the same one the Cubs used when promoting Baez and Soler in August.

Certainly, it seems naïve to suggest the Cubs ignore the business-value ramifications of Bryant – a player many believe has the best chance among their prospects of becoming a perennial All-Star.

But one official from a team currently positioned in a playoff-qualifying spot said after seeing Bryant play this year the Cubs are making a mistake by not letting him make big-league adjustments this month.

Even if the fear is the Cubs will only get six years of club control before Bryant leaves as a free agent, “the month he gets now will make him a better player for those six years,” the team official said.

It’s the Mike Trout argument. Trout was called up by the Angels three years ago during a Minor League Player of the Year season and hit .220 in 40 games – then the next year, at 20, was an All-Star, rookie of the year and MVP runnerup.

“There’s something to that,” the official said.

Of course, the argument holds more weight if the Cubs plan to contend next season – even more if they were in contention now.

Epstein acknowledged Tuesday that the front office is looking at 2015 internally with a shifted big-league focus than the past few years – “a little bit more focused on finding the right complementary players and rounding out the big-league roster to maximize every possible win, every possible chance at contention, absolutely.”

That’s a long way from proclaiming the Cubs ready to contend. But what if they’re successful in landing an impact pitcher such as Jon Lester and get more growth from the young talent?

What if sweeping the Orioles, splitting with the Cardinals and clinching this week’s series against Milwaukee with a X-X win Tuesday actually means something?

Boras refuted the perception he’s hell-bent on taking clients to free agency at the first chance. And general manager Jed Hoyer those kinds of concerns having nothing to do with their thinking on Bryant.

“The fact he’s not on the 40 is a consideration, but it’s not a determining factor,” Epstein said. “You just have to balance all the factors. It’s more art than science.”

“I do think the presumption for a player finishing his first full professional season is that he won’t be called up unless there’s a dire need in the big leagues, unless he can contribute to a team that’s in contention [which was the case with Trout],” Epstein said. “A first full professional season is a long grind, whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest and go get some active rest physically and let some things soak in mentally and come back ready to go for what we hope will be a seven-month season for him next year.

“I certainly think he’s close enough he can start setting his sights on the big leagues. Whenever that time comes, we don’t know, but he’s getting closer. There’s a good chance if he continues to develop he’ll spend the vast majority of 2015 in the big leagues. And we find a way to be a really competitive team, we’re looking to play seven months, not six.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo may be done for season; Cubs win 7-1

By Gordon Wittenmyer

The Cubs could be without both of their All-Stars for the rest of the season after shortstop Starlin Castro left Tuesday night’s game in the first inning with a left ankle sprain.

Initial tests appeared to rule out a fracture, but Castro was scheduled to undergo an MRI and more detailed x-rays at a nearby hospital Tuesday night to determine the severity of the injury.

The three-time All-Star was injured when his spikes caught in the dirt as he slid into the plate during a 7-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers – causing his leg to bend awkwardly underneath him.

He left the field under his own power, limping, and manager Rick Renteria said he lobbied to stay in the game.

The Cubs, who already are without the services of first baseman Anthony Rizzo because of a back injury, are expected to take a cautious approach with Castro because of the often-lingering nature of such injuries, which could quickly wipe out the final 3 ½ weeks of his season.

Rizzo, who has missed the last week, was diagnosed with a lower-back strain after an MRI on Tuesday and ordered to abstain from baseball activities for the next 10 days, putting the rest of his season in doubt, too.

“If I am shut down, I’m shut down,” said Rizzo, who hit his 30th homer in his last game. “My main concern is being full strength in the offseason and getting ready for next year.”

The Cubs do not consider the injury a long-term concern.

“Obviously, I want to come back and play,” Rizzo said. “But it’s something where we all decided we’re not going to go crazy and rush to get back and have it re-occur over and over. We want this to be the first and last time it ever happens.”

NOTES

The Cubs have slotted their six-man rotation to go at least twice through before adjustments, starting with Jacob Turner’s win Monday and continuing with Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront and Travis Wood.

— Edwin Jackson (latissimus dorsi) could get one more start down the stretch depending on his progress. Northwestern product Eric Jokisch (one of Tuesday’s September call-ups) may also be considered.

— Other call-ups Tuesday: outfielder Junior Lake, catcher Rafael Lopez and pitchers Arodys Vizcaino, Brian Schlitter, Dan Straily and Zac Rosscup.

— Third baseman Mike Olt could join the September call-ups in the next few days.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ call-ups don’t include Bryant

By Bruce Miles

There was enough cold water thrown all over the place concerning Cubs core players Tuesday to make any ice-bucket challenge seem like a nice warm bath.

First came the news that all-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo is out indefinitely — and maybe for the rest of the season — with a lower-back strain.

During the Cubs’ 7-1 victory over the reeling Milwaukee Brewers, shortstop Starlin Castro gave the Wrigley Field crowd a scare when he slid awkwardly into home plate in the first inning and had to come out of the game.

Castro limped off the field under his own power, and the Cubs said he suffered a sprained left ankle. Although initial tests apparently showed no fracture, Castro went for an MRI.

"It just looked very awkward," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "Anytime you see somebody cringe in pain, you kind of grab yourself. He didn’t want to come out of the game."

And while it should have come as no surprise, third-base prospect Kris Bryant was not among the seven September call-ups the Cubs made Tuesday.

The good news for Cubs fans is that Rizzo and Castro should be OK in the long run and that Bryant should be up sometime early next season after hitting 43 home runs and putting up an OPS of 1.098 between Class AA Tennessee and Class AAA Iowa this season.

Cubs President Theo Epstein made an interesting comment about the length of Bryant’s season in 2015.

"Come back ready to go for what we hope will be a seven-month season next year," Epstein said. "We think he’s close enough where he can start setting his sights on the big leagues. Whenever that time comes, we don’t know, but it’s getting closer.

"There’s a good chance that if he continues to develop he’ll spend the vast majority of 2015 in the big leagues. If we find a way to be a really competitive team, we’re looking to play seven months, not six."

You do the math. A seven-month season means “postseason,” and it’s the first real mention by a member of the Cubs management team that October baseball could be within reach.

How Bryant gets those seven months of baseball is another interesting story. Because the Cubs will want to keep from starting Bryant’s free-agency clock at the start of next season, they could bring him up in, say, the third week of April.

It takes six full seasons of major-league service for a player to gain free agency, and by delaying Bryant’s debut, the Cubs would get essentially a free extra year of service time out of him before he can hit the open market.

But first things first. Epstein had nothing but praise for the 22-year-old Bryant, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick last year.

"Kris had a remarkable season," Epstein said. "He’s got to be the minor league player of the year in everybody’s book. I told him the other day, ‘You did everything you could possibly do as a first-year professional to impress and make us proud as an organization.’

"We’re just as proud of the way he handled himself off the field, treating everybody with respect and class, as we are with the accomplishments on the field.

"He did everything he can do. He lived up to his end of the bargain. I just told him the simple fact we’re not in a pennant race and for a first-year professional who didn’t miss any time, it’s a long season, a long grind, whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest."

Epstein went further.

"I’ll say it," he declared. "He’s as advanced and mature and special a prospect as we’ve had. He’s as low-maintenance as we’ve had and I think handles new situations extremely well, if you look how he adjusted to the leap from Double-A to Triple-A or any of the other transitions he made last year.

"It just seems like nothing flusters him. He is thoughtful, cerebral, a well-adjusted mature guy. I think if anyone an jump into the big-league picture in the middle of a season and not miss a beat, it’s Kris Bryant."

Daily Herald

Bad back could knock Rizzo out for rest of season

By Bruce Miles

It’s possible the Cubs could shut down first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the rest of the season.

An MRI performed Tuesday revealed that Rizzo has what Cubs President Theo Epstein termed a mild low-back strain. Rizzo, a National League all-star, faces 10 days of rest and core work and then the Cubs will determine whether Rizzo plays again this season.

"We’re going to be cautious with him," Epstein said. "It’s the type of thing where if it was before expanded rosters, it would probably be a DL. With expanded rosters in September, no need to DL him, but we’re going to be cautious and make sure we knock it out. It’s nothing chronic and bother him long term. It’s something you don’t want to rush back from."

Rizzo has a hitting line of .278/.375/.514 with 30 home runs and 71 RBI. He has not played since coming out of the Aug. 26 game at Cincinnati.

"It’s funny," he said. "I hit my 30th home run, and a rain delay comes and my back gets tight. It’s very weird. It never got loose after the rain delay, and it kept grabbing on me more and more."

Rizzo said any number of actions trigger the discomfort.

"It’s just certain things that I do (where) I feel it," he said. "Twisting is when I feel it most. When I swing, it hurts. It’s kind of relieving that the MRI showed something so I’m not going crazy anymore. In 10 days here, feel a lot better and hopefully start up again."

Rizzo did not seem overly concerned about the possibility of not playing again this season.

"I’m not really worried about it or even if I am just because it’s an opportunity for the guys here," he said. "If I am shut down, I’m shut down. My main concern is being full strength in the off-season, getting ready for next year. Obviously I want to come back and play.

"It’s something we all decided we’re not going to go all crazy and rush to get back and have it reoccur over and over. We want this to be the first and last time it ever happens."

More reinforcements here:

The Cubs recalled pitchers Brian Schlitter, Dan Straily, Arodys Vizcaino and Zac Rosscup from Class AAA Iowa. They also brought back outfielder Junior Lake from Iowa.

Two players not on the 40-man roster had their contracts selected from Iowa: catcher Rafael Lopez and left-handed pitcher Eric Jokisch, a product of Northwestern University.

"He was a definite add for us," Theo Epstein said. "Outstanding season, outstanding minor league career. He’s always had the plus changeup. I think what’s helped him turn the corner is now he’s become a true three-pitch pitcher. He’s got the slider that he can locate. He can command his fastball to both sides of the plate. He still has the swing-and-miss changeup

"He really had a very consistent, very impressive season at Triple-A after an excellent year last year as well in Double-A. He’s someone who we see long term as a starting candidate in the organization."

Lopez is a left-handed hitter who gives the Cubs a third catcher.

Vizcaino is a highly touted prospect who had Tommy John surgery in March 2012 while with the Atlanta organization. He missed the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Cubs obtained him from the Braves in the July 2012 trade that sent pitcher Paul Maholm to Atlanta.

Cougars set for postseason:

The Kane County Cougars open their Midwest League playoff Wednesday at Wisconsin before coming home to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva Thursday and Friday, if necessary. The Cubs’ Class A Midwest League affiliate finished with a franchise-best 91-49 season.

Cubs President Theo Epstein said the Cougars are “a tremendous story. They just know how to win.”

The Cougars announced several capital improvement projects to their park for 2015, including a new batting cage with two hitting tunnels along with an expanded weight room and video room.

A new high-definition scoreboard and premium seating behind home plate also are planned.

Rotation roulette:

The Cubs’ rotation for the weekend series against the Pirates will be Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront and Travis. Wood. At Toronto beginning next Monday, the Cubs will go with Jacob Turner, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks in the three games, giving them a six-man rotation for now.

Cubs.com

Cubs’ bats break out, take series from reeling Crew

Chicago takes advantage of miscues, giving Arrieta plenty of support

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs didn’t have Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro had to leave the game after the first with a sprained ankle, so mighty mite Arismendy Alcantara stepped up.

Alcantara smacked a two-run homer to back Jake Arrieta and the Cubs scored two runs on back-to-back errors by shortstop Elian Herrera in the first inning to post a 7-1 victory over the Brewers, who probably wish they could take a mulligan Tuesday.

The loss, coupled with St. Louis’ win over Pittsburgh, dropped Milwaukee two games back in the National League Central. The Brewers now have lost a season-high seven in a row.

Arrieta picked up the win, his second in his last six starts, in front of 28,434 at Wrigley Field, who collectively cringed at the sight of Castro writhing in pain at home plate in the first inning.

Javier Baez walked with one out in the first against Yovani Gallardo, and Castro singled. Luis Valbuena and Jorge Soler each followed with RBI singles, although the latter hit was costly as Castro slid awkwardly into home plate and had to leave the game with a left ankle sprain. Initial tests ruled out a fracture, but Castro was to undergo an MRI and X-rays.

"It just looked very awkward," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Any time you see somebody cringe in pain, you grab yourself a little bit."

The Cubs are already missing Rizzo, who has a mild lower back strain, and is sidelined indefinitely.

Chicago kept the inning going by taking advantage of mistakes by Herrera, who couldn’t get his glove on Welington Castillo’s hard-hit ball, which allowed a run to score. Another run tallied when Herrera made a wild throw to first to try to get Alcantara.

"We made errors and you get behind 4-0 again, and you feel pressure on the offense to come back and score runs," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We’ve got to put up some zeroes, play good defense, pitch well and give our offense a chance to hopefully get a lead sometimes."

Ryan Braun hit an RBI single with one out in the Milwaukee third, but he was then thrown out at second trying to steal. Getting Braun was one of the little things that helped Arrieta, who felt he was able to execute his pitches well. He just threw too many in a 26-pitch first.

"The pitch count got elevated with some extended at-bats which probably cost myself another inning," Arrieta said.

"You never want to fall behind, but especially against a pitcher of his caliber," Braun said of Arrieta. "I think he’s established himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. He’s really good — throws above average probably four different pitches. So you certainly don’t want to fall behind to a guy like that."

Valbuena doubled with one out in the fifth, and scored one out later on Castillo’s double off the left-field wall. Castillo’s ball and a fly ball by Jorge Soler might have gone out with a little help from nature, but there was almost no wind at Wrigley Field. Alcantara, the smallest player on the team, didn’t need any help as the 5-foot 10-inch, 170-pounder launched the first pitch from Gallardo into the right-field bleachers for his eighth home run.

