Cubs in wait-and-see mode with LaHair, Castillo


Cubs in wait-and-see mode with LaHair, Castillo

MESA, Ariz. Bryan LaHair has waited years for this opportunity, to experience Opening Day in the big leagues for the first time, and now he has to deal with nagging back issues.

The Cubs will have LaHair take batting practice during Wednesdays workout at Wrigley Field and monitor how he responds after sitting out the final four games in the Cactus League. Even if the first baseman is scratched from Thursdays lineup, manager Dale Sveum expects him to be available sometime this weekend against the Washington Nationals.

Hes getting better every day, so well just see with the treatment, Sveum said before Tuesdays game against the Milwaukee Brewers. I dont think its a DL thing or anything like that, because hes got pretty good range of motion as far as rotation and all that. Its just the shooting pain.

I think hes had this before, like we all have. Once youve played a certain amount of time here, pretty much everybodys MRI will show some sort of a bulging disc.

The Cubs will fly out of Arizona on Tuesday without having made their final bullpen decisions. Non-roster players Rodrigo Lopez, Shawn Camp and Manuel Corpas are in the mix, along with Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo.

Sveum indicated the Cubs wont leave anyone behind, essentially carrying eight pitchers for seven spots, and again said theres a possibility the front office could add another arm.

That will be an 11th-hour decision, Sveum said. A lot of bullpens will (be that way) because of all the other stuff involved, the business side of things. Thats one thing you always have to kind of wait out.

Decision time is approaching on Castillo, a converted infielder from the Philadelphia Phillies organization who hasnt pitched above the Class-A level.

The velocity isnt quite what it was earlier in camp, Sveum said, but hes been pitching a lot more than he probably ever has, too. Thats one thing we had to eyeball. He had to get built up if hes going to be in that role (to) where he can pitch three innings, get to 50, 60 pitches once in awhile. He doesnt (have) the biggest frame in the world to put a workload on him, but hes got to get used to it.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

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This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”

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