Cubs have Opening Day lineup set, but Mather will keep pushing


Cubs have Opening Day lineup set, but Mather will keep pushing

MESA, Ariz. Joe Mathers wrist felt good enough to grab the job by the throat.

Thats how Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described the impression Mather made on the coaching staff and the front office this spring. After multiple surgeries, Mather finally feels healthy, and notices the ball jumping off his bat again.

Mather woke up on Friday hitting .418 with 11 extra-base hits, already knowing that he made the team. He appears to be over a wrist problem similar to the one that has plagued ex-Cub Mark DeRosa, whos been limited to just 73 games combined over the last two seasons and is now in camp with the Washington Nationals.

Its something that they tell you takes six weeks to heal, Mather said. And when you come back, you find out thats not necessarily the case. You lose a lot of the whip in your swing and kind of everything that you taught yourself to do. You have to adjust.

After years of frustration, its gone smooth enough that manager Dale Sveum has talked about riding out Mathers hot bat for as long as possible, and called him a perfect fit for a team that has left-handed corner players.

Sveum said the lineup he wrote out for Fridays game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at HoHoKam Stadium looks like the one you will see on Opening Day at Wrigley Field against the Nationals:

1. David DeJesus, RF (L)
2. Darwin Barney, 2B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Bryan LaHair, 1B (L)
5. Alfonso Soriano, LF
6. Ian Stewart, 3B (L)
7. Marlon Byrd, CF
8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Ryan Dempster, P
Mathers not in there, but it sounds like he can take some at-bats and become much more than the 25th man on the roster. He can play first and third base and in Sveums mind all three outfield spots at an above-average level. He once even pitched two innings for the St. Louis Cardinals during a 20-inning loss to the New York Mets in 2010.

I told him in his meeting: Youre a guy who can do a lot of things, Sveum said. Hes the kind of guy that you just ride out, whatever position it might be (and) hopefully it will last a long time.

Dont ever think youre just a bench player and youre not going to be pushing somebody to play every day.

Mather, 29, has spent time on the Triple-A level in each of the past five seasons. He went to high school in the Phoenix area and lives here in the offseason, which gave him a support system that helped him stay focused and relaxed during camp.

Mather showed enough power for the Cardinals in 2008 eight homers in 133 at-bats that you wonder how much more is in there now that hes back at full strength.

I think if someone would have told me that I (would have) this (kind) of camp, Mather said, I would have been jumping up and down. Its been awesome. They gave me quite a bit of opportunity and I was able to play well. It feels really good to take advantage.

Complete Cubs-Indians World Series Game 3 coverage on CSN

Complete Cubs-Indians World Series Game 3 coverage on CSN

Tune in to CSN at 6 p.m. for Cubs Postseason Live as our crew gets ready for Game 3 of the World Series against the host Cleveland Indians. Be sure to flip over to CSN immediately after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postseason Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA)

Get ready for Game 3 by reading these stories:

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks ready for the next biggest start of his career

Ben Zobrist stabilizes Cubs World Series lineup with Babe Ruth-esque performance

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin will pitch World Series Game 3 against Cubs with ailing father in stands

Kyle Schwarber not medically cleared to play the field, will not start in Games 3-5 of World Series 

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Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

The Cubs already know they have some of the most loyal fans in all of sports. Fans have brought their enthusiasm to Wrigley Field on game days all season long.

But the Cubs also know the energy at The Friendly Confines may reach a new level when the Cubs host the first World Series game since Oct. 10, 1945.

"It's going to be an absolute blast," said manager Joe Maddon. "Beanie's (Maddon's mom) coming in. My kids are coming. Everybody's coming in. It's going to be great. So I know that people have been waiting for this for a long time are going to savor it, and hopefully on our part we can do something to really make it even better."

Ben Zobrist is no stranger to the World Series, with 2016 being his third appearance and second consecutive. He knows what the main stage's atmosphere can be like, but for a fan base that's waited 71 years?

"I can't imagine. They're probably just as excited, if not more excited than we are to see that game played there," said Zobrist, a Eureka, Ill. native. "It's been a long time. They've been waiting patiently and they deserve to have these games played there. Hopefully we can get some Ws there for them. We know it's gonna be electric and a really fun atmosphere."

The Cubs understand what this moment means for their fans. They've also heard the narratives and they don't care.

"We are very much aware of everything that's gone on in the past, but we have to live in the present otherwise you'll never be able to get to this juncture in the season," Maddon said. "So I really am impressed whatever I've read or have heard, the respect our players have shown about every part of this entire situation, organizationally, city-wide, fanbase, all that stuff. I think our players have been outstanding in the way they've handled all that. But at the end of the day, you want to get on that field for the last out, and you want to celebrate among each other.

"I mean, we've been after this for a bit, like everybody else has. We've been after it a bit. Last year started, this year Spring Training. All season long people have been after us, and our guys are still standing. Give them a lot of credit for that. Like Manolo just pointed out, pretty young team on the field last night."

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

The Cubs' batting order for Game 2 at Progressive Field featured six players age 24 or younger, which marked a postseason record. One of those men included designated hitter Kyle Schwarber, who made a surprise return in Game 1 after suffering a significant knee injury in the third game of the regular season.

Although Schwarber wasn't medically cleared by doctors to play the field for Games 3-5 at Wrigley Field, he will be available to come off the bench and pinch hit.

As if the crowd didn't have something to cheer about already, they won't have to wait long to recognize Schwarber for his return, as player introductions will take place prior to Game 3.

"It's going to be great," Schwarber said. "I remember just walking out on the line, when I first got injured, and back for the first playoff game and everything like that, they welcomed me very well. This time, you know, I'm just going to embrace the moment.

"It's going to be awesome. It's the World Series at Wrigley Field. It's going to be electric. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. So I'll definitely soak it in."

Count Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein among those excited to see how loud Wrigley will get when Schwarber runs out of the dugout after his named is called.

"I'll let it speak for itself," Epstein said. "I mean, we were here on Opening Day when he walked out with one crutch, and it was deafening. I think our fans also have a special connection with Kyle, and I'm sure they'll take advantage of the opportunity to let him know how much they appreciate him tomorrow night. Hopefully during the game, too."