"I think he hit it better than me, he made better contact than me," Castillo said of Alcantara. "He’s a small guy but he’s got pop — he’s a strong guy. Everybody sees him as small and little, but he’s really strong. He’s been hitting way, long homers, so that doesn’t surprise me."

"When everything’s in sync, he uses his hands quite well and he’s able to drive the ball out of the ballpark," Renteria said.

Alcantara, who hit 15 home runs last season with Double-A Tennessee, now has eight home runs in 50 games, and is riding a six-game hitting streak.

"I just hit it good, that’s it," Alcantara said.

The Cubs have been playing good, and the infusion of young talent has given the team a spark.

"There’s a lot of young guys, and they’re hungry," Castillo said. "They want to go out and play and do their best, and I think that motivates you to play harder. I think this team will be really, really, really good."

Cubs.com

Castro sprains left ankle on slide into home

Shortstop exits game after first inning, replaced by Baez in infield

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro left Tuesday’s game with a sprained left ankle suffered in an awkward slide at home plate in the first inning, and initial tests ruled out any fracture.

Castro underwent an MRI and X-rays on his ankle Tuesday, and was to be evaluated further. The team expected test results on Wednesday.

Castro had singled with one out and one on in the first and was on second base when Jorge Soler singled to left against Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo. As Castro slid into home, his left ankle bent awkwardly underneath him. He was able to walk off the field under his own power, but was obviously limping.

"It just looked very awkward," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Any time you see somebody cringe in pain, you grab yourself a little bit. Obviously, he walked himself off the field.

"He didn’t want to come out of the game," Renteria said. "That’s a good sign."

Castro did not return, and Javier Baez moved from second to shortstop.

"We need him in the lineup," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said of Castro. "That’s a guy who doesn’t want to miss any games. I hope he’s all right. We need him."

Cubs.com

Rizzo sidelined indefinitely with low back strain

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — An MRI revealed Anthony Rizzo has a mild low back strain and he will be sidelined indefinitely, although the Cubs first baseman said if he’s shut down for the year, he can accept that.

"We’re going to be cautious with him," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "It’s the type of thing where if it was before expanded rosters, he’d be put on the [disabled list]. With the expanded rosters in September, there’s no need to DL him. It’s nothing chronic, nothing that will bother him long term, but something we don’t want to rush back from."

The plan now is for Rizzo to rest and continue his core workout program. The Cubs are not in the playoff race and had 23 games remaining entering Tuesday. Could Rizzo be shut down?

"I think we’ll see where we are down the road," Epstein said.

Rizzo felt his back tighten up one week ago in Cincinnati. He hit his 30th home run against the Reds, and the Cubs game was then delayed 50 minutes by rain. He was unable to get loose again after the delay, and has not played since.

"I’m kind of relieved that the MRI showed something so I’m not going crazy anymore," Rizzo said. "Hopefully, in 10 days here I’ll feel a lot better and can start up again."

The Cubs do have Chris Valaika to play first, but Epstein said Mike Olt, who was on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, but ended the season on Triple-A Iowa’s disabled list, could be added and play first base.

Rizzo said he was frustrated, but not worried about the back problems.

"If I am shut down, I’m shut down," he said. "My main concern is being full strength in the offseason and getting ready for next year. Obviously, I want to come back and play — it’s not fun sitting around and watching. We’re not going to go crazy and rush to get back and have it re-occur over and over. We want this to be the first and last time it ever happens."

Epstein discusses futures of Soler, Baez and Bryant

CHICAGO — Jorge Soler has made a strong first impression, Javier Baez is learning on the job, and Kris Bryant is headed home. It’s all part of the development process for the trio of highly touted Cubs prospects.

Soler made his sixth start in right field Tuesday, and is one of three players in Major League history with an extra-base hit in each of his first five games.

"I’m not surprised he’s had quality at-bats," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "He recognizes pitches well and has a good plan at the plate. We called him up at a time when he had just gotten through a slump [at Triple-A Iowa] and seemed to know himself well and was getting comfortable again. He was swinging at pitches he could drive and had a very confident presence in the box.

"He’s carried that right up to the big leagues," Epstein said of the 22-year-old outfielder. "When the first swing you take is a bomb to center field in the big leagues, it just enforces that confidence. Even though he’s new in the league, it’s as if the league has had to rush to adjust to him."

Soler hit a home run in his first at-bat last Wednesday in Cincinnati, and entered Tuesday’s game 10-for-19 with four doubles and three home runs.

Epstein said there will likely be a time when Soler struggles. It’s part of the process, which Baez is experiencing. Baez hit a home run in his Major League debut Aug. 5 in the 12th inning to give the Cubs a win over the Rockies. The infielder was 21-for-116 so far with seven home runs and 50 strikeouts.

"This is the reality for young players," Epstein said. "Almost without exception, young players come up after an initial period of success and adrenaline is carrying them, then the league adjusts and their weaknesses get exploited and it’s a struggle to adjust back.

"As tough as it can be to watch sometimes, this is exactly what Javy needs," Epstein said. "He’s going to end up going into the offseason reflecting back on this and over time, it’ll sink in that despite what pitchers do to him, he controls the at-bat and he can’t get away from his strengths and he can do as much damage as anyone in the game when he gets a pitch he can drive and not try to do too much and uses the whole field."

Hitting coaches have told Baez that, but Epstein said players need to experience the struggles themselves.

"This is Javy’s pattern," Epstein said. "It takes him a little bit of time to have that light go on at a new level. I think it’s part of his aggressive nature. He doesn’t back down and has strong mental makeup and will continue to fight and scrap. When he does figure it out, someone’s going to pay."

Bryant finished his first full season in professional baseball with 43 home runs, the most in the Minor Leagues, but was not called up when rosters expanded.

"I told him the other day, ‘You did everything you could possibly do as a first-year professional to impress and make us proud as an organization,’" Epstein said. "We’re just as proud with the way he handled himself off the field as we are with the accomplishments on the field."

Now, the Cubs want Bryant to prepare for a seven-month season in 2015, not the shorter Minor League slate of games.

"I think he’s close enough that he can start setting his sights on the big leagues," Epstein said. "Whenever that time comes, we don’t know, but it’s getting closer."

Bryant has made smooth transitions at each level, and last season, went from the Rookie League to short-season Boise to Class A-Advanced Daytona to the Arizona Fall League, where he was named Most Valuable Player.

"He’s as advanced and mature and professional a prospect as we’ve had," Epstein said. "He’s a thoughtful, cerebral, well adjusted mature guy. If anyone can jump into the big league picture in the middle of the season and not miss a beat, it’s Kris Bryant."

Extra bases

• The Cubs will go with a six-man rotation, and keep Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront in the mix for now.

Jake Arrieta started Tuesday and was to be followed by Kyle Hendricks in the series finale against the Brewers. Tsuyoshi Wada, Doubront and Travis Wood, all lefties, will face the Pirates this weekend at Wrigley Field. Turner, who made his second start for the Cubs on Monday, will open a three-game series in Toronto on Sept. 8.

The Cubs want to see Doubront, acquired from the Red Sox on July 30 for a player to be named later, and Turner, who they got from the Marlins for two Minor League players.

Dan Straily and Eric Jokisch, both starters at Triple-A Iowa, who were promoted Tuesday, will likely piggyback off the Cubs starters in the final 20 plus games.

• Class A Kane County opens the 2014 Midwest League playoffs on Wednesday at Wisconsin. Game 1 will be played in Appleton, Wis., with the second game of the best of three series Thursday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. This is the 14th playoff appearance in the Cougars’ 24-year history, and first trip since 2011. Manager Mark Johnson’s team won a franchise record 91 games.

Cubs.com

Vizcaino among seven added to Cubs’ roster

Prospect joined by fellow righties Schlitter, Straily; Rosscup, Lake recalled

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs added seven players for the final month of the regular season, including right-handed pitchers Brian Schlitter, Dan Straily and Arodys Vizcaino (ranked ninth among the club’s prospects by MLB.com). The team also recalled left-handed pitcher Zac Rosscup and outfielder Junior Lake.

The Cubs selected the contracts of pitcher Eric Jokisch and catcher Rafael Lopez from Triple-A Iowa. Outfielder Justin Ruggiano was transferred to the 60-day disabled list to open a spot on the 40-man roster.

Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves in July 2012 for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson, compiled a 3.51 ERA in 40 games at Class A Daytona, Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, giving up 16 earned runs on 38 hits and 18 walks over 41 innings. He pitched in the Major Leagues in 2011 with the Braves, and then he needed Tommy John surgery.

"He’s got plus stuff — his fastball, his breaking ball," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "The key for him this year was that he went out and established his health. He had his ups and downs. There were times when he was fighting his mechanics, and it wasn’t his elite stuff. He fought through that."

Epstein said what they want Vizcaino to “learn what it’s like to pitch at Wrigley Field with an eye on 2015.”

Lake began the season with the Cubs, but he batted .216 in 98 games and was optioned to Iowa in mid-August. In 14 games with the Minor League team, he batted .262 with two home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Jokisch was 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts at Iowa, striking out 143 over 158 1/3 innings. Lopez batted .285 at Iowa with one home run and 27 RBIs.

Both Jokisch and Lopez needed to be added this winter to the 40-man roster. Epstein said Lopez has made significant progress not only behind the plate, but as a hitter.

"He’s someone our staff is excited to work with," Epstein said.

Jokisch, an 11th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, has compiled a 42-35 record and 3.50 ERA since his Minor League career began.

"He had an outstanding Minor League career," Epstein said. "What’s helped him turn the corner is that he’s become a true three-pitch pitcher. He has the slider that he can locate, and he can command his fastball to both sides of the plate. He really had a very consistent, very impressive season at Triple-A after an excellent year last year at Double-A. He’s someone we see long term as a starting pitcher candidate. He still has some innings left."

The Cubs considered promoting Dallas Beeler, who made two spot starts June 28 against the Nationals and July 9 against the Reds, but Epstein said the right-hander had reached his innings limit this year. He was 9-6 with a 3.40 ERA in 124 1/3 innings at Iowa.

Another player who could join the Cubs is Mike Olt, who hit 12 home runs in 72 games before he was sent down to Iowa in late July. Olt was batting .139 at that point with 84 strikeouts in 187 at-bats. At Iowa, Olt batted .302 with seven home runs and nine doubles in 28 games before he was sidelined with a hamstring strain.

Schlitter and Rosscup both have been up with the Cubs this season. Straily was acquired from the Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel deal, and was 3-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 10 starts with Iowa.

Cubs.com

Struggling Crew hopes Garza can shut down Cubs

Hendricks looks to close out sweep, continue strong rookie year

By Joe Morgan

The Brewers spent 149 days in first place this season, grabbing hold of the top spot in the National League Central on April 5 and holding onto their perch atop the division until Aug. 31. Nine losses in 11 games and seven straight defeats will do that to you.

The outlook got even worse on Tuesday evening when Milwaukee learned that a sprained left wrist could sideline All-Star Carlos Gomez for multiple weeks. The outfielder will not resume physical activity until at least Sunday.

"It’s never good to lose a good player, a spark plug leadoff guy that can do some damage in the leadoff spot. So it’s bad timing," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I’m happy it’s not something worse. You’re not talking about surgery, so I’m glad about that."

Trailing the Cardinals by two games in the NL Central, the Brewers hope they can rely on a rejuvenated Matt Garza, who owns a 2.13 ERA in his past six starts.

"I’m fine — healthy, strong and just glad to be able to pitch in again," Garza said.

Garza will face former teammates as he pitches opposite Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who has been stellar for Chicago in a limited capacity. Hendricks is 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA in nine starts this season.

Wednesday will mark Garza’s 30th career start at Wrigley Field, his most at any NL ballpark. Perhaps the familiarity will only help him improve his 2.74 career ERA when surrounded by brick and ivy.

"You know, it could [help]," Garza said. "I don’t really look too much into it. I know the guys on the other side are going to try to hit the ball as hard as I can, just like I’m going to try my best to get them out. That’s kind of the way it goes anywhere you pitch."

Cubs: Baez hoping to halt slump

• There’s no denying Javier Baez has had some impressive moments since joining Chicago on Aug. 5, but the 21-year-old has been scuffling at the plate as of late. He has hit .095 (4-for-42) with two extra-base hits, one walk and 17 strikeouts since Aug. 24 as the Cubs have gone 6-4 despite his batting woes.

Brewers: Lucroy nearing record for two-baggers

• Thirty-nine of Jonathan Lucroy’s Major League-leading 46 doubles this year have come in games when he was playing catcher, placing him only six away from tying Ivan Rodriguez’s record of 45 as a backstop set with the Rangers in 1996.

Lucroy is only four doubles away from doubling last season’s total of 25 as his career-high 46 two-baggers already outnumber the 42 total he notched in each of the previous two seasons.

Worth noting

• Both Rickie Weeks and Francisco Rodriguez are near career milestones as Weeks needs only two more hits to reach 1,000 while Rodriguez only needs one more save for his fifth season of 40 or more saves and his first since 2008.

• Yovani Gallardo fanned four Cubs on Tuesday night to tie Ben Sheets for Milwaukee’s all-time franchise strikeouts record of 1,206.

• Despite hitting only a combined .221 (115-for-521), Cubs third basemen share the Major League lead with the Athletics for most home runs from the hot corner this season at 26.

Cubs.com

Schwarber, Vogelbach lead Daytona to postseason win

By Teddy Cahill

Led by Kyle Schwarber and Dan Vogelbach, the Cubs’ Nos. 7 and 11 prospects, Class A Advanced Daytona defeated Dunedin, 11-1, Tuesday in Game 1 of their Florida State League semifinals series.

Vogelbach scored the first run of the game in the second inning and then built on the lead with a two-out, two-run homer in the third. Schwarber broke the game open the next inning with a two-out, opposite-field grand slam, which gave Daytona a 9-0 lead.

