Cubs go with closer-by-committee just not Marmol or Cashner

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Cubs go with closer-by-committee just not Marmol or Cashner

The Boston media had fun with the closer-by-committee idea once Theo Epstein began running the Red Sox in 2003.

Thats where the Cubs are now, feeling their way through the ninth inning, though the stakes are clearly much lower, making a big-time closer a luxury item.

That Red Sox team made it to Game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, before a dramatic home run from Aaron Bleeping Boone ended it in the 11th inning.

By process of elimination, manager Dale Sveum is down to Shawn Camp and James Russell, and that will depend on matchups and the game situation.

The Cubs activated Carlos Marmol from the disabled list on Monday, and optioned Rafael Dolis to Triple-A Iowa. Dolis lasted about three weeks as closer and went 0-2 with a 24.00 ERA in his last five outings.

Sveum had a sarcastic response when a reporter asked if Marmol will go back to closing: He wasnt in the closer role when he left.

Its out of sight, out of mind, but there was Andrew Cashner sitting in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, a Padres hat on his head and sunglasses shielding his eyes.

Not that long ago, the Cubs seemed to have so many endgame solutions before Sean Marshall was traded to the Reds, Jeff Samardzija moved into the rotation and Kerry Wood retired.

People see the 6.35 ERA now, but Marmol earned that 20 million contract by going 49-for-54 in save chances during his first year-plus on the job.

Cashner, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, had closed at Texas Christian University and the organization was split on his future through the final months of the Jim Hendry administration.

But Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer determined that Cashner would max out as a reliever, not a starter, and that wasnt as valuable as a future first baseman. So Cashner went to San Diego last winter in the Anthony Rizzo deal.

A lot changes when a new regime comes in, Cashner said. I wasnt their guy. I was one of Jim Hendrys guys. (Its) one of those things that you deal with and life goes on.

Cashner missed almost all of last season with a right shoulder injury, but is back throwing around 100 mph out of the Padres bullpen. He was widely viewed as a good guy in the Cubs clubhouse, but didnt appreciate a reporter inquiring about his health this time.

Really? Youre gonna ask me that question? Unbelievable.

Cubs officials once played up the comparisons between Cashner and Kid K. Growing up in Texas, Cashner idolized Wood. Cashner watched Woods final strikeout on television and sent him a text message the other day.

It was awesome, Cashner said. To get a chance to play with him for a year was pretty special.

Hoyer said the Cubs are targeting power arms in the upcoming amateur draft, and believes that the best bullpens are built from within. Thats a window into how the front office is thinking.

The Cubs are willing to experiment and try to develop their own closer. They seem less likely to go out and buy one. They know that relievers are notoriously difficult to project from one year to the next.

Marmol worked to regain the feel for his slider and fastball while recovering from his hamstring strain, and maybe the time away from Wrigley Field helped his state of mind.

It could be the same way for the 24-year-old Dolis, who skipped the Triple-A level on the way to the big leagues.

Its not even a rookie (thing), Marmol said. For everybody, its tough. When you go out there to close the game, you know its very important, because everybody before that did everything to put you in that position. It took them three hours.

When youre struggling to throw strikes, its not an easy thing. You got to be strong mentally.

Cubs: Jorge Soler, Ryan Kalish and what the outfield picture looks like now

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Cubs: Jorge Soler, Ryan Kalish and what the outfield picture looks like now

PITTSBURGH – More than five hours before first pitch, Jorge Soler took early batting practice on Tuesday afternoon in an empty PNC Park while a group of Cubs coaches watched the young Cuban hitter.

The Cubs unveiled a different outfield look for that night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, trying to jumpstart Soler by batting him second and putting him in left, while keeping Dexter Fowler in center and moving Kris Bryant to right.

The team with the best record in baseball can’t be in scramble mode in the first week of May, but the Cubs are almost burning through the depth they acquired this winter.

Jason Heyward is still dealing with the sore right wrist that’s been bothering him since early April. An MRI on Matt Szczur’s right hamstring revealed a strain that landed him on the disabled list. The Cubs promoted Ryan Kalish – a guy who planned to play independent ball before signing a minor-league deal in March – from Triple-A Iowa.

Manager Joe Maddon has been asked about Soler – who began the day hitting .186 with a .591 OPS – in the context of trading for pitching, losing playing time with the Fowler signing and getting another chance after Kyle Schwarber’s season-ending knee surgery.

So Maddon didn’t feel like looking for a deeper meaning to Soler’s opportunity this time.

“It’s Tuesday, that’s it, I swear,” Maddon said. “Because you got other options to deal with. There’s different ways to look at this. I’m going to continue to try to do my best to keep everybody solvent. That’s the best way I can answer that. George obviously has prodigious power ability, so we’ll see how it plays.

“But I’m not going to make any promises.”

Beyond Bryant’s versatility as an All-Star third baseman, the Cubs also have super-utility guys Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez with the ability to toggle between the infield and the outfield.

It’s a remarkable comeback story for Kalish, another former Boston Red Sox prospect with connections to Theo Epstein’s front office.

Kalish struggled to stay healthy at Fenway Park and eventually recovered from cervical fusion surgery – performed by the same doctor who did the neck procedure for Peyton Manning – to make the Opening Day roster for Rick Renteria’s Cubs in 2014.

Kalish spent last year hanging out in Southern California, thinking about life after baseball and watching old buddies like Anthony Rizzo perform in the playoffs.

