Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

The Cubs will leave this tropical environment and jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital.

Miami sunk the Cubs in the first inning when Addison Russell made a costly error on the routine groundball Miami leadoff guy Ichiro Suzuki chopped to shortstop, a mistake that helped create three unearned runs. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out double and a 3-0 lead. Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA) lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

Addison Russell feels ‘sharp, pinching pain’ in shoulder as Cubs face more questions with All-Star shortstop

Addison Russell feels ‘sharp, pinching pain’ in shoulder as Cubs face more questions with All-Star shortstop

MIAMI – Injuries keep weighing the Cubs down as the defending World Series champs keep trying to finally take off this season.

The right shoulder that has been bothering Addison Russell off and on since at least spring training grounded the All-Star shortstop during Sunday’s 4-2 loss at Marlins Park, exiting with what he described as a “sharp, pinching pain.”       

“I definitely know when I can go and when I need to shut it down,” Russell said. “There’s a difference between whenever you’re trying to work through something or you’re working against something.

“I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with my shoulder. But I definitely want to make sure, so I have that (peace of) mind.”

Russell couldn’t handle the spin on an Ichiro Suzuki chopper in the first inning, and that costly error helped Miami generate three unearned runs. Known more for his steady play and athleticism, Russell doesn’t really have that classic shortstop arm.

By the fourth inning, the Cubs rearranged their defense, with Javier Baez moving from second base to shortstop. This 38-37 team already has a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist), Gold Glove outfielder (Jason Heyward) and Cy Young Award finalist (Kyle Hendricks) on the disabled list.   

“Nobody seems to think it’s awful,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Right now, I’m not hearing bad, so I just need to be educated more on it, because I’m hearing with maintenance, with exercise, all that kind of stuff, he should be able to play.

“But of course, I do not want to play anybody that’s injured. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting a young man like this, so I need to get more intel regarding what we need to do next.” 

This lingering shoulder issue sidelined Russell in the middle of May – without a detour to the disabled list – and he eventually fell into a timeshare with Baez as he tried to get out of an offensive spiral while dealing with off-the-field issues. 

Through her divorce attorney last week, Russell’s wife disclosed that she will not meet with Major League Baseball officials looking into an abuse allegation made by a third party on social media, a development that would significantly hinder the investigation.

[MORE: Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'   

Russell – who denied the accusation – wants to keep the focus on the field. He has actually seen an offensive turnaround since details from his private life became public, hitting .357 with four homers and 10 RBI in his previous 12 games.        

“It’s just a long season,” Russell said. “I know my body’s strong enough. I know that I can get through the full season. This year, it’s brought on new things that you have to get over, new things you have to learn, and injuries are definitely one of those things where I feel like I can help prevent, as far as treatment.

“As far as the shoulder thing, I think I need to be more self-aware and take responsibility.”

Russell is only 23 years old and time will tell if this really is a day-to-day issue that can be managed or a long-term concern with a franchise shortstop.  

“But it’s never been debilitating,” Maddon said. “It’s just something that requires a little bit of rest and then he’s fine again. It’s just a young arm. Almost like a young pitcher, as he develops more arm strength and gets into probably a more consistent routine in between playing (with) exercises to prevent that kind of a nagging thing.

“As of right now, it’s nothing debilitating. It’s just nagging.” 

A step forward for Kyle Hendricks and Cubs rotation

A step forward for Kyle Hendricks and Cubs rotation

MIAMI – Kyle Hendricks got as excited as his buttoned-up personality would allow after finishing Saturday’s pain-free throwing session and feeling no lingering effects on Sunday in his right hand.  

“Effervescent, bubbly,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said at Marlins Park. “It sounds like he is encouraged by the whole thing. Again, I told him I just want you to feel the baseball when you throw it. So we’ll just play it along and continue to stay on this program.

“Of course, it’s probably aggressive right now to think prior to the All-Star break. But you never know. I don’t want to rule anything out. Just let him go throw.”

Hendricks – who has been sidelined since early June with inflammation in a tendon on the back of his right middle finger – played catch from 60 feet and will need several more days of throwing before moving to the mound.

Hendricks – a Cy Young Award finalist and major-league ERA leader last season – has been staying on top of his shoulder exercises and overall conditioning. But he would still probably need to work up to at least one start in the minors, leaving the details on any rehab plan fuzzy.  

“It’s kind of on me,” Hendricks said. “That’s why we’re taking it slow here in the beginning, so hopefully nothing creeps back up, because it was kind of a weird injury in the first place. We didn’t know exactly what it was. It took us a little while to figure it out.

“Obviously, it could get sore again or something could happen. I just got to go day-to-day here these first few days, take it easy and make sure that doesn’t creep back up. Hopefully, we can just go from there.”

Even while missing a World Series Game 7 starter, the rotation has been trending in the right direction, posting a 2.51 ERA in the previous 11 games to reverse a 5.28 ERA in the 11 games before that. But to pull away from .500 and make a second-half push, the Cubs will absolutely need Hendricks. 

“They’ve just really fallen into a groove,” Hendricks said. “They’re really taking the workload better. Just from the top, what (Jon) Lester’s been able to do, he’s carrying the rotation with the way he’s pitched. But right behind him, (Jake) Arrieta’s thrown the ball much better lately. Even ‘Lack’ (John Lackey) his last few starts, so they’ve been carrying the load.

“I feel that on me a little bit. I want to come back, obviously, and be part of it and help them out with that.”