Cubs field veteran lineup vs. Rangers

Cubs field veteran lineup vs. Rangers

The Cubs will field a veteran lineup Saturday when they open the home portion of their exhibition season against the Rangers at Sloan Park.

Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Javier Baez will make their spring debuts.

Albert Almora Jr. will bat leadoff.

For the second consecutive game, the Cubs will wear Stoneman Douglas High School caps to honor the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at the Parkland, Fla., school attended by Rizzo.

Here are the lineups:

CUBS

  • Almora Jr. CF
  • Bryant 3B
  • Rizzo 1B
  • Conteras C
  • Heyward RF
  • Russell SS
  • Baez 2B
  • Gimenez DH
  • Bourjos LF
  • Butler P

RANGERS

  • DeShields CF
  • Odor DH
  • Profar SS
  • Mazara RF
  • Guzman 1B
  • Robinson LF
  • Nicholas C
  • Lopez 3B
  • Alberto 2B
  • Blackburn P

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Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber looks lean ahead of spring training

Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber looks lean ahead of spring training

Feb. 24 (UPI) — Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber appears to be in great shape heading into the 2018 season.

The outfielder is listed at 6-foot, 235 pounds on Baseball Reference, but reports emerged all offseason about Schwarber working on his conditioning. ESPN reported that Schwarber lost up to 20 pounds during the offseason.

He was listed at 240 pounds when he played at Indiana University.

The Cubs posted a video of the slugger Thursday on social media. He looks extremely lean and muscular while making great contact with a baseball. The Cubs included some bomb emojis for good measure on the post.

Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber hits an RBI-single off Atlanta Braves’ Mike Foltynewicz in the third inning on September 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. File photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI

Boston Red Sox‘s Sam Travis — Schwarber’s former college teammate — told MassLive that Schwarber was on a “really strict diet.”

Industry sources told ESPN that he was on a mission to “transform” his body this offseason.

Schwarber, 24, hit .211 last season with 30 home runs and 59 RBI in 129 games. He also hit four home runs and had nine RBI, while hitting .343, in 11 minor league appearances. He is pre-arbitration eligible in 2018.

He went 0-for-1 in the Cubs’ 2-1 loss Friday to the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Ariz. Schwarber had a walk and a strikeout in the spring training appearance.

Joe Maddon goes deep on impact of limiting mound visits

Joe Maddon goes deep on impact of limiting mound visits

MESA, Ariz. — Unlike many who have spoken out about baseball’s new rules, Joe Maddon isn’t as worried about a limit to mound visits making it easier to steal signs as much as he’s concerned about what it does to the Cubs’ game plan. He wants his catchers to be able to communicate a strategy to his pitchers — but now they’ll be limited to six trips per game.

“I get upset in the dugout for two reasons: missed signs, and when the catcher doesn’t go out and talk to the pitcher. When the catcher knows what the right thing to throw was — and the pitcher keeps shaking him off and finally the catcher cedes and the ball is [hit] off the wall,” Maddon said earlier this week. “That hasn’t been discussed enough. That’s when I want the trip.”

In an attempt to speed up games, Major League Baseball is limiting teams to six mound visits for the first nine innings of a game — with a few exceptions. Infielders coming to the mound count as a visit, so Maddon is hoping to curb those interactions and prioritize the meetings between his pitcher and catcher.

The Cubs believe they tend to produce unique game plans for their pitchers behind the expertise of catching coach Mike Borzello. New pitchers sometimes take time to adjust and need the mound visits for help, and the Cubs are breaking in two new starters this year in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood.

“A lot of this rule change has been built around this concept that people have been cheating through technology,” Maddon said. “That’s my least concern. My concern about the trip is that we can communicate exactly what we want to do in the moment. We scout heavily and have an absolute game plan before it begins. And we’re really good at following it, [but] sometimes the guy out there [pitcher] forgets.”

While sign stealing may be last on Maddon’s list of worries, it is still part of the equation and is the part that Cubs ace Jon Lester is most concerned about.

“People that aren’t in the game don’t understand there is so much technology now, there are so many cameras on the field, that every stadium has a camera on the catcher’s crotch,” Lester said. “They know the signs before you even get there. Now we have Apple Watches and people being accused of sitting in the tunnel [and spying]. There are reasons behind the mound visits.”

