Steve Smith: Bears' Conte, Jennings 'not on my level'

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Steve Smith: Bears' Conte, Jennings 'not on my level'

Steve Smith likes playing against the Bears. One reason is that he doesn't think much of their defensive backs.

For the second straight game at Soldier Field, Smith reached the 100-yard plateau, in his mind because what he was facing in cornerback Tim Jennings and safety Chris Conte aren't his equals.

During the first half, Smith was seen jawing with Conte, but he dismissed both that idea and Conte.

"No, weren't jawing," a frustrated Smith said. "There's nothing for me to jaw with. What's his number? 47?" I know he plays for the Bears, but he's not on my level. Sorry. You can go interview him, though."

The criticism towards the Bears secondary didn't end there. Smith decided to take a shot at NFL interception leader Jennings.

"That touchdown was the best play he made all game on me, but it was a key moment and changed the momentum," Smith said. "I know you want to pump him up, but I've been kicking his ass every time I come up here and today was no different."

It was Jennings that had the last laugh once again on Sunday. His one touchdown against the Panthers is one more than Smith has had in last two meetings against the Bears.

Though Jennings took a different tack when discussing what it was like to go up against a Pro Bowl receiver in Smith Sunday afternoon.

"He's a Pro Bowl receiver," Jennings said. "He's been doing this for a while, he's going to make some plays. I had to step-up to the challenge and minimize his ability."

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Aroldis Chapman lost the press conference, which won’t matter if the Cubs win the World Series. That’s the calculated decision chairman Tom Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein and their inner circle made in trading for the 105-mph closer from the New York Yankees.

But Chapman’s lost-in-translation introduction to the Chicago media (and, by extension, the fans) should force the Cubs – and anyone covering the team – to reassess that system-wide failure.

That’s not diminishing the seriousness of the allegations Chapman faced after a domestic dispute in South Florida last October, leading to a 30-game suspension to start this season. Or completely falling for the sleepy/nervous defense presented after Chapman – under repeated questioning – said he had no recollection of the off-the-field expectations Ricketts outlined during that phone call the Cubs absolutely needed before closing the deal with the Yankees.

Major League Baseball required all teams to hire a Spanish-language translator this season, and the Cubs deployed quality-assurance coach Henry Blanco, a widely respected former big-league catcher who doesn’t have any real experience handling such a sensitive media session. This wasn’t asking Jorge Soler about a hamstring injury or a game-winning home run. Chapman’s agent, Barry Praver, watched the entire scene unfold in the visiting dugout on Tuesday afternoon before a crosstown game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

ESPN’s Pedro Gomez – who asked the only question in Spanish during the group scrum – then got a one-on-one interview with Chapman that yielded more insight into the player and the conversation with ownership. 

“I really don’t know what happened there,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Whether it was miscommunication (or he was) misunderstood, I don’t know.

“That’s already over. We got to move in a different direction. Whatever happened yesterday, we just want to be on the positive side and move forward.”

Ricketts – who released a statement when the trade became official on Monday afternoon and appeared on the team’s flagship radio station (WSCR-AM 670) on Tuesday morning – declined to comment when approached by reporters before another crosstown game on Wednesday at Wrigley Field: “I think we’ve said enough this week.”

At a time when newspapers are diminished and old/new media is fracturing, there simply aren’t enough Spanish speakers within the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Chapman – an All-Star performer who is 28 years old and has been in the big leagues since 2010 – doesn’t really speak any English and grew up within a society that most of us will never understand.

Even for native speakers and proficient translators, there are linguistics variations in Spanish and wide cultural gaps among those born in Cuba (Chapman and Soler), Venezuela (Blanco and Montero) and the Dominican Republic. There are also fundamental personality differences, with Chapman being described as an observer, quiet and withdrawn during his time with the Cincinnati Reds.

While the talkative Montero, 33, didn’t know any English when he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a teenager, he picked up enough of the language to become a translator for teammates by the end of his rookie-ball season in Missoula, Montana.

“I just kept on practicing, asking questions,” Montero said. “I remember people laughing about my accent or whatever. And I never really cared. That’s what a lot of Latin guys get intimidated by, because they don’t want people to make fun of them. That’s why they get intimidated. That’s why they don’t learn.