Schwarber, ranked No. 75 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, finished the game 1-for-5 with a run and four RBIs. He primarily has played left field since the Cubs made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, but served Tuesday as Daytona's designated hitter.

Vogelbach went 2-for-5 with a double, two runs and two RBIs. Outfielder Billy McKinney, the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect, added two hits and two runs.

The best-of-three series continues Wednesday with Game 2 at Dunedin. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. If necessary, Game 3 would be played Thursday at Dunedin at 6:30 p.m.

Cubs.com

Brewers get call at first overturned against Cubs

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Brewers manager Ron Roenicke successfully challenged a call that preserved a skillful play by shortstop Elian Herrera on Tuesday night.

With Milwaukee trailing, 4-1, with no outs in the fourth, Herrera — already with two errors — dropped the ball while diving for a line drive from the Cubs’ Chris Valaika. Herrera quickly threw to first, but Valaika was ruled safe by first-base umpire Mark Carlson.

Roenicke challenged the call, which was reversed after a review of one minute, 30 seconds. Roenicke is now 15-9 in challenges this year.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Brewers 1

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Cubs scored four times in the first, as two errors by shortstop Elian Herrera opened the door for a big inning. Luis Valbuena and Jorge Soler had RBI hits. The Brewers got one back when Ryan Braun brought home Scooter Gennett in the third inning, but the Cubs broke it open in the fifth when a Welington Castillo RBI double was followed by an Arismendy Alcantara home run to right. It was his eighth on the year. Cubs starter Jake Arrieta went six innings and gave up five hits and a run while the Cubs pounded Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo. He gave up eight hits and five earned runs in five innings.

Castro hurt: Shortstop Starlin Castro left the game in the first inning after he slid awkwardly into home plate. The Cubs said he injured his ankle but didn’t fracture any bones. He was due for an MRI and was still under evaluation, according to the team.

What it means: The Cubs keep rolling, especially on offense. Even after losing Castro — and already playing without an ailing Anthony Rizzo — they crushed balls off of Gallardo. Even the outs, like a Soler blast to the wall in the fifth, were tagged. And all of a sudden Alcantara is sneaking up on double-digit home runs. Soler continued a hot streak with another RBI hit and barely missed another home run with the smash to left. The Cubs have started September the way they left off in August: winning.

What’s next: The Cubs go for the series sweep on Wednesday night when Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.91 ERA) takes on Matt Garza (7-7, 3.58).

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs to use six-man rotation

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs will indeed utilize a six-man rotation, manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday.

The Cubs have been intimating for several weeks that they want to see some of their young pitchers, and with rosters expanded for the month of September, they’ll continue to see a lot of them.

After Jake Arrieta’s start Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs will go with Kyle Hendricks followed by Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood and Jacob Turner. Then, they’ll repeat that cycle until further notice.

Two of Tuesday’s call-ups from the minors, Eric Jokisch and Dan Straily, might not start a game right away but could “piggyback” another young starter’s outing. Cubs president Theo Epstein had high praise for the lefty, Jokisch, in particular.

"Outstanding minor league career," Epstein said Tuesday. "Plus changeup. Three pitches now. Really consistent, impressive season at Triple-A. He’s a long-term starting pitching candidate."

Jokisch, the Cubs’ 11th-round choice in the 2010 draft, went 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts for Triple-A Iowa this year.

The Cubs promoted their pitchers based on performance and season-long pitch and/or innings counts. For example, Triple-A starter Dallas Beeler reached his limit, so he wasn’t recalled with the group of his former teammates.

ESPNChicago.com

Olt to play first once healthy

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs infielder Mike Olt will return to the team in the coming days while he rehabs a hamstring injury, team president Theo Epstein said on Tuesday. Olt will be part of the group of players called up from the minors when rosters expanded Monday.

"There will be a slot at first base, [and we’ll] get him some at-bats while [Anthony] Rizzo is out," Epstein said.

It will be Olt’s second stint with the team after he struggled earlier this season in his first time around. After earning a job in spring training, he hit just .139 with 12 home runs in 189 at-bats for the Cubs. As the season went on, his power became more sporadic, while his strikeout total rose. He struck out 84 times before being demoted in late July.

Olt hit well for Triple-A Iowa while playing first base and produced a .302 batting average with seven home runs in 28 games. Rizzo’s being out with a back injury should give Olt plenty of playing time in the final month of the season — good news, given that his future with the team is murky. He hasn’t played since mid-August due to the hamstring strain.

ESPNChicago.com

Starlin Castro leaves with leg injury

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro left Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers with a sprained left ankle after he slid into home plate awkwardly in the bottom of the first inning, the team announced.

Castro easily made it home from second on Jorge Soler’s RBI single to left, but as he slid, his cleat got caught in the dirt surrounding home plate, and his left leg wasn’t able to fully extend. He was attended to by the trainer and walked off under his own power before leaving the game.

“I saw his cleat get stuck, and I saw him grabbing his ankle,” Welington Castillo said. “He said, ‘my ankle, my ankle.’ I saw his face was in pain.”

Castro will undergo an MRI, but the Cubs have ruled out any bone fracture. He’s still under evaluation, according to the team.

"It looked very awkward," manager Rick Renteria said. "Anytime you see someone cringe in pain, you grab yourself a little bit, but obviously, he walked himself off the field."

In fact, Castro didn’t want to come out of the game, Renteria noted.

After the injury, Javier Baez moved from second base to shortstop, while Logan Watkins came in the game for Castro and batted third. Castro is hitting .292 after his first inning single off Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo.

ESPNChicago.com

Kris Bryant eyes ‘15 with ‘chip on shoulder’

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Despite a monster year in the minor leagues, former No.2 overall pick Kris Bryant is back at home in Las Vegas while many of his Triple-A Iowa teammates are playing with the Chicago Cubs this month.

“I think now more than ever, I’m realizing this game is a business, and all I can do is go out there and play as hard as I can and make it really hard on the guys in charge,” Bryant said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think I did that this year. If I’m taking that mindset, then I’m not really going to be sitting there with my head down at the end of the year.”

Service time issues and 40-man roster spots are helping prevent the Cubs’ best minor league player from starting his major league career just as the team called up seven other, less-accomplished players on Tuesday. The Cubs don’t believe a player finishing his first full year as a professional should be called up anyway.

“It’s kind of funny, all the rules,” Bryant said. “Coming into professional baseball, I had no clue. I didn’t pay any attention to it in college, either. At the end of my first season, I kind of know the lingo about all this stuff. I guess the system works in some ways, and in some ways there are some flaws. I can’t focus on that. I’ve always been high on avoiding the distractions.”

Bryant doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft this December, as he’s already protected because he’s just a first-year player. If the Cubs wait to bring him up until at least mid-April of next year, Bryant won’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season. If he comes up now, and stays for good, he’ll be a free agent a year earlier. That’s a big deal for a player who could help transform an entire franchise.

Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, said he felt it was important enough to call Bryant personally and explain the situation. Epstein has always maintained that calling up a first-year, minor league player would take extraordinary circumstances. He even noted that Javier Baez didn’t need Rule 5 protection, but they called him up anyway because he’s been in the system longer, even though he’s younger than Bryant.

“I told him the other day, ‘You did everything you could possibly do as a first-year pro to impress and make us proud as an organization,’” Epstein recalled. “I told him the simple fact we’re not in a pennant race and for a first-year professional who didn’t miss any time, it’s a long season, a long grind, whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest.”

Bryant didn’t suggest taking some time to come down from the grind would be a bad thing.

“It was a long season for me,” he said. “I think I’m more tired mentally than physically just because I’ve never played 142 straight games without many off days.”

But that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to play for another month. He would have loved to have been reunited with former teammates Jorge Soler and Baez in the Cubs’ lineup. Instead, he’s taking the longer vacation with some motivation.

“Next year, I’m really looking forward to coming out with a little chip on my shoulder,” Bryant declared. “I’m going to go out there looking to prove something.”

He proved a lot this year between Double-A and Triple-A, as he totaled 43 home runs, 110 RBIs, a .325 batting average and a .438 on-base percentage. Epstein wants Bryant ready for a seven-month season, as the Cubs are hopeful a more competitive team might lead to a possible playoff berth in 2015 and beyond. Whether it’s April 1 or later, Bryant isn’t far from appearing at Wrigley Field.

“I certainly think he’s close enough where he can start setting his sights on the big leagues. Whenever that times comes, we don’t know, but it’s getting closer,” Epstein said. “He’s as advanced and mature and professional a prospect as we’ve had. He’s as low maintenance a prospect as we’ve had. He handles new situations extremely well. It seems like nothing flusters him. If anyone can jump into the big league picture in the middle of the season and not miss a beat, it’s Kris Bryant.”

But where will Bryant play once he gets to the big leagues? He worked hard at third base this season and wants to stick there. The Cubs aren’t sure where he’ll fit in just yet.

“We’re going to keep outfield fresh for him,” Epstein said of plans for next spring. “Now that it’s been a full year since college, we want to make sure he doesn’t lose that. We think — no doubt in our minds — he can play third base and be a really good third baseman, but we just don’t know how the roster is going to look a year from now, two years from now, five years from now. We want to keep that fresh for him.”

Bryant is committed to third, where he made 21 errors this season.

“I would really like to stick at third base,” he said. “I think, as good a season I had offensively, a case can be made I might have had a better season defensively because I’ve come a long way at third base.”

Bryant made some errors on routine plays mostly due to his tall stature, and the Cubs still want him to work on his side-to-side movement. But by all indications, he is improving at third, and considering the position is still open at the major league level, it might be where he ends up.

For now, Bryant will watch the Cubs like any fan would. The difference is he’s every bit as good as Soler and Baez and anyone else the Cubs will play this month. He just has to wait for his turn.

“I am definitely looking forward to next season and playing with those guys,” he said. “I’ll be paying attention to it here in September. I look forward to playing with those guys for a long time.

“[This year was] a good season I’ll look back on, and I’m heading into this offseason with a lot of confidence. I’m going to work real hard and improve next year, but this year was awesome.”

ESPNChicago.com

Arodys Vizcaino among 7 called up by Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs added seven players to their roster from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, including outfielder Junior Lake and right-handed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

Also joining the Cubs are pitchers Brian Schlitter, Dan Straily, Zac Rosscup and Eric Jokisch, along with catcher Rafael Lopez.

Vizcaino is the second-rated pitching prospect in the Cubs organization behind CJ Edwards. He was 1-1 with two saves and a 3.51 ERA at three different stops in the minors this season after returning from two years of arm injuries. Vizcaino threw well in spring training, hitting 100 mph on the radar gun, but the Cubs took things slow with him this season.

Lake returns after a being demoted earlier this season. He hit .216 with 102 strikeouts in 291 big-league at-bats in his first stint. Straily, Rosscup and Schlitter also spent time with the Cubs this season. Straily was acquired in the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics.

Jokisch also threw well in spring training and will make his major league debut when he pitches for the Cubs. He was 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts for Iowa. Jokisch was an 11th-round pick of the Cubs in 2010. First-time call-up Lopez was a 16th-round pick in 2011. He hit .290 between Double-A and Triple-A this season.

Jokisch and Lopez were added to the 40-man roster. To make room, the Cubs transferred outfielder Justin Ruggiano to the 60-day disabled list due to an ankle injury. Jokisch and Lopez were subject to being taken in the Rule 5 draft per service time rules, so adding them to the 40-man roster was needed.

Top minor league hitter Kris Bryant and pitcher Armando Rivero aren’t available in this year’s Rule 5 draft, so they weren’t added to the roster and their seasons are over.

ESPNChicago.com

Soler, Cubs promise a fun September

Hey, why wait for next year when Wrigley youth movement is on display right now?

By Jon Greenberg

CHICAGO — Those kids you’ve been talking about were at Wrigley Field on Monday morning, the first day of September, and there was a special buzz in the air.

Yes, the plucky Little League finalists from Jackie Robinson West visited the Friendly Confines to share their U.S. championship experience with the promising youngsters of the last-place (but getting better!) Chicago Cubs.

Could this town be big enough for two contending teams and the White Sox?

I get chills just thinking about it.

In related news, the Cubs’ newest kid in the spotlight, Jorge Soler — think of him as a bigger Trey Hondras — made his home debut and, ho hum, hit a pair of doubles in their 4-2 victory over Milwaukee.

The 22-year-old Cuban outfielder has at least one extra-base hit in each of his first five games, making him the first National Leaguer to do that since Enos Slaughter back in 1938.

That gives him a slugging percentage of “Holy Cow” through his first five games. His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is 391, which, if I understand this statistic correctly, means he’s creating 291 percent more runs than the league average.

I’ll speak for Cubs fans when I say that’s not due to a small sample size. Soler is just that good.

With Anthony Rizzo sidelined with a pesky back injury, Soler is unofficially the second-best hitter in Chicago — and the second-best Cuban hitter, following White Sox star Jose Abreu.

Coming up a few weeks after Javier Baez’s debut, Soler is now — excuse the pun attempt — the Cubs’ newest bright, shining star and one of a few reasons to watch this team over the season’s final 28 days.

No reasonable person on either end of town expected the Cubs or White Sox to be playing meaningful games this month, but, yes, there a few reasons to pay attention to baseball during Bears season.

Now, I’m not saying you have to watch all the games, but you can follow me on Twitter. I’ll let you know when the beat writers let me know when Baez and Soler are hitting.

The Cubs are letting Baez and Soler sow their royal oats this month, letting them test their promise against a host of contending teams. No, Kris Bryant isn’t coming up this month, and it has nothing to do with contractual reasons or his agent, Scott Boras.

