Hjalmarsson embraces increased role


Hjalmarsson embraces increased role

When Niklas Hjalmarsson paired with Brent Seabrook, he was dealing with both familiar and uncharted territory.

No, its not the first time he and Seabrook have teamed together. That was the comfortable part. But in Duncan Keiths absence, the Swedish defenseman had to take on some serious minutes per game. It was going to be a tough task, especially since Hjalmarsson had missed so many games lately from a concussion.

But in two games with Seabrook, Hjalmarsson is feeling good about his partner and his minutes.

Hjalmarsson played a season-high 26:04 in the Blackhawks shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. He finished with three shots on goal, two takeaways and a blocked shot, but most important soaked up those big minutes that are a nightly habit for Keith. Hjalmarsson said hes feeling better with each game.

The conditionings getting close to (where it was) before I got injured, said Hjalmarsson, who missed 13 of 14 games through February and March. Its good for me to play more minutes and hopefully be better prepared for the playoffs. We have to get there, but hopefully we do and Ill be in good shape.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson has looked good with Seabrook these past two games.

We like that pair. Hammer can absorb minutes and hes comfortable against top lines as well, he said. The offensive side of his game is safe but at the same time, the defensive side of his game is really safe.

As far as playing with Seabrook, well, that was the easy part. And Hjalmarsson said recently he welcomes the challenge of competing against the oppositions top players.

I love to play with him; hes such a solid player, Hjalmarsson said. When you go out you know hes going to do his job. I just have to be on my toes and do my thing and usually things work out pretty good.

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

CLEVELAND - The World Series isn't over yet, but the awards are already rolling in for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant was named the Hank Aaron Award winner Wednesday evening, an accolade for the best hitter in each league. Aaron was on hand at the World Series in Cleveland to hand the award to Bryant.

Bryant led the National League with 121 runs scored while also slugging 39 homers and driving in 102 runs. He hit .292 with a .385 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage (for a .939 OPS).

“Well, it’s ‘Hammerin’ KB,’” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just be a young player in KB’s shoes, and to win that award and then have that particular man present it to you, it’s impressive. It’s very impressive at a young age to be considered and then win it. There’s a lot of great competition out there."

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After winning Rookie of the Year honors last season, Bryant may also be in line for the NL MVP this year as the anchor of a 103-win Cubs team.

“An award like this for KB could absolutely galvanize his thoughts about himself as a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "It’s a great achievement for him. I’m very happy for him. And I know he will humbly accept it in the right way.”

Josh Donaldson was the American League winner last season while Bryce Harper took home the NL honors.

Bryant is the second Cubs player to win the award after Sammy Sosa in 1999 (the first ever Hank Aaron Award). That season, Sosa hit 63 homers with 141 RBI, 114 rusn and a 1.002 OPS.

MLB official: World Series Game 2 to 'start on time' despite potential rain

MLB official: World Series Game 2 to 'start on time' despite potential rain

CLEVELAND -- Game 2 of the World Series is on -- for now.

With rain forecast for late Wednesday night, Major League Baseball officials said they have a contingency plan in place to suspend the contest in case it is disrupted by weather. MLB has only suspended one other World Series contest, Game 5 of the 2008 edition between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.

MLB already made an early decision Tuesday to move up Wednesday’s start time by an hour to 6:08 p.m. CST in order to improve chances of avoiding the weather. The current forecast calls for steady rain to start falling at 9 p.m. CST.

“The plan right now is to start on time,” said MLB’s Peter Woodfork. “Right now we hope it’s light, nothing heavy.

“As long as the field holds up, the integrity of the field, we’ll continue to play. If something happens and we can’t go, we’ll pull the tarp and see where we’re at. Most likely if it’s that heavy, we’re going to have to suspend the game and finish tomorrow.”

Woodfork said MLB wouldn’t announce a potential re-start for Game 2 until later Wednesday night, if necessary.

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon and utility man Ben Zobrist were part of the 2008 Tampa Bay squad that waited two days for Game 5 to resume. Maddon said the Rays had already checked out of their hotel in preparation for the return trip to Tampa Bay for Game 6 and didn’t find a new hotel until after 1 a.m.

“You just have to play the game,” Maddon said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It’s one of those uncontrollable components. The game in Philadelphia was pretty severe. I don’t think it’s going to be Philadelphia-like weather conditions tonight. That game was very awkward to play. The rain was horizontal. It was freezing. There was actually standing water on the field.”

Woodfork said the current plan calls for Game 3 to begin on time in Chicago on Friday regardless if Thursday’s travel day is wiped out by a resumed game.

“When you’re playing the World Series, the weather is secondary,” Zobrist said.