Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

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Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum has been inside the interview roomdungeon where the Cubs manager will have to face the media. He checked it out trying to find space for pinch-hitters to get ready during games. The pillars were in a bad spot.

We searched a lot of little places, Sveum said. There was just nothing where you could get a full swing anywhere, unless you went out on the concourse.

Sveum doesnt want to hear excuses about day baseball or Wrigley Fields facilities. The first-year manager is looking for answers.

So as the clubhouse guys loaded bags onto the orange moving truck parked outside HoHoKam Stadium on Saturday Sveum was supposed to get his chopper on there it seemed like a good time to look at the imprint hes put on this team.

Hes got more tattoos than most managers, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I cant see Lou (Piniella) riding into the field on a Harley.

Sveum has been the hot prospect who had to make it as a utility guy. He recovered from a freak leg injury and lasted 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was willing to become a bullpen catcher to stick around with the 1998 New York Yankees and get to the World Series.

This is someone the Cubs want to ride with.

Hes been through it all in his career, utility man Jeff Baker said. When you see guys that have a lot of experience and a lot of perspective on that stuff, they are even keel. Its 162 games. Youre going to have your ups. Youre going to have your downs. The worst thing as a player is when you have a manager that rides that rollercoaster.

When youre doing well, everythings great. (And) if the team goes into a slump and youre not playing well, its disappointing when you see the manager get off you or get bummed.

You really dont get that feeling with Skip this year. Hes going to ride with you. He knows theres going to be good times. He knows theres going to be bad times. He understands how hard this game is.

Sveums normal routine in Arizona began by waking up around 4 a.m. and working out at the teams complex before the players walked into the clubhouse. It had all been scripted out long before then.

Theres no: What are we doing today? pitcher Randy Wells said. Theres no guessing.

Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm who had spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates felt a sense of urgency in Camp Sveum.

Guys on a consistent basis were here early, every morning, getting extra work in, Maholm said. When games start, guys are busting it. You dont see a lot of guys that are just kind of taking it like, Oh, its spring training.

Thats (Sveums) personality: You work hard. You play hard. Have fun later.

You just respect a guy for coming in and kind of laying it down and saying this is how were going to play and this is what I expect.

That sense of structure and purpose began with individual player meetings run by Sveum, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer at the beginning of camp.

One of the things he focused on in the interview is spring training (as) a tone-setter, Hoyer said. Thats where you build the makeup of your team about having that attention to detail and creating some camaraderie, too. Its not only about being a drill sergeant.

Sveum, whose late father was a Marine, believes its a sign of weakness to show emotion in the dugout. When things do go wrong, he will be able to lean on people he trusts, because he had a voice in choosing his coaching staff.

Everybody stresses fundamentals in spring training. But maybe its hammered home harder this time because Sveum and his new coaches Jamie Quirk (bench), Chris Bosio (pitching) and Dave McKay (first base) have 101 combined seasons of experience as a major-league player or coach.

Dales done a great job of setting the tone for detail, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. He teaches the game really well in every phase. We got some great coaches with a lot of experience. Thats real vital. Theyve been on championship teams, in the World Series.

Sveum views himself as a teacher, and still plans to be hands-on around the cage and in the video room, even as the demands on his time multiply. At least he wont have to be out there spinning negative stories about Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.

This has been a distraction-free zone, and welcoming toward the players of the future.

Dale is a pretty straightforward guy, top prospect Brett Jackson said. Hes so knowledgeable about the game. He wants you want to come out every day and bust your butt.

Some people ask: Why do you act so comfortable? You havent even been on the team yet. Well, I wouldnt want to act like I was uncomfortable. But the real answer is: Its an easy coaching staff to be comfortable with. Its an easy team to be comfortable with.

Sveum doesnt particularly enjoy talking about himself, but its not like he dreads talking to the media. Once the Cubs get back to Wrigley Field for Wednesdays workout, he will almost certainly be asked about changing the culture, as if no one had thought to ask that question the past six weeks.

That statement is kind of oblivious to me, Sveum said, because I wasnt here, so I dont know what the culture was. We all know that its been a long time since the Cubs have won a World Series. But in the meantime, I dont know whats gone on here.

I just wanted to bring in my two cents and get people to do things the way I expect them to do and how I expect them to play the game. Everybodys had a great spring that way. Guys have played hard and worked hard. So I cant ask for anything else.

There is approximately two-and-a-half days left in camp before the Cubs board their charter flight back to Chicago. Well see if there will be a carryover effect. There will be more heat from the fans and the media. Cracks in the foundation will begin to show. That interview room will feel a lot smaller.

Youre going to get more frustrating questions and youre going to get questions that are second-guessing you on a daily basis, Sveum said. Thats the nature of the business. I can sit here and say anything I want about it. But I havent been in that hot seat yet.

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Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of The Plan and that wacky, fun-loving Cubs team to bring you a snapshot of clubhouse frustration.

Jake Arrieta sounded defensive while talking to reporters after Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, standing in front of his locker and second-guessing manager Joe Maddon. On the other side of the room, veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the way the Cubs are preparing for the playoffs with Cactus League scripts.

The postgame questions started with Arrieta’s first-inning issues with umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. When reporters mentioned Maddon’s positive spin on a seven-run outing, Arrieta dismissed those happy-talk answers about his stuff — “it just wasn’t crisp” — and then wondered why he went from throwing to Montero to rookie Willson Contreras.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Montero went with a similar passive-aggressive tone, riffing on how the Cubs will maintain their edge almost two weeks after clinching the National League Central title and nine days before their first playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“Did it feel like spring training?” Montero said. “I do believe that. And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is.

“This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.

“We have to trick our mind. Because if that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

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Unprompted, Montero brought up the Pirates scoring three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night before the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 victory — without using Aroldis Chapman — as Maddon tries to keep the bullpen fresh for the playoffs.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” Montero said. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win.

“It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

OK then, the Cubs are still a 101-win team and the NL’s No. 1 seed. But this became a sharp contrast to all the backslapping after the pregame announcement of Theo Epstein’s monster contract extension. And Arrieta didn’t look like a reigning Cy Young Award winner, giving up 10 hits while John Jaso — who does look like a Pirate — lined a curveball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning and hit for the cycle.

“We’re moving on,” Arrieta said. “We’ll prepare for the next one. I don’t like giving up seven runs. I’m pissed about that. But moving forward, everything’s fine.”

With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lined up at the front of the playoff rotation, Arrieta’s next start is almost two weeks away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arrieta said. “I’ll throw sides. I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round — they’re going to be in trouble.”

After burning through 103 pitches in five innings, Arrieta’s regular-season odometer is now at 197 1/3 innings, but he has zero interest in a gimmick that would get him to 200 this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“Listen, I want to pitch on a schedule,” Arrieta said. “I don’t want to throw an inning in a game. I’m not trying to do anything different. Let’s just prepare like we normally do and go out and try to win games. I’m not trying to throw a bullpen in a game.”

Look, if this isn’t trouble in paradise, then it’s obvious that the Cubs are a hyper-competitive group that knows what’s at stake in October and has some independent thinkers and strong personalities. And that Arrieta’s unreal 2015 season created impossible standards for this year that couldn’t be met with an 18-8 record and a 3.10 ERA, the type of numbers that still get pitchers $200 million contracts.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”