Nope, not all. It’s totally because he’s not ready yet … even though he is, as former Cubs skipper Dale Sveum would say, the best player in the minor leagues, pretty much.

Waiting is not an issue on the South Side, where the Sox are expected to bring up this year’s first-round draft pick, pitcher Carlos Rodon, this month.

While they stumble through a second consecutive lost season, a future rotation of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Rodon is very promising, and, like the Cubs, the White Sox don’t have much salary committed to 2015. Abreu is an absolute bargain, earning less than $9 million this season and next in a backloaded contract, and outfielder Avisail Garcia is a cornerstone, not to mention a fast healer.

The Sox wisely bade farewell to failed veterans Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn in the past two weeks, with none having a spot on 2015’s team.

Dunn, a first-ballot man’s man, was an abject disappointment since signing as a free agent in the winter of 2010. Dunn admitted as much when he was traded to the Oakland A’s on Sunday. He’ll be missed in the clubhouse, but not by a dwindling, uninterested fan base that needs to see some forward progress.

Beckham, a 2008 first-round pick, showed the danger in rushing a player to the majors. Of course, Sale shows the flip side: Some guys are too good to stay down on the farm.

Such as Soler, for instance, who got only 206 plate appearances in Double- and Triple-A this season, or 387 fewer than Bryant. Which brings us back to Monday.

I went to Wrigley on Labor Day to make sure Soler was a real person and not some 3-D hologram. After all, he looks too good on TV to be true. How many defensive ends can hit a baseball like that?

So far, Soler is 10-for-19 with four doubles and three home runs. He’s struck out only four times and plays a capable outfield.

Naturally, reporters camped out Monday morning at his locker (Jeff Samardzija’s old digs, right next to the showers) waiting to talk to him.

Speaking through an interpreter, Soler communicated all of what you’d expect: He’s happy to be here, he’ll keep working hard. He said he was a little surprised at how quickly he started but that he believes more than ever his words to Cubs president Theo Epstein when he came off the disabled list: It’s his time.

"I stand by it," Soler said. "I accepted the challenge. I wanted to be the Jorge Soler I’m showing I am right now."

While reporters talked to Soler, on the other side of the clubhouse door was Baez, who quietly dressed for the game with no media fuss.

Could the future star be yesterday’s news? Not quite, though he’s certainly been eclipsed until further notice.

Through 28 games, Baez is hitting .181 with seven homers, four doubles and 50 strikeouts. Ugly numbers, but not really alarming.

Baez is already Internet famous for slow starts, and the Cubs expect him to be a boom-and-bust-and-boom-again kind of player as he grows into a more mature hitter. The talent is evident — and frightening; he just needs at-bats.

It’s hard to tell if Baez is struggling with struggling. He’s very even-keeled, something he has in common with the Cubs’ other rookies, such as pitcher Kyle Hendricks and outfielder Arismendy Alcantara.

I tried talking to him, one-on-one, and he offered brief, hushed platitudes, such as, “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and try to get better every day.”

So I changed the mood of my questions, smiled and asked, “Aren’t you excited about what’s going on? Soler’s up and September’s in front of you. Strikeouts or not, this is what you dream of. The future is now.” Stuff like that.

"I am, I am," Baez said, showing the hint of a smile. "I just don’t show too much. But I am, and I’m ready for next year."

Waiting for next year is so last year (and like 104 before that). It’s September of this year, and I’m ready to see how Baez and Soler hit right now.

After all, Jackie Robinson West’s season is over. We need some fun baseball to watch.

CSNChicago.com

Kris Bryant will put Theo Epstein, Cubs on the clock in 2015

By Patrick Mooney

Kris Bryant will put Theo Epstein on the clock in 2015.

The Cubs have purposely kept the timeline hazy, promising the business/baseball plans will sync up at Wrigley Field, but never saying exactly when the new stadium revenues will go online, exploring all TV options, not wanting to be pinned down on ETAs for big-time prospects.

The Cubs had their reasons for not making Bryant a September call-up, even after a 43-homer, 110-RBI season that should make him the consensus minor league player of the year for all the prospect bibles.

“He did everything he can do,” Epstein said. “He lived up to his end of the bargain.”

The president of baseball operations hasn’t wavered from that plan. Cub fans and the Chicago media are now well aware of the value of a 40-man roster spot. But the time is coming where Epstein won’t keep punting for the future.

Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara all contributed to Tuesday night’s 7-1 win over a Milwaukee Brewers team that’s lost seven in a row and fallen out of first place. Those young core players are getting a crash course in the big leagues, while Bryant went home to Las Vegas after Triple-A Iowa’s season ended on Labor Day. 

“The simple fact is we’re not in a pennant race,” Epstein said, “and for a first-year professional who didn’t miss any time, it’s a long season. It’s a long grind, whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest and go through some active rest physically and let some things soak in mentally and come back ready to go for what we hope will be a seven-month season for him next year.”

That means building a playoff-type team this winter. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have already talked about sending a message to the rest of the National League Central in September.

The Cubs knocked around Yovani Gallardo, even with their All-Star first baseman sidelined indefinitely with a back injury and their All-Star shortstop leaving the game in the first inning with a sprained left ankle.

Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.81 ERA) continued his bid to be next year’s Opening Day starter, unless the Cubs use all this hard-earned financial flexibility to sign an ace like Jon Lester.

“We’ll continue to look to add talent,” Epstein said. “Will there be a little bit more focus on finding the right complementary players and rounding out the major-league roster to maximize every possible win and every possible chance at contention? Absolutely.”

So the Cubs shouldn’t get automatic questions about being trade-deadline sellers as soon as pitchers and catchers report to Arizona next February. It’s not World Series or bust, but there will be expectations. 

One of the first questions to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer at their welcome-to-camp news conference will be some version of: Is Bryant your Opening Day third baseman?

“I certainly think he’s close enough to where he can start setting his sights on the big leagues,” Epstein said. “Whenever that time comes – we don’t know – but it’s getting closer. There’s a good chance that as he continues to develop, he’ll spend the vast majority of 2015 in the big leagues.”

If Bryant’s as good as advertised, why not go wire-to-wire? Does starting the free-agency clock at 2020 or 2021 really matter if the Cubs are so bullish on this rebuilding plan? What’s the priority after five consecutive losing seasons and more than a century since the franchise’s last World Series title?

Bryant will say all the right things, because that’s the way he’s wired, but deep down he can’t want to spend another minute in Des Moines.

“He’s as advanced and mature and professional a prospect as we’ve had,” Epstein said. “He’s as low-maintenance a prospect as we’ve had. And I think he handles these situations extremely well.

“It seems like nothing flusters him. He’s a thoughtful, cerebral, well-adjusted mature guy. If anyone can jump into a big-league picture in the middle of a season and not miss a beat, it’s Kris Bryant.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Starlin Castro leaves game with ankle sprain

By Patrick Mooney

Starlin Castro twisted his left leg in such a gruesome way that it immediately made you think of Derrick Rose. But indications are the Cubs shortstop avoided the kind of nightmare scenario that played out for the Bulls point guard.

The Cubs breathed a sigh of relief after Castro left Tuesday night’s 7-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers with a sprained left ankle. The three-time All-Star will get an MRI and additional X-rays, but the Cubs said they’ve already ruled out a fracture.

It was a scary image at Wrigley Field, Castro sliding awkwardly toward home plate, coming up short and getting his left leg tangled up in the first inning.

Castro had been running from second base on Jorge Soler’s RBI single, a groundball that bounced through the hole between shortstop and third base. Milwaukee third baseman Aramis Ramirez cut off the throw from left field.

Clearly in pain, Castro grabbed his knee for a moment, crawled in the dirt and got to his feet with the help of the team’s athletic trainers before limping off the field.

“It just looked very awkward,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Any time you see somebody cringe in pain, you kind of grab yourself a little bit. But obviously he walked himself off the field, which is a good sign. And then he was banging (his fist). He didn’t want to come out of the game. That wasn’t going to happen, but it’s a good sign.”

Javier Baez shifted over to shortstop while Logan Watkins replaced Castro and moved to second base. Welington Castillo, the on-deck hitter, got an up-close look at Castro’s slide.

“That’s a guy that doesn’t want to miss any games,” Castillo said. “I hope that he’s all right. We need him.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs could shut down Anthony Rizzo with back injury

By Patrick Mooney

Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler haven’t played together in The Show yet, and Cub fans might have to wait until next year before seeing them in the same lineup.

An MRI revealed a muscle strain in Rizzo’s lower back, the kind of injury that could have put him on the disabled list if the rosters didn’t expand in September. The All-Star first baseman has already been sidelined for a week.

“It’s kind of relieving the MRI showed something, so I’m not going crazy anymore,” Rizzo said Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs are being protective and taking the long view with Rizzo, who’s guaranteed $41 million through 2019 and has club options for 2020 and 2021.

“It’s nothing chronic,” Theo Epstein said. “Nothing that will bother him long-term, but just something that we don’t want to rush back from.”

The president of baseball operations wouldn’t say if Rizzo would get shut down: “We’ll see where we are down the road.”

“If I am shut down, I’m shut down,” said Rizzo, who’s generated 30 homers, 71 RBI and an .889 OPS in a bounce-back season. “I’m not really worried about it – even if I am (shut down) – just because it’s a good opportunity for the guys here.

“My main concern is being full strength in the offseason and getting ready for next year. Obviously, I want to come back and play. It’s not fun sitting around watching. But it’s something where we all decided we’re not going to go crazy, rush to get back and have it reoccur over and over. We want this to be the first and last time this ever happens.”

Rizzo couldn’t pinpoint a particular play or swing, but he traced the discomfort back to the rain delay during a 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 26, the night before Soler made his big-league debut at Great American Ball Park. 

“It’s funny,” Rizzo said. “I hit my 30th home run and then the rain delay comes and my back gets tight. It’s very weird. Who knows if it was before or after, but it just never got loose after the rain delay. It gradually kept grabbing on me more and more.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Arodys Vizcaino headlines September call-ups

By Patrick Mooney

All along, the Cubs insisted Kris Bryant wouldn’t be getting a September call-up, and he’s not walking through the door after a monster season at Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs activated seven more prospects now that Iowa’s season is over: pitchers Arodys Vizcaino, Brian Schlitter, Dan Straily, Zac Rosscup and Eric Jokisch; outfielder Junior Lake; and catcher Rafael Lopez.    

Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, the Cubs had already seen eight players debut in the majors this season.

Vizcaino hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since September 2011, when he was supposed to be a big part of the future with the Atlanta Braves. Tommy John surgery and a follow-up procedure on his right elbow wiped out his next two seasons.

In the middle of that long recovery process, the Cubs acquired Vizcaino from the Braves in the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson deal, part of the first deadline fire sale for Theo Epstein’s front office in 2012.

“He’s up here to showcase his stuff,” Epstein said. “Learn what it’s like to pitch at Wrigley Field with an eye on 2015.”

The Cubs have been cautious with Vizcaino, who pitched for three different affiliates this season and put up a 5.40 ERA in 18-plus innings at Iowa. He’s still only 23 years old. He showed flashes of triple-digit velocity in spring training.

The organization wants Vizcaino working with pitching coach Chris Bosio, trying to rediscover what made him Baseball America’s No. 40 overall prospect entering the 2012 season.

“The key for him this year was just that he went out there and established his health,” Epstein said. “He had his ups and downs. There are times where he’s fighting mechanics and it wasn’t elite stuff with location – which he’s capable of – but he fought through that and dialed it in a little bit towards the end of the season.”

Straily – a piece to the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel Fourth of July trade – will work out of the bullpen now but could become rotation depth for 2015. Last season Straily notched 10 wins and made 27 starts for an Oakland A’s team that won the American League West.

Jokisch, a 25-year-old lefty, grew up in downstate Illinois and played at Northwestern University. He put himself on the map with a strong season in Iowa’s rotation (9-10, 3.58 ERA) and had to be added to the 40-man roster this winter.

Lake got sent to Des Moines in August for a 14-game tune-up after struggling with the Cubs, striking out 102 times in 305 plate appearances. Mike Olt responded well to a similar demotion – putting up a .933 OPS in 28 games with Iowa – but the third baseman has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Olt will be rehabbing with Class-A Kane County in the Midwest League playoffs. He’s expected to rejoin the big-league club and get playing time at first base with Anthony Rizzo sidelined indefinitely with a back injury. 

Bryant looks like the industry’s minor league player of the year – 43 homers, 110 RBI combined – but roster/financial considerations will keep him down after his first full season in professional baseball.

02 9 / 2014

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Jorge Soler lives up to the expectations in Wrigley debut

By Patrick Mooney

About 15 reporters surrounded Jorge Soler at his locker before his Wrigley Field debut. The anticipation had been building ever since the Cubs made the Cuban outfielder a priority in the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration.

The Cubs wouldn’t be outbid, creating great expectations and giving Soler a nine-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2012.

“Since I signed, I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Soler said through interpreter Jose Flores, the organization’s infield coordinator. “I’m ready for it.”

Soler didn’t disappoint the Labor Day crowd of 32,054 that saluted the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars and booed Ryan Braun during a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Soler gave his team another jolt of energy and doubled twice off Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson, who began the season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect in the Baseball America rankings. Hoping to accelerate the learning curve for their young core players with a brutal September schedule, the Cubs (62-76) knocked the Brewers (73-64) out of first place for the first time since April 5.

Soler is now the third player in the last 100 years to have an extra-base hit in each of his first five big-league games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others are up-and-down Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks (2012) and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter (1938).

“That’s an unbelievable player,” said third baseman Luis Valbuena, who hit cleanup in front of Soler and blasted his 16th home run. Valbuena’s face lit up while talking about Soler: “You’ll see a lot of stuff with him.”