So between technology concerns and their unique game plans, the Cubs do have adjustments to make within the new rules. Maddon later noted that if he had to choose between taking his chances with the current pitcher — without the benefit of a mound visit — or changing pitchers prematurely but getting a conversation in with the new one, he wasn’t sure what he would do.

“We’ll see how it feels in April,” Maddon said. “I don’t know how this is going to play out.”

Spring games won’t help as they’re scripted ahead of time and don’t involve game plans anyway. Once the regular season begins, it’ll be up to the catcher to utilize his visits wisely, while the pitcher has to be on top of the pregame plan.

“My concern is communication,” Maddon said. “And making sure we’re on the same page. Because our prep is so good. We have to utilize our trips for those moments.”

MLB rumors and news for February 24th, 2018

MLB rumors and news for February 24th, 2018

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Today in baseball: On February 24th, 1966, the Braves sign the University of Southern California pitcher Tom Seaver, but Commissioner William Eckart nullifies the contract due to rules that oversee the signing of college players.

Question of the Day: Who is the next free agent to sign?

Joe Maddon on Cubs' Anthony Rizzo: `What he just did, he'll never be the same'

Joe Maddon on Cubs' Anthony Rizzo: `What he just did, he'll never be the same'

MESA, Ariz. – There might be a dozen cool reasons for a big-league player to wear his old high school cap in a game to honor his alma mater.

There might be none worse than the reason Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo wears his Saturday when he plays his first game of the spring.

A mass shooting that left 17 dead, many in hallways Rizzo walked as a student barely a decade ago, leaves him struggling at times to sleep at night more than a week after spending time with hospitalized survivors and families of victims who didn’t.

Teammate Jason Heyward says he can’t imagine what that would be like. Teammate Ben Zobrist calls Rizzo “a special guy, obviously.” Teammate Kris Bryant calls him “a role model” for teammates – and everyone else watching the things he does when he’s not playing baseball.

“It’s just being a good person,” Rizzo said. “It’s just being there when people need it. It’s how I was raised.”

If Rizzo, 28, wasn’t the face of the franchise before he returned home to Parkland, Fla., in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he certainly became that when his emotional speech during a candlelight vigil for the victims was broadcast on every national news network in the hours and days that followed.

“I definitely have no idea how he maintained his emotion and delivered such a great message,” manager Joe Maddon said.

How and when Rizzo is able to flip the switch back to major-league focus on baseball could be a process that needs some of the next month to play out.

“Of course it’s going to be difficult,” said Maddon, who said he believes the routine of the game will take care of itself on the field. “But impactfully as a human being, I think the hours before and the hours after, they’re the ones that have to be dealt with. And especially when you’re alone. That’s when your mind really takes off and a lot of times irrational. Whatever he needs – we’ve already talked to him about that.”

In fact, Maddon said the strength he expects Rizzo to draw from the pain and shock of it all might in some twisted way add to the veteran tone and influence he already brings to the clubhouse.

“What he just did, he’ll never be the same,” Maddon said. “And some of it in a good way, in this horrible situation, just personally [through] the growth. … I mean, the maturity level – what he just did, a lot of us can’t do that.”

It wasn’t a surprise to a front office that drafted him in Boston in 2007, was with him during a year of treatment and recovery for Hodgkin’s lymphoma soon after, and that trusted enough in Rizzo’s personality and mettle to trade for him in Chicago to become a cornerstone for a major rebuild.

Rizzo, now a 10-year cancer survivor who pours a lot of his resources and effort away from the field into raising money for research and working with pediatric patients, doesn’t look at the longer term effects of the past week as dramatically as Maddon does.

“I don’t think it’s going to really change me that much,” Rizzo said. “When times get tough, that’s when your true character shows. Obviously in Parkland it’s the toughest times ever, probably the toughest time that will ever occur there. And you can either run from it or you can attack it, run at it. There’s no shying [away] from it. Obviously, a lot of lives were lost, but you can just be there for those people.

“That’s Life 101 in my opinion.”

A moment of silence is scheduled before Saturday’s game. All the Rangers and Cubs players are expected to wear the Stoneman Douglas High School caps during the game.

One of them might be wearing it a little heavier, maybe a little prouder, than the others. And he figures to carry the moment for a lot longer.

But if any 20-something player in the league is equipped to handle it and channel it, that might be Rizzo.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Rizzo said. “It’s not ‘woe is me,’ but I have a good perspective on this life that we live, and baseball’s not all of it. So it’s not going to bring me down that much or bring me up that much.”

