Cubs clearing the path for Anthony Rizzo


Cubs clearing the path for Anthony Rizzo

Theo Epstein has scouted Anthony Rizzo in person several times this season, and watched just about every one of his at-bats at Triple-A Iowa on video.

Like every prospect in the Cubs system, Rizzo received an individual player plan for improvement this season, and almost all of Epsteins boxes are checked.

The Cubs sent another clear signal that Rizzo is coming soon by moving first baseman Bryan LaHair to right field for Mondays 12-3 win over the White Sox.

What you saw at U.S. Cellular Field Alfonso Soriano in left, David DeJesus in center and LaHair in right is what it should look like once Rizzos stationed at first base.

Rizzo is hitting .364 with 23 homers and 59 RBI in 63 games at Iowa, where hes drawn rave reviews for his potential Gold Glove defense and professional approach.

He was destroying down there, said catcher Geovany Soto, who just got back from a rehab assignment with Iowa. Hes got some pop. Hes doing it right. Hes coming on pretty good.

Rizzo, 22, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, traded to the San Diego Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and flipped to the Cubs last winter in the Andrew Cashner trade.

The three executives in charge at Clark and Addison Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were involved in all three deals and are banking on Rizzo being a foundation piece. Theyve so far resisted bringing up Rizzo to give the team a jolt.

You have to look at what happened last year, Epstein said. He put up great numbers and then was rushed to the big leagues and struggled. So its important to always put players in a position to succeed.

The Cubs believe Rizzo learned from his experience last season in San Diego, where he hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats. They say lowering his hands has been a key mechanical adjustment to his swing.

The minor leagues arent just some holding pattern, Epstein said. Its a place for a lot of teaching and learning. Its where adjustments are made, not only fundamentally a players swing (or) physically getting stronger, learning how to stay healthy, learning their body. But (its) also mentally, your routine that you develop to get you through tough days.

His approach has always been pretty solid. I think he got into some bad habits with his swing last year when he was trying to do too much at the big-league level.

Hes someone who kind of toys with his hand position quite a bit. Hes got a little bit of rhythm with his setup. (Now) hes ready to hit the fastball and adjusting well on off-speed pitches. Hes an aggressive hitter. Hes not someone whos overly selective at the plate, but hes got a real plan. Its worked for him so far.

LaHair began the day tied for the lead in homers among National League first basemen, and then launched his 13th shot 404 feet beyond the wall in right-center field.

That morning, LaHair received a phone call from manager Dale Sveum letting him know that hed be in the outfield that night. There is less ground to cover at U.S. Cellular Field, but the winds were gusting up to 41 mph at first pitch.

LaHair passed his first test by making a nice running catch onto the warning track in the first inning to rob Gordon Beckham.

Ive played in the outfield quite a bit throughout my life, so it should be a pretty minor adjustment, LaHair said. In the back of my mind, there was always the thought of me moving to the outfield at some point, so its not a complete surprise.

This will be a new challenge.

The Cubs are getting very close to the point where restarting the meter on Rizzos major-league service time will make more financial sense. The fans cant wait to see the face of the future at Wrigley Field, and its almost time to give in to the hype.

Hes one that you go to the computer every day to see what he did, Sveum said. But we had a plan to start with, so there was no early arrival or anything like that. We knew he had to develop and we had a gameplan and we were going to stick to it.

Bears get Jay Cutler back as QB competition with Brian Hoyer fades to black

Bears get Jay Cutler back as QB competition with Brian Hoyer fades to black

If there was any quarterback “controversy” swirling about the Bears – and one likely will be after this season – this one is safely resolved with Jay Cutler cleared by team medical staff to return from his injured thumb and begin practicing this week, all of this about the time that Brian Hoyer was undergoing surgery for his broken right arm suffered in the loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Whether Cutler would have been re-installed as the starter had Hoyer remained healthy, and throwing for 300 yards per game, is a moot point now. Indications were that Hoyer would not lose the job if he was playing well.

But now, “obviously Jay’s our starter,” said coach John Fox. “He was injured, not permitted to play medically. And now that he’s healed he’s back to being our starter.

“That’s really the facts and kind of what happened and where we’re at now. So I don’t know that there was a ‘competition’ to speak of. Just like there wasn’t a competition when Matt Barkley went in [at Green Bay]; he was our only quarterback left. So it’s good to have Jay back. We’re excited to have him back and hopefully he can remain healthy.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Team chemisty is difficult if not impossible to gauge from the outside. And whether teammates prefer Cutler or Hoyer personally is only marginally relevant anyway.

But Cutler was voted an offensive co-captain (along with Alshon Jeffery) and the offense ostensibly is more dangerous with Cutler and his deep-threat capability. Still, the Bears scored just 21 points in the combined seven quarters behind Cutler, while reaching 17-17-23-16 in whole games under Hoyer.

Cutler’s return is expected to have a ripple effect on the rest of the team.“We don’t really play into that much,” said center Cody Whitehair. “[Whoever’s] back there, we’re going to try and do our best to protect them and do our thing on the run.

“But you know, it is nice to have him back. He’s been a leader on the sideline even while he wasn’t playing and it’ll be nice to have him back out there.”

Badgers' leading tackler Jack Cichy out for rest of season


Badgers' leading tackler Jack Cichy out for rest of season

Wisconsin trails Nebraska by two in the loss column in the Big Ten West Division standings and has a huge showdown with the top-10 Huskers on Saturday night in Madison.

But the road to Indy just got a little tougher, the Badgers announcing Monday that leading tackler Jack Cichy will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Cichy had 60 tackles on the campaign as part of a world-class Wisconsin defense that ranks fourth in the country in scoring (14.3 points allowed a game) and ninth in yardage (300.6 yards allowed a game). His seven tackles for loss rank second on the team, and his 1.5 sacks rank third. He also forced a pair of fumbles in his seven games.

The Badgers have been plagued by injuries in the linebacking corps this season. Cichy's season-ending injury is the second that unit has experienced this year, as Chris Orr was knocked out for the year following an injury in the season-opening win over LSU. T.J. Edwards has been working his way back to full strength after suffering a foot injury this summer. And Vince Biegel missed a couple games with injury but returned to the lineup this past weekend, registering one tackle in the win over Iowa.

The Badgers, ranked 11th in the most recent AP poll, play host to the No. 7 Huskers on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.