The organist played The Doors’ “Light My Fire” when Soler stepped to the plate for his first at-bat in the second inning. Soler doubled into the right-field corner and scored easily on Welington Castillo’s broken-bat single into left field, the blue helmet flying off his head as he sprinted to home plate.

“Felt really good,” Soler said afterward. “Felt (right) at home.”

Soler’s health has been a major question mark, and the Cubs will continue to be cautious after a series of hamstring injuries sidelined him earlier this season.

“Physically, he’s fine,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been on a graduated program, basically, on games played. I don’t think he’s played more than four or five games in a row, so that’s the table we’ve been using, and we will continue to use it.”

That became the backdrop when Soler led off the sixth inning by lifting a ball that kept flying out to right-center field, slamming off the ivy. Soler slowed up near second base and then kicked it back into gear when Brewers centerfielder Gerardo Parra bobbled the ball at the warning track.

Standing off third base moments later, Soler got hit in the right thigh by Castillo’s foul ball. Soler gave athletic trainer PJ Mainville the thumbs-up sign and the Cubs could breathe a sigh of relief.

“It hit him in the thigh – it hit him with a lot of meat,” Renteria said. “It stings anytime you get hit with a ball that’s probably coming about 110 miles an hour. It stung him a little bit, but he was fine.”

Jacob Turner, who limited Milwaukee to one run in 6.1 innings, knows what big-time hitters look like after coming up with the Detroit Tigers and getting traded to the Miami Marlins before starting over on the North Side.

“For a guy that just got called up, it seems like (Soler’s) got a really good approach at the plate, which is what I’ve been most impressed with,” Turner said. “Obviously, he’s got a lot of power and everything like that, but I think that approach he has at the plate will be the biggest key for him in the future.”

The league is going to adjust and start attacking Soler’s weaknesses, seeing if he can hit the breaking ball, but the Cubs love this age-22 combination – raw athletic gifts and a refined understanding of the strike zone and hitting mechanics.

“He stays inside the pitches really, really well,” Renteria said. “And then he stays through it. He really gets extension. He is what you would call short to the ball and long through it.

“It’s the finish that gets you the last little bit of life that you end up creating. But he’s 6-5. This is a big man that leverages himself in the box and creates some force.”

This won’t last forever, but Soler’s gone 10-for-19 with three homers, four doubles and seven RBI in five games, giving hope to Cub fans and showing The Plan is coming into focus.

“It’s really not as easy as it looks,” Soler said. “I’m just very conscious at the plate right now and trying to make the best out of it and taking it pitch by pitch.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs hope Jackie Robinson West can have lasting impact

By Patrick Mooney

The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars got the royal treatment at Wrigley Field. The city’s most entertaining baseball team continued their victory lap on Labor Day, ending an unbelievable summer for the kids from the Morgan Park neighborhood.

The Cubs proudly wore yellow-black-and-silver camouflage jerseys with WEST on the front and No. 42 on the back before their game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“This is awesome,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said, pounding his chest.

Who knows what the impact will be 10 or 15 years from now, but the group that won the Little League World Series U.S. title became a feel-good story for a segregated city, as well as a sport that can feel too old, too slow, too exclusive. 

As Cubs president Theo Epstein said: “The best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer – certainly from a baseball standpoint – was put together by 13-, 12-year-old kids from the South Side.”

“It’s huge,” Jackie Robinson West manager Darold Butler said. “I already got a few calls about kids playing baseball. Just outside. No parents, no coaches. Just five, six, seven, eight kids playing baseball on their own.”

If Major League Baseball wants to keep growing its business, that should be an important big-picture issue for incoming commissioner Rob Manfred, funding the game at the grassroots level, increasing access to the expensive travel-team/showcase circuit and working with the NCAA to support college-baseball programs limited to 11.7 scholarships.

“At industry meetings, in lots of front offices around the game, people talk about (it),” Epstein said. “People ask the question: How can we get young kids playing baseball again, especially in cities, especially in the inner-city?

“There’s nothing that a bunch of suits in a boardroom can do that would be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be, make baseball cool again for young kids.”

Cub players seemed genuinely excited to interact with the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars, who were recognized by the White Sox on Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field.

Renteria gave the players a pep talk. First baseman Anthony Rizzo posed for pictures in the dugout before the two teams joined together for one big photo. The kids chatted with Wesley Wright and Edwin Jackson, who were part of the group of major-league players that helped cover the travel costs and send the families to South Williamsport, Pa.

“Not only baseball,” Wright said. “Just the way they’ve handled (all this) attention (with) great sportsmanship and class. Whether you play baseball or not, I think these kids can be role models for a lot of their peers. They’ve shown incredible maturity for their age group.

“They’re not overwhelmed by a lot of things that I was at that age.”

The kids walked the warning track, stood on the field during the national anthem and went out to their positions before the first pitch. They also helped lead the crowd during the seventh-inning stretch.

“In this day and age, so much negativity is put out there,” Wright said. “They hear it and see it a lot. Just for them – and other young people – to see that doing positive things and working hard and staying disciplined can be rewarded as well. You can become known for doing good things.

“I think these kids are going to realize in a couple years just how much of an inspiration they were to a lot of people. And I think it’s our job to bring a spotlight to that type of thing.”

The hope is this momentum doesn’t fade away once Chicago Public Schools are back in session on Tuesday.

“We really have to support them,” Epstein said, “and capitalize on this moment and learn from what the Jackie Robinson West Little League has been doing effectively for four decades now – plus.

“Which is proactively go out to schools, find kids and sell them on the game of baseball, get them off the streets, get them learning from great mentors, playing together, learning about sportsmanship and competition and hard work and discipline and make them better people.

“(They’ve) made a positive impact on tens of thousands of kids over the years and it’s really a model organization. We can all go to school on how they’ve built their program.”

There was the ESPN exposure, the phone call from President Barack Obama and a victory parade that ran from Jackie Robinson Park to Millennium Park.

“It’s still a dream,” Butler said. “I have not touched the ground. I’m sure the kids haven’t touched the ground yet.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs still see Kyle Schwarber’s big-time potential as a catcher

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs will take Kyle Schwarber off the fast track, hoping this year’s No. 4 overall pick could still develop into their catcher of the future.

The Cubs are sending seven prospects to the Arizona Fall League, but Schwarber won’t be part of a group that includes big names like Addison Russell and C.J. Edwards.

“His bat is ready,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. 

No doubt. Schwarber hit .344 with 18 homers, 53 RBI and a 1.061 OPS in 72 games split between three minor-league affiliates, living up to the monster reputation he developed as a catcher/outfielder at Indiana University.

The Florida State League playoffs begin Tuesday, and Schwarber can help advanced Class-A Daytona win a title, the same way Kris Bryant did last season. Bryant – last year’s No. 2 overall pick out of the University of San Diego – made three minor-league stops before becoming the Arizona Fall League’s MVP.

That momentum carried into 2014, with the 22-year-old third baseman putting up 43 homers and 110 RBI combined at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

“It was kind of a two-fold decision,” Hoyer said. “Bryant went to the Fall League, but Bryant also took a full month off in the middle of the summer because he didn’t sign right away. Kyle signed right away and was playing right away. He’s been going at it hard since January. We just feel like it’s a lot, asking him to take two weeks off and then go play in another league.”

Schwarber, 21, will still travel to Arizona and work out at the team’s Mesa complex, getting an education in what it takes to become a big-league catcher.

“The other thing is we really wanted to spend instructional league working on his catching with (field/catching coordinator) Tim Cossins and the other instructors,” Hoyer said. “That gives him a chance to work on his catching without the pressure of games. (Schwarber) can work hard with (Cossins) and it probably will be exhausting, but there’s no stats associated with it.”

The Cubs believe Schwarber’s big personality will someday give their clubhouse an edge. Whether or not the experiment ultimately works, his leadership skills and desire to stick as a catcher are two X-factors in their favor now.

CSNChicago.com

Anthony Rizzo truly believes the Cubs will win a World Series

By Tony Andracki

Comcast SportsNet will air “Inside Look: Anthony Rizzo,” hosted by David Kaplan, tonight at 7 p.m.

It’s not just Cubs fans who are optimistic about the future of the franchise.

Anthony Rizzo is one of the cornerstones during this Cubs rebuild and truly believes the Cubs are going to win a World Series.

"I do and I think it’s going to be very soon," Rizzo told CSN’s David Kaplan for the latest "Inside Look." "We have the pieces and we have the brains in the front office to put together a team and now it’s really about us performing."

Chicago Tribune

Jorge Soler stays hot despite brief injury scare

By Mark Gonzales

A festive Wrigley Field crowd momentarily turned quiet Monday after rookie sensation Jorge Soler, standing in foul territory off third base, was drilled in the right thigh by a line drive hit by Welington Castillo in the sixth inning.

After Soler’s recent history of leg troubles and the Cubs’ attempts to remedy them, it was understandable that Soler would receive medical attention.

But Soler went on to finish the Cubs’ 4-2 victory over the Brewers and continued his hot start.

Soler hit two doubles in his Wrigley debut and made history by becoming only the third major league player in the last 100 years to have an extra-base hit in each of his first five games, joining Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox (2012) and Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals (1938).

His first double, an opposite-field shot off the right-field wall, showed his ability to hit to all fields with power.

"He stays inside the pitch very well," manager Rick Renteria said. "And then he stays through it. He really gets extension. He is what you would call short to the ball and long through it.

"He’s a big man who leverages himself in the box and creates force. Pretty impressive."

Long also describes the stride of the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Soler, who reached third in the sixth on a double and fielding error by center fielder Gerardo Parra. Soler, who was placed on a special program this summer to redefine his muscles after he suffered another hamstring injury on his first at-bat at Double-A Tennessee, shifted gears without any discomfort after Parra’s bobble.

"I feel like (the pregame) program and running actually has been for the good," Soler said. "I’ll stay with it until I feel I don’t need to do it anymore."

Soler’s performance further fueled the excitement the Cubs and their fans have for the future. Soler said he appreciated the warm applause he received in pregame introductions and after taking his spot in right field at Wrigley for the first time. He rewarded the fans for the support by hitting a double in his first at-bat at Wrigley.

The Cubs’ plan for Soler the rest of the season is to give his legs a rest after every four or five games, so he’s expected to play every remaining game on this six-game homestand with Thursday serving as a day off.

"It’s really not as easy as it looks," said Soler, who is batting .526 (10-for-19). "I’m just very conscious at the plate and make the best out of it, pitch by pitch."

There has been a premium placed on health, especially after first baseman Anthony Rizzo missed his seventh consecutive game because of recurring back stiffness. Rizzo could undergo an MRI if the discomfort persists, Renteria said.

Winning pitcher Jacob Turner, who played with former American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and slugger Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, said he was impressed by Soler.

"For a guy who just got called up, it seems like he’s got a good approach at the plate, which I have been most impressed with," said Turner, who pitched 61/3 scoreless innings before allowing a home run to Khris Davis. "That approach will be the biggest key for him."

Extra innings: The Cubs honored members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League All-Star team that won the U.S. title with personalized jerseys, congratulatory handshakes from members of the Cubs, and a passionate speech by manager Rick Renteria.

"Most of them are White Sox fans, but (I hope they realize) they have a lot of support in the city from all over," said Cubs reliever Wesley Wright, who helped fund JRW’s trip to Williamsport, Pa., where they lost to South Korea in the title game. …

Renteria confirmed he let rookie Javier Baez swing at a 3-0 pitch the first inning that resulted in a grounder to third.

"Every now and then, you’ve got to give him a cookie," Renteria said. …

Reliever Blake Parker was promoted from Triple-A Iowa, and the Cubs are expected to announce their remaining promotions Tuesday.

Chicago Tribune

Monday’s recap: Cubs 4, Brewers 2

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

Inspired by a pregame visit from U.S. Little League champion Jackie Robinson West, the Cubs extended the Brewers’ losing streak to six games without first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who didn’t start for the seventh consecutive game because of lower back stiffness. Rizzo will undergo an MRI if the discomfort doesn’t subside.

At the plate

Rookie Jorge Soler hit an opposite-field double to right field in his first at-bat at Wrigley Field and scored on a broken-bat single by Welington Castillo, who drove in three runs.

On the mound

Jacob Turner, making his second start with the Cubs, pitched 61/3 scoreless innings before allowing a home run to Khris Davis.

In the field

Third baseman Luis Valbuena made an exceptional stop to start a double play in the first.

The number

15 – Scoreless innings by Turner against the Brewers this season.

The quote

Rick Renteria on Turner: “We have an opportunity to put our eyes on him, work with him, get him comfortable, and go from there.”

Up next

Brewers (Gallardo 8-7, 3.26) vs. Cubs (Arrieta 7-5, 2.88), 7:05 p.m., Tuesday, CSN-Plus, CLTV.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Bryant totals 43 HRs, 110 RBIs

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Monday vs. Oklahoma City: 1-for-4, 3 runs, RBI, hit by pitch, strikeout.

Trending:  3-for-11 (.273), RBI, 4 runs, 4 strikeouts.

Season: 138 games, .325 batting average, 43 home runs, 110 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Monday at Chattanooga: 2-for-3, double.

Trending: 3-for-7 (.429), strikeout.

Season:  68 games, .295 batting average, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday at Chattanooga: 0-for-5, double play.

Trending: 2-for-20 (.100), 3 strikeouts.

Season: 125 games, .270 batting average, 9 home runs, 60 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher/outfielder, Daytona (Class-A)

Monday: Off.

Season:  72 games, .344 batting average, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Chicago Sun-Times

Playing kids can be double-edged sword for Cubs

By Gordon Wittenmyer

The Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers took the field a few minutes before the Cubs’ game against the Brewers on Monday, getting a standing ovation from the Wrigley Field crowd as they settled into their positions.

The crowd wasn’t quite as ­enthusiastic when the kids left the field so the older kids in Cubs ­uniforms could take over.