“I needed to keep trying,” Kalish said. “There were points where people were saying (stuff), even close friends wondering like: ‘Hey, maybe it’s time to move on?’ But I just couldn’t have that.

“I was going (to independent ball) if this didn’t come. The crazy part is that season hasn’t even started yet. It starts in like two weeks. But with all this developing, it just puts it all in perspective. It makes me appreciate what I have.”

The Cubs don’t want to rush Albert Almora from Iowa, even though they know their 2012 first-round pick could play above-average defense in The Show right now. Almora just turned 22, isn’t on the 40-man roster yet and has spent about a month on the Triple-A level.

Until this setback, Szczur had maximized his opportunity after the Cubs ruled out Shane Victorino (calf) for the Opening Day roster. Victorino is still working into game shape at the team’s Arizona complex and getting closer to joining the Triple-A club.

Szczur, who’s out of minor-league options, went from a bubble player to a key contributor, hitting .367 with two homers and 10 RBI in 34 plate appearances and becoming a late-game defensive replacement for Soler.

“It’s always bad timing,” Szczur said.

White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

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White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

The success rate for baseball players returning from shoulder surgery is awfully low, no matter what your definition of success is. 

Some never make it back to the major leagues. Others do, but for abbreviated stints before they’re forced out of the game. Some, like John Danks, return, but aren’t as effective as they were before going under the knife. 

Last year, FiveThirtyEight.com ran the numbers and found that only 67 percent of players who underwent a shoulder procedure returned to the major leagues (the rate for Tommy John surgery is 80 percent). For those pitchers who did return, they averaged 134 fewer innings per season than they did pre-surgery. 

With that in mind, Danks is somewhat of an outlier. From his return to the mound in 2013 until being designated for assignment by the White Sox this week, Danks threw 532 innings in 88 starts, and actually threw more innings in 2014 and 2015 than he did in 2011, his last full year in the majors before his August 2012 surgery. 

“The mere fact he got back on that mound and contributed to us over the last couple of years is a testament to his makeup, his strength and his character,” general manager Rick Hahn said. 

But no matter how hard Danks worked, and no matter how many adjustments he implemented, the results never returned to their pre-surgery levels. From 2008-2011, Danks looked like one of baseball’s more promising up-and-coming starters, posting a 3.77 ERA over 778 2/3 innings. It’s why the White Sox rewarded him with a five-year, $65 million extension in December of 2011. 

In those 532 innings since his surgery, though, Danks had a 4.84 ERA and allowed more home runs (88) than he did from 2008-2011 (80). 

“He never pointed fingers, he never blamed anyone other than himself,” ace left-hander Chris Sale said. “He was a man about it, he was a professional about it. A lot of people get stuck on the stats and the stuff. Some people don’t come back from the surgery he had.

“Not only did he come back from it, but he pitched with it at the highest level of baseball you can possibly be at.”

Danks’ average fastball velocity dropped from 91.6 mph in 2011 to the upper 80’s from 2013-2015, then plummeted to 87.1 mph in his four starts this season. That’s the most direct effect of Danks’ Aug. 6, 2012 surgery to repair a capsular tear and minor debridements of the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. 

Consider this: In Game 163 against the Minnesota Twins in 2008 — arguably the highlight of Danks’ career — the fastest pitch he threw was 95.5 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. In his final start with the White Sox April 28 against the Baltimore Orioles, the hardest fastball he threw was 90.5 mph. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that after the shoulder surgery, he was a different guy,” Hahn said, “and that’s certainly zero fault of John Danks. He did everything in his power to fight back. And really, given the extent of the surgery, I sincerely mean it is impressive how much he was able to contribute after the surgery. 

“The fact that he even got back to the big-league level and the fact that he was able from time to time to put us in position to win ballgames, that’s a huge testament to his work ethic and his competitive spirit. There’s zero doubt in my mind the shoulder surgery changed who he was as a pitcher.”

Danks was able to push through over three years with the White Sox post-surgery, but he never could figure out how to reverse those consistently sub-optimal results. 

But as everyone within the White Sox organization will remind you, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. 

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.” 

Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

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Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

Three days after the conclusion of the NFL Draft, Lamarr Houston already fired the first shot in the new chapter of the Bears-Packers rivalry.

After the Bears beat the Packers on Thanksgiving night last season, Houston spouted off on Aaron Rodgers, saying, "I give two flying you know what about him. I really don't like that guy."

The Bears linebacker made an appearance on ESPN's SportsNation Monday and further explained his issue with the Green Bay quarterback, including Rodgers' championship belt celebration:

"He's a little arrogant for me," Houston said. "He's a little too arrogant. He's a cheesehead. I'm a Bear; he's a cheesehead. I have a lot of respect for his game, I will say that. He's a great quarterback and as a player, I have a lot of respect for his game. That whole championship belt thing kinda gets on my nerves."

When asked if Rodgers has ever displayed this arrogance on the field besides the celebration, Houston said:

"He's chimed a few words to me before. And I'll keep that to myself."

It's particularly interesting that Houston takes issue with Rodgers' celebrations considering the linebacker tore his ACL celebrating a sack in the Bears' blowout loss to the New England Patriots in 2014.

Houston recorded seven tackles and a sack of Rodgers in that Thanksgiving matchup last season.

The Bears meet the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 7 and host Rodgers and Co. at Soldier Field Week 15 in 2016.