Not so much for Justin Verlander

814390.jpg

Not so much for Justin Verlander

From Comcast SportsNet
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Justin Verlander wanted to give the fans an All-Star show. The Tigers' ace certainly did that Tuesday night, though not in the way he intended. The reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner offered a steady series of 100 mph fastballs that National League hitters sent soaring all over picturesque Kauffman Stadium. Verlander was hammered for five runs in the first inning as the National League cruised to an 8-0 victory. "I was able to laugh at it right away," Verlander said after leaving the game. "Obviously, you don't want to go out like that, but I had fun. That's why I don't try to throw 100 (mph) in the first inning, but this is for the fans. It doesn't usually work out too well for me." Verlander was picked to start the All-Star game by AL manager Ron Washington, who no doubt knows the value of home-field advantage in the World Series awarded to the winning side. Nobody questioned his choice, either. The hard-throwing Verlander came within two outs of his third career no-hitter against Pittsburgh in May. He was coming off two complete games in his last three starts, and had allowed only seven runs in the first inning of 18 starts all season. The NL nearly tallied that much during the biggest first inning since the 2004 game. "I know this game means something and you don't want to give up runs, but we're here for the fans," Verlander said. "I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners." Washington was careful in his assessment of Verlander, dancing around questions about whether he was happy with the approach taken by the Tigers' top starter. "Well, it's very disappointing, because we're competitors and we want to win," Washington said. "You've got to tip your hat to the National League again. They came out, swung the bats, and once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done." Even though Washington might have preferred Verlander take the start a little more seriously, there were plenty of guys on the AL squad who wanted to see him ramp up the heat. "Hitting 100 in the first inning? Normally you see the guy throw 93, 94 in the first and then hit 100 in the eighth. We saw him hit 101," Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. "The funniest part was (Prince) Fielder said to him, Hit 101' and the next pitch he hit 101. Is it that easy?" Evidently, it's easier than getting guys out. Verlander ran into trouble almost immediately, giving up a one-out single to Melky Cabrera and Ryan Braun's RBI double. He recovered to strike out Joey Votto, but walked Carlos Beltran and Buster Posey -- the latter on four pitches, a couple tickling triple digits on the radar gun. That's when Pablo Sandoval stepped to the plate. The portly Giants slugger ripped his first triple of 2012 off the right-field wall, clearing the bases and leaving Verlander to wander around the mound in a stupor. "I don't get many triples," Sandoval said. "We had some fun with that in the dugout." At one point during the first inning, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux made his way to the mound -- a rarity any time Verlander starts, and downright unheard of in an All-Star game. "I knew why he was coming out, to tell me to slow down," Verlander said. "Before he hit the mound, I was like, Hey, I can't slow down now.'" Verlander eventually got through the inning and was replaced by Joe Nathan, an altogether embarrassing way to leave his fifth All-Star game. He'd allowed five earned runs in a start once all season, and hadn't given up five in any inning since April 11, 2010, against the Indians. "It is surprising, because he's one of the best pitchers in the league. He proved that last year by winning the MVP and the Cy Young," Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran said. "Normally when you face him during the season, you kind of get 90 or 91 early in the game. He came out firing 97 or 98. I guess he was missing his spots. We were able to capitalize."

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers tonight on CSN

stl_arrieta_offseason_decisions_05-31_640x360_696294467907.jpg

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Dodgers on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies from Wrigley Field at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Wednesday's starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (5-3, 2.48 ERA) vs. Mike Bolsinger (1-1, 4.50 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you're ready for the action.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

 

Watch: Chris Sale loses to fan in rock-paper-scissors, pays up with autograph

sox_pgl_05-31_640x360_696385603806.jpg

Watch: Chris Sale loses to fan in rock-paper-scissors, pays up with autograph

Chris Sale has a terrific 9-1 record this season.

His rock-paper-scissors record is not nearly as good.

Sale played a high-stakes game of rock-paper-scissors against a fan at Tuesday night's White Sox-Mets tilt at Citi Field, and the South Side ace didn't fare so well.

He was a good sport, though, honoring the challenge and paying up with an autograph.

Take a look:

Fun times at the ballpark. And a cool moment featuring the guy who could wind up starting the All-Star Game.