Maybe someday.

For now, the Cubs bask in moments like they had in the second and sixth innings, when touted prospect Jorge Soler doubled to the right-field corner, then doubled off the right-center wall in an impressive Wrigley debut — even as the other big-time prospect, Javy Baez, went hitless with another strikeout.

They bask in moments such as the final out of a 4-2 victory that knocked the rival Brewers out of a first-place tie in the National League Central, forgiving the mistake-filled moments and breakdowns that cost games the previous two days against the rival Cardinals, who took over the top spot.

And they answer questions about such things as the irony involved in big kids expected to lead the Cubs to a World Series wearing a version Monday morning of the uniform belonging to Little Leaguers who just came back from a successful World Series run.

“Yeah, there’s some irony to it,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “Let me put it to you this way: If the enthusiasm of those young men that play for Jackie Robinson West can be equaled by the young men that we have in our clubhouse, we’ve got a good shot.”

Yeah, maybe if that’s there.

And if the first five games of

$30 million outfielder Soler’s career is any indication of what he can do in the next five or eight years. He’s already 10-for-19 with seven extra-base hits and a walk.

And if top-five prospect Baez keeps enough swagger and learns enough from his .181 start that already includes 50 strikeouts in 116 at-bats.

And if they can eliminate mistakes such as out-of-position rookie center fielder Arismendy Alcantara short-arming a fly ball Sunday after gliding underneath it in time to catch it, helping turn a one-run inning into a three-run inning.

And if they can improve Baez’s inconsistency in the field to his backhand side, which cost another run Sunday. Veteran pitcher Carlos Villanueva alluded to both plays as “things that need to be ­addressed.”

After lauding his young players’ talent and effort for several ­minutes unsolicited, Renteria was asked about those plays and Villanueva’s comment, saying only: “It’s probably been addressed.”

To be sure, a lot of what the Cubs are about these days is about growing up — and growing pains.

And big-league debuts — eight so far and counting, with more September call-ups expected Tuesday. And celebrated Wrigley debuts such as Soler’s.

“Since I signed my Cubs contract as a pro, I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Soler said before the game, with the help of coach/translator Jose Flores. “I’m ready for it.”

Soler got the strongest, warmest crowd reaction for anybody older than 13.

“It’s really not as easy as it looks,” Soler said with a smile after the game. “I’m just very conscious at the plate right now and trying to make the best of it.”

So are the Cubs, who definitely are conscious of this lengthy, uncertain process as it begins to deliver moments worth watching, if not “addressing.”

“Maybe it won’t be ironic,” Renteria said in his yellow “West” jersey and matching hat. “Maybe it’ll ­actually be prophetic.”

Maybe JRW manager Darold Butler can even offer a few pointers on what it takes to get to a World Series.

“I didn’t do that,” Butler said with a laugh. “But if they ask me, I’ll let them know what I know.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs say thanks to Jackie Robinson West players

By Gordon Wittenmyer

The Cubs loaded up the Jackie Robinson West players with bats, personalized Cubs jerseys and other swag as they hosted the returning U.S. champs from the Little League World Series.

But JRW’s success and celebrity might do far more for the Cubs and the rest of baseball, the way the team played this season and the way it made baseball look cool again to a generation of kids.

“I already got a few calls about kids playing baseball,” JRW manager Darold Butler said. “Just outside. No parents, no coaches. Just five, six, seven, eight kids ­playing baseball on their own.”

MLB officials ranging from incoming commissioner Rob Manfred to Cubs president Theo Epstein and Chicago-born All-Star and locally active big-leaguer Curtis Granderson have spoken out in recent weeks about the need for greater interest in the game among American kids to stem a decline in the U.S. talent pipeline — and the impact stories such as Chicago’s 12-year-old baseball heroes can make.

Butler said he saw local Little League registration spike last year after the JRW squad just missed qualifying for the LLWS.

“I’m sure registration’s going to go sky high this year,” Butler said. “This year we made it way cooler than it’s ever been. I hope everybody at least gives baseball a try.”

MRI for Rizzo?

Anthony Rizzo missed his seventh game because of back soreness Monday, and if he doesn’t improve enough to play by Tuesday, he faces a possible MRI exam.

“Still a little, and if it doesn’t clear up maybe we get an MRI just to make sure everything’s OK,” manager Rick Renteria said.

“But he’s doing fine. We’re just limiting him, making sure once he gets back on the field he doesn’t have a setback.”

Rizzo, who hit his 30th homer in the last game he played Tuesday in Cincinnati, has described what he and the club believe is a muscle issue.

Soler maintenance plan

As they did over the weekend in St. Louis, the Cubs will continue to give newly promoted prospect Jorge Soler scheduled time off as a precaution against reinjuring the hamstrings in both legs that put him on the disabled list twice.

“Physically, he’s fine,” Renteria said. “It’s just a matter of making sure we continue to graduate him in terms of his playing time. I don’t think he’s played more than four or five games in a row. So that’s the table that we’ve been using.”

Renteria said he expects such restrictions to be lifted for Soler by next season. Soler, by the way, got drilled near his right hamstring by Welington Castillo’s foul line drive in the sixth inning but said he was fine after the game.

Notes

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Jorge Soler’s double made him the third player in at least 100 years to record an extra-base hit in each of his first five games (also the Red Sox’ Will Middlebrooks in 2012 and Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter in 1938).

 Right-hander Blake Parker was recalled from Class AAA Iowa as rosters expanded for the final month. He finished the seventh inning for starter Jacob Turner, allowing a solo home run.

 Renteria said he expects about “a half-dozen” more call-ups this week with the Class AAA and AA seasons concluding Monday.

 Among the call-ups: lefty starter Eric Jokisch, a Northwestern product, who could become the ninth player to make a big-league debut for the Cubs this season.

Daily Herald

Soler’s Wrigley debut big hit for Cubs

By Bruce Miles

Not only was youth served Monday at Wrigley Field, it had a seat at the head table.

The day started with the Cubs honoring Chicago’s national-champion Little Leaguers from Jackie Robinson West. Then, during a 4-2 Cubs victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, some young guys on the big-league team had some big-time fun.

All eyes were on rookie right fielder Jorge Soler, who made his Wrigley Field debut after exploding onto the major-league scene on the just-concluded road trip.

Soler doubled his first time up, hitting a drive to right field in the second inning and then scoring on Welington Castillo’s single. In the sixth, Soler doubled to right-center and scampered to third base on an error.

Before the game, Soler said he had been looking forward to his Wrigley debut since signing a nine-year major-league deal two years ago.

It seemed all it was cracked up to be for him.

"Very good experience, especially getting that first-AB double and getting it out of the way," he said through translator Jose Flores, the Cubs’ minor-league infield coordinator. "It was really good."

So far, Soler has been really good.

In five games, he is 10-for-19 (.526) with 4 doubles, 3 homers and 7 RBI. The Cubs were busy providing Soler updates throughout the game.

With his first double, he became the third player in the last 100 years to record an extra-base hit in each of his first five career games and the first to do so since Will Middlebrooks of Boston in 2012. Soler is the first National Leaguer to do it since Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals in 1938.

"It’s really not as easy as it looks," Soler said. "I’m just very conscious at the plate right now and trying to make the best out of it pitch by pitch."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team knocked the Brewers into second place behind the Cardinals, was duly impressed.

"Nice debut," said Renteria, whose team improved to 62-76. "Good game for a couple guys."

It was a good game for Castillo, another of the Cubs’ young players. He followed his RBI single with a 2-run homer in the fourth inning as the Cubs took a 3-0 lead.

Luis Valbuena gave the Cubs an insurance run in the eighth with a solo homer, his career-best 14th of the season and fourth in his last seven games. It came after the Brewers got within 3-2 in the seventh on back-to-back homers by Khris Davis and Gerardo Parra.

Davis’ homer came off Cubs starter Jacob Turner. Parra hit his off reliever Blake Parker.

Renteria has been thanking his lucky stars for Valbuena, a young veteran at 28.

"Lucius has been hot," Renteria said, using his nickname for Valbuena. "That was a big home run."

As for the entire day, the Cubs seemed as thrilled to see the Little Leaguers as the kids were to be at Wrigley Field. Naturally, Renteria was asked about a World Series team of kids inspiring the Cubs to such heights at their level.

"If the enthusiasm of those young men of Jackie Robinson West can be equaled by the young men that we have in our clubhouse, we’ve got a good shot," Renteria said. "But I think we would have a good shot moving forward simply because the talent pool is significantly better right now for us in terms of the players.

"Maybe it won’t be ironic. Maybe it will be actually prophetic."

As for Jackie Robinson West coach Darold Butler he wasn’t biting when asked if he could impart some national-championship secrets to the big boys.

"They didn’t do that," he said when asked if the Cubs sought his advice. "If they asked me, I’d let them know what I know."

Daily Herald

Cubs treat Jackie Robinson West players like stars

By Bruce Miles

Players on the Jackie Robinson West Little League team got to march in their own parade last week.

On Labor Day, they got to witness one.

During a visit to Wrigley Field, JRW players and their coaches reveled in a special day as Cubs player after Cubs player paraded past them in the dugout to congratulate them on their national title and wish them well for the future.

"If you’re going to be famous in the future, you might as well get used to it right now," Cubs relief pitcher Wesley Wright told the Little Leaguers.

Team members, coaches and families from Jackie Robinson West got the royal treatment from the Cubs.

In addition to time in the dugout, they also had a team photo taken with Cubs players, who wore special JRW warmup jerseys, which will be auctioned off to help the program.

The Little League team then marched into Wrigley Field from the right-field gate to big cheers from the fans. Players also ran out to their positions before the Cubs took the field for their Monday afternoon game against Milwaukee.

They capped their big day by leading the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

It still seems all a big deal to everybody involved. Jackie Robinson West fell to South Korea in the world-title game, but the Chicago kids already were a national sensation for what they had accomplished on the national level.

"We were surprised from the time of getting off the plane at the airport to the rally," said JRW head coach Darold Butler. "The parade started at 107th (Street) and came all the way down to Millennium Park.

"That was unreal seeing people stopping and getting on top of their cars. It was unbelievable to see that."

Cubs players, along with manager Rick Renteria, visited with the JRW players in the dugout and posed for pictures.

"It’s really cool until you realize some of them are as tall as you are, almost," Wright said with a laugh.

"I think that these kids have earned this day, and I’m glad that we can be a part of helping them celebrate what they worked so hard over the summer to accomplish. I hope they take in what this really all means.

"A lot of kids, like myself, never got this opportunity to be in a big-league clubhouse and be on a big-league field and be around big-league players. So I hope they soak this in and use it as motivation to keep going, and one day they might be on the other end of this."

The White Sox honored Jackie Robinson West on their just-concluded homestand. Wright was asked why it was important for the big-leaguers to make the time for the kids.

"In this day and age, so much negativity is put out there, and they hear and see it a lot," he said. "(It’s) just for them and other young people to see that doing positive things and working hard and staying disciplined can be rewarded, as well.

"And you can become known for good things, as well. I think these kids are going to realize just how much of an inspiration they were to a lot of people. I think it’s our job to bring the spotlight to that type of thing."

Daily Herald

Rozner: If Schwarber catches on, Cubs have big options

By Barry Rozner

The parade of prospects has begun.

They are arriving on the North Side of Chicago, and it’s a sight to behold.

For those who didn’t believe in the plan or understand it, this has to be perplexing, but that’s nothing compared to the rest of the NL Central, which is watching this happen while understanding that the best has yet to come.

Sure, Jorge Soler can hit it a mile and Javy Baez at least half that far, but it may be nothing compared to the power possessed by Kris Bryant.

Or Kyle Schwarber.

Yeah, Schwarber is a little further down the chain, so most of the focus has been on Bryant and his arrival in 2015, but Schwarber, well, he may be a game-changer.

Cubs boss Theo Epstein was on the Score with us a couple days ago and said he has big plans this fall for the left-handed hitting Schwarber, who was thought to be targeted for left field after being drafted as a catcher.

"We’re gonna send him to the Instructional League and really focus on his catching," Epstein said. "He’s made some big strides already from where he was in college.

"Defense, especially defense behind the plate, that’s an area where players can see significant improvement. You can coach or teach plate discipline all you want, year after year, and you may never see significant improvement.

"But with defense if you have a player who’s a good athlete and has good coordination — and Kyle’s a sneaky good athlete — and you have a player with excellent work ethic and makeup — and that’s Kyle — you can see significant gains defensively.

"That’s going to be our focus. With the way the pieces are coming together, if Kyle can make it work behind the plate — and we think he can, especially from a leadership standpoint — he really rounds out our lineup and complements our team extremely well."

Yeah, see Epstein is starting to see spots fill up on the puzzle board and he drools at the possibility of putting Schwarber’s bat behind the plate.

If it’s not catcher, it probably has to be left field, and Epstein would like to leave that chair open for another monster bat when the music stops playing and guys run out of positions they can play.

So down the road maybe it’s Albert Almora leading off and playing center field, Addison Russell at short and in the No. 2 spot and Anthony Rizzo at first and batting third.

Bryant could bat cleanup and, for the sake of this hypothetical lineup, play third base, with Schwarber batting fifth and catching and Soler batting sixth and playing right.

That leaves Nos. 7 and 8 with second base and left field open for some combination of Baez, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Billy McKinney and players yet to be named.

Maybe Baez winds up at third and Bryant in left. Maybe Castro stays at short, switches positions or is traded. Maybe it’s McKinney, not Almora in center. Maybe Schwarber doesn’t make it as a catcher.

But any way you slice it, from the second hole through the sixth you’re talking about a thunderous lineup that alternates from right-handed to left-handed, offering power and run production the entire way.

If Baez is still around — regardless of position — and batting seventh, it’s a truly frightening order that will keep opposing pitchers up at night.