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Chill factor greets Cubs in Cactus League opener

Chill factor greets Cubs in Cactus League opener

Winter parkas and spring training typically don’t go hand-in-hand, but the most comfortable fans at Friday’s Cactus League opener between the Cubs and Brewers were the ones who packed wisely.

The big chill descended on the Valley of the Sun last week, and temperatures are not expected to return to normal for another week or so.

While spring training baseball without warm weather seems as useless as a porcupine without quills, the schedule said it was time to start, so the Cubs and Brewers played on a cool, 59-degree afternoon at Maryvale Stadium in Phoenix.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, no fan of any cold front, is hoping for a spring reboot to 80-degrees and sunshine.

“It’s not going away,” Maddon lamented. “It has to warm up at some point. It has to. It’s Arizona, my god. … It has something to do with global cooling, I think.”

Temperature aside, the day was a positive for one big reason.Baseball finally was back, and it’s here to stay until late October or early November, if the Cubs are lucky.

The Brewers eked out a 2-1 victory over the Cubs in an opener in which everyone simply was working the kinks out.

A concession stand selling burgers charged a dollar more than the sign said, with the vendor explaining they forgot to make new signs with the new price. Brewers catcher Jeff Bandy held the first mound meeting in the third inning, leaving the Brewers with five under the new six-visit limit.

It’s never too early to change signs, even in an exhibition game.

Even Maddon still was trying to get his vocabulary in midseason form as he prepares for the long season of news conferences. Answering a question about a spare outfielder, he said: “There’s nothing to not…” before halting in mid-sentence for a grammatical U-turn.

“That’s too many negatives,” he said, quickly changing course.

The initial sausage race of the season was even lackluster by Cheesehead standards. The Italian sausage won handily, while the others clearly were not in fighting shape, sausage-wise.

At this pace it would be a miracle if the Chorizo makes it to Miller Park for the regular season.

While Ian Happ was the first to audition as Cubs’ leadoff man and a group of no-name players filled Maddon’s lineup card, the game itself took a backseat to Major League Baseball’s decision to remember the shooting victims at Stoneman Douglas High School by having every team wear replicas of their caps.

Maddon applauded the activism of the students at Parkland who have been speaking out on the issue of gun violence.

“We’re not just wearing them,” Maddon said of the Stoneman Douglas caps. “I think we’re on board.”

Maddon recalled protesting the Vietnam War when he was in high school, saying he loved the “activism by the kids” from Parkland.

“When I was growing up it was a different method,” he said. “There was a lot of protesting of the war at that time, and the establishment. You would think that the group that did that would understand that by the time you grew up and became the establishment, you would understand how to interact better.

“I’m always disappointed, because I’m of that age group, and I know what the thought process was like back then, and everybody was going to change the world and make it a better place. And then you forget. As you get older, you forget what you thought in the beginning.

“I love the activism. I hope the kids stay after it. From me to them, anything I can do personally, I’m here to help. I know a lot of guys on the team feel the same way.”

Maddon took a shot at the “so-called leaders in charge,” though he didn’t name names and added he wasn’t “necessarily talking about Washington.”

“At some point we’ve got to reestablish sensibility and common sense,” he said. “I think that’s escaped us a bit.”

Anthony Rizzo, the face of the organization and perhaps the most prominent alumni of Stoneman Douglas, did not play in the opener and only wore the cap during the morning workout.

Rizzo appeared to be tiring of having to discuss his role in helping Parkland recover from the tragedy.

“That’s why I wanted to talk (at the vigil),” Rizzo said. “Instead of someone campaigning for themselves by talking, being someone who went to that school and grew up there.

“Like I said, I don’t want to keep talking about this. I’ve reiterated this over and over, so let’s move on to baseball.”

Easier said than done.

Maddon conceded it’s “going to be difficult” for Rizzo to just flip the switch to baseball if he continually has to address the shooting and its aftermath. But once he’s in a game, Rizzo should be OK, Maddon said.

“Regardless of your questions before or after (games), I think he’ll be able to get this respite during the game and just apply himself,” he said. “Impactfully, as a human being, the hours before and the hours after (work), they’re the ones that have to be dealt with, especially when you’re alone.”

Rizzo eventually will be allowed to get back to the game he loves without being asked to serve as a celebrity spokesman for his hometown Parkland community.

But as the Cactus League season opened, the healing process had only just begun.

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