'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs

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'A dream come true' for Bowden with Cubs

This was the message Theo Epstein delivered to reporters one night during the winter meetings: We have opportunity.

Thats easy to say inside a Dallas hotel suite, during the Christmas shopping season. But the Cubs are backing up those words, turning Wrigley Field into a kind of baseball Ellis Island.

That means handing 500 at-bats to Ian Stewart, to see if he can become the hitter Baseball America projected hed become years ago. Its looking at Bryan LaHairs monster Triple-A numbers and being willing to give him a chance at this level.

So the Cubs will throw Michael Bowden into their bullpen and see if he can live up to his potential.

As much as the Cubs want to copy the Red Sox, this is the major difference now. Every game here isnt covered like the Super Bowl, the way it is in Boston. There is room to grow at Clark and Addison.

This is what the 25-year-old Bowden was hoping for when he was designated for assignment on April 15. He got bored waiting around Boston for some answers, so he hopped in his truck and drove back home to Oswego.

When Bowden found out he was traded to the Cubs in the Marlon Byrd deal, he put it right up there with getting drafted (47th overall in 2005) and making his big-league debut (beating the White Sox at Fenway Park in 2008).

This is a dream come true, Bowden said Monday. Im very blessed.

Growing up, Bowden didnt have cable, but he watched the Cubs all the time on WGN. He starred at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, where people noticed the drive and professional focus inside the kid who wanted to pay back the single mother who raised him.

The three former Red Sox executives now running the Cubs Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod know all about Bowdens makeup. They took him five picks after Clay Buchholz, and hoped hed develop into a frontline starter.

After the 2008 season, Baseball America ranked Bowden as the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox organization. Across the next three years, he had 10 different stints with Boston, but never finished a single season with more than 20 big-league innings.

Bowden paused for a few moments after he was asked: Do you feel like you were given a fair shot in Boston?

Thats a tough question to answer, Bowden said. Every time you get the ball, its an opportunity. (But I went) up and down. I never really got a level of comfort over there. So Id go up there and I didnt know really what they wanted out of me and they threw me in a lot of different roles.

But you know what Im very grateful for it. It made me a versatile pitcher. Now, throw anything at me, I feel Im prepared to tackle that.

The Cubs bullpen is in a state of flux. To make room for Bowden, Rodrigo Lopez was designated for assignment, and the Cubs have hopes hell go to Triple-A Iowa. Kerry Woods right shoulder is said to be improving, though theres a chance the veteran reliever will eventually need to go out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Bowden will have opportunities to show he belongs here. His major-league resume 5.61 ERA in 59.1 innings is pretty polished when compared to rookie relievers Lendy Castillo and Rafael Dolis.

Bowden didnt have much left to prove at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he spent parts of the last four seasons, and went 16-for-17 in save chances last year.

Over the weekend, Bowden was flooded with messages and phone calls, but he left only two tickets for Monday nights game against the Cardinals, one for his wife and one for his mother. The ticket requests, well, he said: Ask me again in a week or two.

This is what a full-scale rebuilding project looks like, letting someone sink or swim in the big leagues. If Bowden wasnt in the right place at the right time, he certainly is now.

I just couldnt have written it any better, he 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.

Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov undergoes wrist surgery

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Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov undergoes wrist surgery

Artem Anisimov said last week that he and the Blackhawks had to make the most of this offseason to be prepared for 2016-17. On Tuesday, he took care of something that was apparently ailing him.

Anisimov underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair an injury to his right wrist. Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in a statement that, “the surgery went well. We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks.”

The 27-year-old center played in 77 regular-season and all seven postseason games for the Blackhawks. He was tied for second on the team with three postseason goals (with Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith).

During last week’s closing meetings, Anisimov said he was going to stay in the Chicago area “for a while” before returning to Russia. He also talked about finding the silver lining in the Blackhawks’ early playoff exit.

“We just need to spend our summer wisely, get prepared for the next season and move forward,” he said.