"From the first time we laid eyes on (Schwarber), we wanted him to be a Cub," Epstein said. "It’s what he does in the batter’s box; it’s what he does with leadership and how he plays the game and who he is as a person.

"He’s going to be a special player here for a long time if he stays on this trajectory and if he continues to work hard, and with his makeup I don’t worry about that.

"We’re in jeopardy of getting a little too right-handed. I love left-handed hitters, and we all want to create as much balance as we can. We’re in danger of being a club that’s a little too aggressive and we really value control in the strike zone and plate discipline.

"Kyle is an extremely disciplined hitter. He’s a pure hitter. He’s got a unique ability to see the ball out of the hand and barrel the baseball, take his walks, get pitches to drive. He’s got huge power, hits it to all fields. He can hit some light-tower home runs to the pull side and to the big part of the field."

Go ahead and take a few moments to ponder the possibilities. No, it’s OK, really, go ahead. You’ve been waiting years to see it and now it’s only a year or so away from happening. It could be something truly remarkable.

And just like that, for the first time in a long time, that light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t look like an oncoming train.

Daily Herald

Cubs won’t rush Rizzo back to lineup

By Bruce Miles

All-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo missed his seventh straight game for the Cubs on Monday, and he may be headed for an MRI Tuesday.

Rizzo pulled up lame in the Aug. 26 game at Cincinnati with what the Cubs termed lower-back tightness. He had hoped to play over the weekend in St. Louis, but he missed that series as well as the Labor Day series opener against the Brewers.

"He’s still day to day," manager Rick Renteria said. "He’s still a little stiff. If it doesn’t clear up, maybe we’ll get an MRI just to make sure everything’s OK. But he’s doing fine. We’re just limiting him, making sure that once he gets back on the field he doesn’t have a setback."

A good step:

Right-hander Jacob Turner earned his first victory as a Cub in Monday’s 4-2 win over Milwaukee. In his second start for the Cubs, Turner worked 6⅓ innings and gave up 5 hits and 1 run. His 7 strikeouts tied a career high.

The Cubs obtained the 23-year-old Turner from the Miami Marlins in an Aug. 8 trade. They’re hoping he can regain the form that made him a top prospect.

"Obviously, it’s a step in the right direction," he said. "I’m just happy that I was able to build upon some of the stuff that me and Bos (pitching coach Chris Bosio) have been working on and made some pitches when I needed to when guys got on base.

"Just with all the young guys we have, you see them having success, and you want to have success, too. Getting that fresh start and kind of resetting after the ups and downs this season for me has been huge."

Opportunity to spoil it:

The Cubs will have a big chance to play spoilers in September with games against contending teams in their own division and with the Dodgers.

"It’s just important that they’re going to see clubs that you’re competing against and you’re getting your eyes on the club and see how they’re performing," Rick Renteria said. "What is it they’re doing? It would be foolish for anyone to face clubs that are doing well and not take a step back and try to understand what’s making them tick.

"It’s a great test. They need to see it. That’s where we want to be. Ultimately, how we take this challenge on for the next month of grinding it out is going to be really, really important, and we can get a lot of knowledge from it."

September call-up time:

The Cubs recalled right-handed reliever Blake Parker from Class AAA Iowa as the Sept. 1 date for roster expansion hit. Renteria said he expects about “a half-dozen call-ups from the minor leagues.

Cubs.com

Castillo, Soler lead Cubs offense in win over Crew

Rookie right fielder smacks two doubles, scores run in Wrigley debut

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Jorge Soler was the only player who could out-shine the Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers on Monday at Wrigley Field, and he did in his home debut.

Soler hit two doubles, including one in his first at-bat, and scored on an RBI single by Welington Castillo, who added a two-run home run, to lift the Cubs to a 4-2 win over the Brewers, who are fighting for a postseason berth.

With the loss, Milwaukee, which may have been a little jet lagged after a series in San Francisco, dropped one game behind first-place St. Louis in the Central Division. The Cardinals beat the Pirates, 5-4, on Monday.

"They always play us tough, so regardless of where we are, they play us good," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of the Cubs. "I always am concerned about a team that’s talented and is free because they don’t have any pressure on them right now. All they’re doing is having fun and trying to knock off a lot of teams. That’s not a good combination for us."

Monday was a day the Jackie Robinson West Little League team won’t forget. The Chicago squad, which won the U.S. championship in Williamsport, Pa., was celebrated at Wrigley Field, and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch on the field in front of 32,054 fans.

But Soler was the star for the Cubs. In his first at-bat at Wrigley Field in the second inning, he smacked an opposite-field double and then scored on Castillo’s bloop single to left.

Soler now has an extra-base hit in each of his first five games, and is the third player to do so in Major League history, joining Will Middlebrooks (2012) and Enos Slaughter (1938). Soler, 22, who signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012, also doubled to lead off the sixth and reached third on the play on an error by center fielder Gerardo Parra.

"He’s an amazing player," said Luis Valbuena, who added a solo homer in the Chicago eighth. "Give him more games and you’ll see what happens."

"For a guy who just got called up, it seems like he has a good approach at the plate," said Cubs starting pitcher Jacob Turner. "That’s what I’ve been most impressed with. Obviously, he has a lot of power, but I think that approach at the plate will be the biggest key for the future."

Cubs fans’ hearts must have skipped a beat when Castillo lined a ball foul down the left-field line in the sixth and it struck Soler, who was at third base. Fortunately, it hit the 6-foot-4 outfielder in the thick part of his right thigh.

"It stings — any time you get hit with a ball that’s coming 110 mph, I’m sure [it hurt]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

In five games, Soler is 10-for-19 (.526) with four doubles and three home runs.

"He’s got bat lag — he stays inside of pitches really, really well, and then he stays through it and really gets extension," Renteria said. "He’s what you call short to the ball and long through it."

Soler finishes his swing well, and because of his size, he creates a lot of force. It’s a good combination. And it’s not as easy as the 22-year-old is making it look.

"It’s not easy," Soler said through coach Jose Flores.

Castillo connected in the fourth off Jimmy Nelson, driving in Starlin Castro, who had doubled. Valbuena’s homer was his 16th of the season and fourth in his last seven games.

Turner picked up the win in his first career start at Wrigley Field, giving up one run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings. It was the right-hander’s longest outing of the season since May 24 when he threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings for the Marlins against the Brewers in Miami.

"It’s definitely a step in the right direction," Turner said of the outing. "I’m just happy I’ve been able to build on some of the stuff that me and [pitching coach Chris Bosio] have been working on. I made the pitches when I needed to when guys got on base, especially in the first inning. Getting through that catapulted me through the rest of the game."

What did Bosio tell him?

"A lot of it is just game calling and being smarter on the mound, and really using what makes me successful in the right way," Turner said.

The only run off the right-hander came with one out in the seventh when Khris Davis homered. The Cubs, in their never-ending quest for more pitching, acquired Turner from the Marlins for two Minor League players.

"Everybody has to understand the situation he went through," Renteria said of Turner, the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2009, who made his big league debut in July 2011. "He was on the roster immediately, he was moved through the system. Rushing guys to the big leagues because everybody is excited about what they bring to the table isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. Some kids are ready for it, some kids are not."

Soler looks ready.

Cubs.com

Cubs welcome Jackie Robinson West to Wrigley

Champion Little Leaguers visit with players, check out clubhouse and take the field

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs celebrate Jackie Robinson Day in April with the rest of Major League Baseball, but Monday was Jackie Robinson West Day as the team saluted the Chicago-based U.S. champion Little League team.

Cubs players and coaches wore adult-sized versions of the Jackie Robinson West yellow camouflage-style jerseys during batting practice, all emblazoned with “West” on the front and the No. 42, which was Robinson’s number.

"This jersey feels really good, to be honest," Cubs pitcher Wesley Wright said. "When I saw it, it made me feel like we are tied in with them, even though we’re not blood related or family. We feel like we’re a part of what they went through. We watched a lot of their games. I know most of the kids are White Sox fans, but they have a lot of support in the city from all over."

The Cubs may have won some of the players over by letting them into the clubhouse. Catcher John Baker first showed the players a video of the Cubs watching one of their games, then escorted the squad in. Players gave them bats, sunflower seeds, batting gloves, and more.

"They were picking up bats and players were giving them batting gloves and bats and I think a few of them got shoes and gloves," JRW coach Darold Butler said. "It’s like an early Christmas. They’re having a ball."

"They were surprised we were paying attention [to their games]," Baker said. "It was perfect."

Wright and fellow Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson were some of the Major Leaguers who made donations so the Little League players’ families could travel to Williamsport, Pa., to watch the Little League World Series. The Jackie Robinson West team beat Nevada for the U.S. title, but lost to South Korea in the world championship game.

On Monday, they were champions at Wrigley Field.

"Whether you play baseball or not, these kids can be role models for their peers," Wright said. "They’ve shown incredible maturity for their age group. I’ve been really impressed with that."

Prior to the start of the game, the players and coaching staff paraded around the field on the warning track and gave high fives to fans and players who were warming up. All of the kids were wearing Cubs jerseys with their names on the back. They stood with the Cubs players during the national anthem, and led the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.

"If the enthusiasm that those young men of Jackie Robinson West can be equaled by the young men in our clubhouse, we’ve got a good shot [at winning a World Series]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "But I think we have a good shot because the talent pool is significantly better for us."

The Chicago Little League team has been an inspiration.

"I think these kids have earned this day and I’m glad we can be part of helping them celebrate what they worked so hard to accomplish," Wright said. "I hope they take it in what this really all means. A lot of kids like myself never got to be in a big league clubhouse and be on a big league field and be around big league players. I hope they soak this in and use it as motivation to keep going. One day, they might be on the other end of this."

The Cubs are doing their part to help the Little League program. The JRW jerseys and caps that the Cubs players and coaches wore during batting practice, along with two jerseys signed by the entire Little League team, will be up for auction through Cubs Charities at www.cubs.com/auction. Bids for jerseys will start at $100 and hats will start at $45. All proceeds will benefit Jackie Robinson West Little League.

Wright said many of the kids, who are from the South Side of Chicago, have seen plenty of negative headlines regarding African-American youth.

"For them, and other young people, to see that doing positive things and working hard and staying disciplined can be rewarded as well, and you can be known for doing good things as well, is important," Wright said. "I think these kids will realize in a couple years what an inspiration they were to a lot of people. It’s our job to bring the spotlight to that type of thing."

Interest in the Jackie Robinson West program has increased since the Little League World Series ended. But Wright said African-American kids also are interested in basketball and football, and baseball needs to be more proactive.

"I think it’ll take more than one team," Wright said about improving the number of African-American players. "It has to be a situation where, throughout the U.S., people start playing the game at a young age and stick with the game. I think a lot of kids play, and then get pulled away for different reasons. If you can keep kids playing from middle school to high school, it gives the game a chance to grow all over. The game is regionalized now, and most superstars come from a certain part of the country. This team is definitely a start."

Wright said the first time he was on a Major League field was after he was drafted in 2003. He went with some other Minor League players to Miami to see the Dodgers play the Marlins.

"[The JRW kids] are way ahead of us," Wright said. "Hopefully, they’ll be better players than we are."

Butler said he doesn’t think it’s kicked in as to what impact the kids had.

"The things they accomplished, I don’t think they’ll truly understand [what they did]," Butler said.

However, it’s back to reality on Tuesday. That’s when school starts.

"I heard them talking, and they weren’t talking too favorably about going back to school," Butler said of his players. "It is what it is. They’re great students and they’ll get back to it."

Just as they did in the Little League World Series.

Cubs.com

Soler makes highly anticipated Wrigley debut

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Ever since Jorge Soler signed his contract with the Cubs in June 2012, he’s been waiting to play at Wrigley Field. It finally happened Monday.

The 22-year-old outfielder, promoted from Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 27, went 2-for-4 with two doubles on Monday in the Cubs’ 4-2 win over the Brewers.

"I got a big ovation — I felt really good, I felt right at home," Soler said through coach/interpreter Jose Flores.

He’s made quite a first impression. In his first five games, he’s 10-for-19. Soler is the first player ever with an extra-base hit and at least one RBI in his first four games and didn’t get an RBI Monday to extend that streak.

However, with his second-inning double, he became just the third player ever with an extra-base hit in his first five big league games. Boston’s Will Middlebrooks was the last to do so in 2012, and Soler is the first National League player since Enos Slaughter (1938).

"I’m just excited for him," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said before Monday’s game. "He’s done a nice job since he’s been here and impacted us in a positive way. It’ll be exciting for the fans here in Chicago to see him and put their eyes on him."

Soler did not start Sunday against the Cardinals, part of the Cubs’ precautionary approach to the outfielder, who has dealt with leg injuries the last two seasons. In the Minor Leagues this season, Soler would play four, five days in a row, and then rest.

"Physically, he’s fine and it’s just a matter of making sure we continue to graduate him in terms of his playing time," Renteria said. "We’re not concerned about it for the long haul."

For Soler, Monday was a chance to find his way around the Cubs clubhouse and get settled into his new home ballpark.

"Since I signed, I’ve been waiting for this moment," said Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in 2012.

In the Minors, Soler was in the same lineup as the Cubs’ other top prospects, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, at Iowa. How good can those three be? Soler smiled.

"It’ll probably be a little dangerous," he said.

Cubs recall Parker, plan to call up six others

CHICAGO — The Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Blake Parker from Triple-A Iowa, and will add about six more players once the Minor League team’s regular season ends on Monday.

Iowa did not make the playoffs, and plays its final regular-season game on Monday against Oklahoma City.

Parker has been called up every month except June this season. In 10 games, he has given up nine earned runs on 14 hits and four walks over 13 1/3 innings.

Manager Rick Renteria would not say who specifically will be added on Tuesday.