How Hector Rondon transformed into dominant closer for Cubs

cubs_maddon_on_rondon_05-31_640x360_696263235809.jpg

How Hector Rondon transformed into dominant closer for Cubs

Hector Rondon is still good friends with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, two Cleveland Indians pitchers often linked to the Cubs in trade rumors. To the point where Salazar called Rondon during the offseason wondering if they were about to become teammates at Wrigley Field.

Rondon worked out separately with Salazar and Carrasco at the Indians’ complex in Arizona during different points in their recoveries from Tommy John procedures on their right elbows. Rondon mentions differences in their personalities and pitching styles and also marks that time in Goodyear by associating Salazar and Carrasco with his own different surgeries.

Instead of developing into a Salazar or a Carrasco — the kind of frontline starter the Indians envisioned when they named him their minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 — Rondon has transformed into a game-over closer for a Cubs team with the best record in baseball.

After missing almost three full seasons — and pitching 10 innings combined between 2011 and 2012 — Rondon now understands he doesn’t have the luxury of time or the ability to work through situations like a starter. He accepts the pressure and uses the adrenaline that comes from working the ninth inning in front of 40,000 fans. He is a survivor.

“Be aggressive,” Rondon said. “You have to kill the guy — or they kill you. That’s what I tell (myself). That’s why I always try to attack. I try to keep that in my mind to (always) be aggressive with the hitters.”

The “holy s---” moment for pitching coach Chris Bosio came during a bullpen session with Rondon in the second half of a 2013 season where the Cubs would lose 96 games, hours before a meaningless game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

The Cubs finished with 101 losses the year before, which put them in position to select Kris Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the June amateur draft. Completing that race toward the bottom also created another opportunity for Theo Epstein’s front office — the second pick in the Rule 5 draft at the 2012 winter meetings.

Around that time, major-league coaching staff assistant Franklin Font worked winter ball for Leones del Caracas — the same team Rondon was pitching for in Venezuela — and filed good reports. The Cubs would carry Rondon and allow him to develop a routine and slowly realize he could compete at this level.

As Rondon kept firing pitches to bullpen catcher Chad Noble that day in Pittsburgh, Bosio could see the potential that made him such a well-regarded prospect for the Indians — and the ability to think on his feet and make adjustments.

The Cubs suggested adding a hesitation mechanism to Rondon’s windup, a gathering point at the top of his delivery to improve his fastball command and tighten his slider as a put-away pitch. The idea was to create better alignment toward home plate and help stop him from spinning off the rubber. The sense of timing and motion would also help bump up his velocity toward triple-digit territory.

“It’s like when you plant that seed, and you wait to see that plant come up out of the ground,” bullpen coach Lester Strode said. “That’s what he’s done. He’s just continued to grow, and every year he’s gotten better.”

Rondon got the last three outs in a 2-0 Memorial Day victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers as the Cubs bullpen combined for seven perfect innings, something a team hadn’t done in 99 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That made Rondon 9-for-9 in save chances — with a 1.04 ERA and 27 strikeouts and only two walks against the 63 batters he’s faced so far this season.

Both Rondon and Joe Maddon identified a turning point last year, when the manager took closing responsibilities away from him and gave him a mental break and the chance to reset. Rondon responded with a 30-save season, putting up a 1.10 ERA after the All-Star break and converting his final 11 save chances for a 97-win team.

“He’s just been more assertive,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing I think that happened from that episode when he was not closing, per se, was he started using his other pitches and he found his other pitches. He’s more of a pitcher (now) when it comes to closing games as opposed to just being this primal, one-pitch kind of a guy.

“So now when you see him, it’s not just about trying to pump fastballs the whole time he’s out there. He’s throwing slider, split, changeup, dotting his fastball. I just think that he got more into pitcher mode from that particular episode.”

Rondon’s story is the story of the Cubs during the rebuilding years, how they became the biggest story in baseball. It’s calculated risk, good scouting, effective coaching and a relentless attitude. From the rubble of fifth-place finishes in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Cubs found a lights-out closer.

“He worked tirelessly,” said Strode, who’s now in his 28th season in the organization. “Even the days he got out there and didn’t have success, he didn’t come back with his head down the next day. It’s like he learned something from every outing.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys with his ability who think things are just going to happen — and they don’t have to work. He was totally the opposite. He worked hard. He grinded every day, day in and day out. And finally it clicked.”