“That wasn’t my problem. I didn’t care if you laughed. I didn’t care about any of that, because this is not my language, you know? It’s something that I (was) learning and I became fairly good. Good enough.”

That’s why Montero can understand MLB’s directive to hire translators and still see the limitations.

“It’s OK,” Montero said. “But on the other hand, I feel like it’s important for us to learn the language. Not only as a player, but when your career’s over, you’re bilingual. You can actually use it for different areas (of your life) later on.

“That was my biggest goal. If I didn’t make it to the big leagues, at least I’m going to be bilingual, and I can do something because it’s productive for any other job.”

Chapman has one job between here and October – to win the franchise’s first World Series in more than a century – and that success or failure is how he will ultimately be remembered in Chicago.

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Miguel Gonzalez has thrown his cut-fastball more in July than ever before.

The White Sox pitcher thinks the way its complements his repertoire has been critical to his most consistent month in the majors since 2014.

Not only is he 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts in July, but Gonzalez has increased his strikeout rate by three percent with 26 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

The improvement has helped Gonzalez, who next starts Saturday at Minneapolis, develop into either a good back-end rotation option for the White Sox and perhaps even a trade chip. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Miami Marlins scouted Gonzalez on Monday when he outpitched Jake Arrieta.

“It has been helping me this year,” Gonzalez said. “Hitters see a fastball out of the hand and at the end it’s already on them. That’s been a big change for me and it’s helping a lot. I’ve been seeing better results.”

His catchers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cutters Gonzalez has thrown. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gonzalez threw 19 cutters. The pitch is a staple for White Sox hurlers under Don Cooper and Gonzalez took his regular slider and started to throw it harder once he signed a minor-league deal with them in April.

So far this month, Gonzalez has thrown the cutter 119 times, which accounts for 24.59 percent of his pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net. Batters have hit .188 and are slugging just .313.

“It made sense to where if I throw a fastball inside, located, and then I throw that cutter, it’s going to make it a lot harder for a lefty, or a righty, to react on,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen swings where they get jammed or break a bat or they swing and miss because they think it’s a fastball and it’s three or four miles an hour slower.”

Always more of a contact pitcher, the addition has -- in the short term -- increased Gonzalez’s strikeout rate to near league average. Before July, Gonzalez struck out 17.1 percent of the batters he had faced in his career. This month, the rate is 20.2 percent.   

Cooper is pleased with the development of Gonzalez. He’s also not surprised to find that Gonzalez’s name has appeared in recent Hot Stove chatter along with James Shields, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others.

“Every year this comes up,” Cooper said. “It’s not the first time. People come and go. Trades do happen. Heck, when (Mark) Buehrle left that was a tough one because that was 10 years there. So if Buehrle can leave,anybody can leave. I’ve always said the names change, but the job doesn’t.”

Gonzalez is happy with his current location. He didn’t know what to expect with the White Sox when he signed in April. Suffice it to say, the experience has been better than he could have hoped.

“When you have a free mind, stress free, and you’re on a new team, new environment, things tend to change a little bit and in a good way,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how I feel. I feel comfortable with the team. They welcomed me and now it’s paying off. Hopefully we can get into a nice little stretch and win, a little streak going. That’s what we need right now.”

Bears make front office changes

Bears make front office changes

The Bears announced in a press release on Wednesday that the team has made numerous changes in their front office this offseason.

One such move included the hiring of Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications. Faber was with the Blackhawks communications department since 2008, where his most recent position was Senior Director of Communications and Community relations. 

"The club created a new executive layer of SVP’s to better lead and develop various areas of business with a focus on innovation & strategy," the release detailed. "The club promoted Scott Hagel, Karen Murphy, Cliff Stein and Lee Twarling to the newly created SVP level. The Bears have also added three new members to the VP level, promoting Doug Carnahan to VP of Corporate Partnerships and Jake Jones to VP of Finance and hiring Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications."

Hagel has been promoted to SVP, Marketing and Communications after 20 years with the Bears. Murphy has been promoted to SVP, Business Strategy and CFO. She has been with the Bears for 17 years.

Stein has been with the Bears for 14 years and has been promoted to SVP and General Counsel. He is the legal advisor for all of the club.

Twarling, who has been with the club for 12 years, has been promoted to SVP, Sales and Customer Relations.