Rizzo sits with back tightness, may undergo MRI

CHICAGO — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo did not start for a sixth consecutive day because of lower back tightness and may undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the problem.

Rizzo came out of last Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati after his back tightened during a 50-minute rain delay. He has not started any of the Cubs’ next seven games, including either game of a doubleheader on Saturday in St. Louis.

"He’s still day to day, he’s still a little stiff," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Monday. "If it doesn’t clear up, maybe we’ll get an MRI to make sure everything’s OK.

"He’s doing fine," Renteria said. "We’re just limiting him to make sure once he gets back on the field he doesn’t have a setback."

Rizzo, who leads the Cubs with 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, was not available to pinch-hit Monday, Renteria said.

Cubs.com

Bryant edges Gallo in Minor League home run race

Cubs top prospect belts 43 homers, one more than Texas slugger

By Teddy Cahill

There is a new Minor League home run king.

Cubs’ No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant edged Rangers’ No. 1 prospect Joey Gallo, 43-42, in the season-long home run derby they had been waging from afar, as the Minor League’s regular season came to a close Monday.

Bryant, ranked No. 3 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, entered Monday with a two-homer lead on Gallo, who led the Minors with 40 home runs in 2013. Bryant went 1-for-4 with three runs, but no homers in Triple-A Iowa's 11-1 victory Monday afternoon. That left Gallo needing his sixth multi-homer game of the season when Double-A Frisco played a few hours later to catch Bryant.

Gallo, ranked No. 8 on the Top 100, got a good start, homering in the first inning for the RoughRiders. But he walked, hit a sacrifice fly and struck out in his final three plate appearances, leaving him one behind Bryant on the leaderboard.

Bryant’s 43 home runs are the most hit by a Minor Leaguer since Brandon Wood hit that many in 2005. He is the first Cubs’ farmhand to lead the Minor Leagues in home runs since Bryan LaHair did so with 38 in 2011.

The Cubs selected Bryant with the second overall pick of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. He split his first full professional season between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa. In 138 games at the two levels, he hit .325/.438/.661 with 110 RBIs and 118 runs. He also stole 15 bases.

Gallo was the 39th overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He hit 40 home runs as a 19-year old in 2013, becoming the first teenager in 52 years to hit at least 40 home runs. This year, he split his season between Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Frisco. In 126 games at the two levels, he hit .271/.394/.615 with 106 RBIs and 97 runs.

Bryant’s season is now over after Iowa finished in second place in the Pacific Coast League American Northern Division. Gallo will begin the postseason Wednesday, when Frisco begins the Texas League playoffs against Midland.

Cubs.com

Cubs look to play spoiler as Brewers eye first place

Crew hopes Gallardo can end skid vs. Cubs ace Arrieta at Wrigley Field

By Adam Lichtenstein

In contest between a division leader and a last-place club on Monday, the the fifth-place club came out ahead, as the Cubs defeated the then-first-place Brewers.

Chicago will look to continue to play spoiler on Tuesday in the second of three games against Milwaukee when they send Jake Arrieta to the hill against Yovani Gallardo.

The Cubs’ schedule going forward will give them many opportunities to alter other teams’ playoff hopes, as they play the Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals and Dodgers this month, all of which are looking for a spot in the playoffs.

The Brewers, on the other hand, are just looking to hold on to their spot.

Milwaukee has had at least a share of first place in the National League Central every day since April 5, but after the Cardinals defeated the Pirates and the Cubs held on to win, the Brewers fell out of first.

The Brewers hope Gallardo can be the stopper they need. Over his last four starts, Gallardo boasts a 1.73 ERA. In his last start on Sunday against the Padres he tossed six shutout innings, but ended up with a no-decision in the 3-2 loss.

In the meantime, the Cubs are using this last month get a look at their future, giving Major League opportunities to players like Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.

"You’re competing against them and getting your eyes on the club and seeing how they’re performing, what is it they’re doing," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "It’d be foolish for anyone to face clubs that are doing well and not take a step back and try to understand what’s making them tick.

"Maybe there are things we see that we can share with them, or they see, and say, ‘Hey, this guy did that pretty good’ or ‘That was a pretty good at-bat.’ You’re always learning. It’s good to see it. … Ultimately, how we take this challenge for the next month will be really important and we can get a lot of knowledge from it."

While the young players are getting the most attention, Arrieta is putting together an impressive year in his fifth big league season. The right-hander is 7-5 with a 2.88 ERA in his second season with the Cubs. While he struggled in his last outing against the Reds, he looked strong when he faced the Brewers on Aug. 11. He gave up two earned runs over 7 1/3 frames in the tough-luck loss.

Cubs: Rizzo sits again

First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed Monday’s game, sitting out his sixth straight day due to lower back tightness.

Rizzo left the Cubs’ game against the Reds on Aug. 25 after a rain delay and hasn’t played since.

"He’s still day to day, he’s still a little stiff," Renteria said on Monday. "If it doesn’t clear up, maybe we’ll get an MRI to make sure everything’s OK.

"He’s doing fine. We’re just limiting him to make sure once he gets back on the field he doesn’t have a setback."

Rizzo, who was named to his first All-Star Game in July, leads the team in home runs (30) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.889).

Brewers: Gomez out with wrist injury

Outfielder Carlos Gomez was out of the Brewers’ lineup on Monday after he left Sunday’s game against the Giants with a left wrist injury.

Although manager Ron Roenicke said X-rays of Gomez’s wrist were negative, he added that Gomez would likely also have his wrist looked at in an MRI.

I’m encouraged today,” Roenicke said. “You would think if it was really bad, it’d be worse today than it was yesterday.”

However, Roenicke indicated that Gomez would miss more than one game.

"Hand or wrist is not good for him," Roenicke said. "There’s no easing back on swings, and the way he plays, his whole game depends on him being physically close to 100 percent."

Worth noting

• With rosters expanding and Triple-A Iowa’s season ending on Monday, the Cubs plan to call up six players to join the team, though Renteria did not reveal who those players would be.

ESPNChicago.com

Soler impresses again in home debut

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Talk to anyone that’s been around Chicago Cubs rookie Jorge Soler, both in the minors and in his first week of his major league career, and three words keep coming up:

“He is strong.”

That strength has propelled him to achieve a feat only two other players have accomplished in the last 100 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the third to earn at least one extra-base hit in his first five games in the majors after collecting two more in the Cubs’ 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Soler’s Wrigley Field debut Monday. He blasted two balls to right field for doubles, one to the corner and one off the wall in right center.

“He stays inside the pitches really, really well,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “And then he stays through it. He really gets extension. He is what you would call ‘short to the ball and long through it.’”

It’s almost an inside-out feel to the swing considering neither pitch was on the outer half of the plate. But that’s not the case. It’s pure strength which propels what might be a simple fly ball for some players to an extra-base hit. Teams may have to start playing him closer to the warning track.

“Not many times have I gone deep over the right-field fence but I have that mental approach, towards the middle,” Soler said through an interpreter.

Renteria likened the finish to his swing to a pitcher’s follow through or an infielder’s motion on a good throw. The finish is what sets him apart.

“He’s a little more advanced than your normal 23 year-old,” teammate Carlos Villanueva said. “And he’s strong.”

There are those three words again. The only question with Soler, according to Villanueva is, ‘can he stay healthy?’ Hamstring issues will limit him some the rest of the season and he did get hit by a line-drive foul ball while leading off third base Monday.

“My thigh,” Soler said. “It’s OK.”

Even though “strength” was the word heard most often in regards to the power Soler generates, it’s still his advanced understanding of the strike zone that might be most impressive. Everyone can see his athletic ability by looking at him, but his know-how is a different story.

“Obviously, he has a lot of power, but I think that approach at the plate that he has, will be the biggest key for him in the future,” Monday’s winner Jacob Turner said.

Soler may not know it, but he’s attempting to become another fixture in right field. Like Andre Dawson and Sammy Sosa before him, he’s off to a good start. A 2-for-4 day and a batting average of .526 after five days in the big leagues will do that.

“Big ovation,” Soler said from the fans. “Feel really good. Right at home.”

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Brewers 2

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Catcher Welington Castillo did most of the damage for the Cubs, driving in a run with a base hit in the second inning and then two more with a home run in the fourth, his 11th of the season. The Brewers finally scored off starter Jacob Turner in the seventh when Khris Davis hit a solo shot. Blake Parker relieved Turner and promptly gave up a home run to Gerardo Parra on his first pitch. Luis Valbuena added an insurance run in the eighth with his 16th home run of the season. Turner lasted 6.1 innings, giving up five hits, walking one and striking out seven. Jorge Soler had two doubles in his home debut. Hector Rondon earned his 23rd save.

What it means: Turner threw much better than in his last start as he kept the ball down on a day when the wind was blowing out. Double plays in the first and fourth innings helped his cause as the Brewers managed few hard-hit balls off him besides the Davis home run. He showed movement on his pitches with his fastball was in the 91-93 mph zone. He got plenty of swings and misses in his best appearance as a Cub.

Milwaukee has lost six in a row as the Cubs continue to play well against playoff-contending teams. They start the new month with a win after going 16-14 in August.

Soler sets mark: Jorge Soler’s fast start continued at Wrigley Field, where he went 2-for-4 with two doubles. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s just the third player since 1900 to record at least one extra-base hit in each of his first five games. He has seven (three HRs, four doubles) since coming up from the minors. He’s hitting .526.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series takes place Tuesday night when Jake Arrieta (7-5, 2.88) takes on Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.26).

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs celebrate Jackie Robinson West

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — At first, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria called it ironic that U.S. champions Jackie Robinson West were hanging out with a team that hasn’t won a title in over 100 years but he quickly changed his mind.

“If the enthusiasm of those young men can be equaled by the young men we have in our clubhouse, we have a good shot,” Renteria said Monday morning. “But I think we have a good shot moving forward simply because the talent pool is significantly better for us.”

“Maybe it won’t be ironic. Maybe it will be prophetic.”

That’s the kind of inspiration the 12-and 13-year olds kids have had around town as they’ve been celebrated since returning from the Little League World Series last month where they took second place overall.

“It’s still a dream,” Robinson coach Darold Butler said. “I haven’t touched the ground yet. I’m sure the kids haven’t touched the ground yet.”

The kids met Cubs players in the dugout before their matinee contest against the Milwaukee Brewers while Renteria gave them a speech about continuing to “enjoy the game.” The theme that keeps coming up is that baseball is fun and should at least be experienced by kids no matter where they grow up.

“I hope everyone gives baseball a try at least,” Butler said. “Baseball is something I love. I’m hoping other people find a way to fall in love with it like I did.”

Besides meeting Cubs players, Jackie Robinson West got a tour of the clubhouse, walked the warning track before the game and sang during the seventh-inning stretch.

“It’s our job to give them a spotlight,” reliever Wesley Wright said. “It’s very appropriate for the story and bringing this city together.”

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo remains out of lineup; MRI possible

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo remains out of the lineup with lower back tightness and could get an MRI if the ailment continues.

“Still day-to-day,” manager Rick Renteria said before Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. “Still a little stiff. If it doesn’t clear up maybe we’ll get an MRI just to make sure everything is ok. But he’s doing fine. We’re just limiting him, just making sure once he gets back on the field, he doesn’t have a setback.”

Rizzo has missed the last seven games, including Monday’s affair, after leaving a game in Cincinnati last week. He tweaked his back on a swing and immediately came out of the contest. Rizzo is hitting .278 with a career high 30 home runs to go along with 71 RBIs.

With rosters expanding for the month of September, the Cubs recalled right handed pitcher Blake Parker. Manager Rick Renteria said a “half-dozen or so” others could be called up after Triple-A Iowa’s season ends Monday.

ESPNChicago.com

Soler batting 5th in Wrigley debut

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs rookie Jorge Soler will bat fifth and play right field in his Wrigley Field debut Monday after beginning his career 8-for-15 on the Cubs’ just completed road trip.

“Since I signed as a pro, I’ve been waiting for this moment and I’m ready for it,” Soler said through an interpreter Monday morning. “I don’t know how the crowd will react, but I expect the way I‘ve been going, the crowd will be good on me.”

Past players to play right field have had a special relationship with fans going back to Andre Dawson in the 90’s and Sammy Sosa into the next decade. If Soler’s start to his season is any indication what the bleacher faithful are getting, he’ll be a favorite pretty quickly.

“I’m just excited for him,” his manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s impacted us in a positive way. It will be fun for fans here in Chicago to put their eyes on him.”

What they’ll see is a freakish athlete who can seemingly do it all on the baseball field. It’s why the Cubs signed him to a nine-year contract in 2012 and why they believed him when he told them earlier this season it was “his time.”

“I stand by it,” Soler said. “I accepted the challenge. I wanted to be the Jorge Soler I’m showing I am right now.”

Three home runs, two doubles and seven RBIs have vaulted him into the spotlight. Now he’ll do it at Wrigley Field for the first time, playing a position that isn’t traditionally the easiest to maneuver.

“The ball in right field likes to come back in fair territory over the stands,” outfield coach Eric Hinske said. “It’s very windy here and of course there’s a brick wall with ivy. Definite variables that we’ll talk about, but I don’t want him to stress or have anxiety about it.”

One thing fans won’t see every day in right field is Soler himself. The Cubs are following a plan they put in place when he finally got healthy after two hamstring injuries took him out of the lineup this past spring. He’ll play a few games and then sit as he did in St. Louis over the weekend. The Cubs don’t expect this will be a chronic issue he’ll deal with during his career, just the rest of this season.

“I don’t think he’s played more than five games in a row,” Renteria said. “That’s the table we’ve been using and will continue to use. Physically he’s fine.”

His numbers say he’s healthy and in resting him twice against the Cardinals, he’s ready for his home debut.

“I feel 100 percent,” Soler said.