Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

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Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

ST. LOUIS Even if the Cubs say the numbers are deceiving, theyre still next to Ian Stewarts name and up on the video board for everyone to see.

Stewart who entered Monday hitting .193 tries to catalog all the line-drive outs and hard-hit balls. Its probably the only thing keeping me sane, he said.

Stewart is a thoughtful player who speaks in a low, quiet voice, and he was only joking.

It cant hurt your state of mind when Theo Epsteins front office makes you a priority at the winter meetings and swings a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies and tells you youre the everyday third baseman.

Or when the Cubs send you to an offseason minicamp in Arizona with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and manager Dale Sveum repeatedly gives you strong votes of confidence.

In a year thats all about evaluation and identifying core pieces for the future, the Cubs are going to give Stewart a very long runway.

This is the profile of someone theyd take a chance on only 27 years old, a former first-round pick, a left-handed bat and a plus defender.

Defensively, hes been as good as anybody in baseball at that position, Sveum said. Offensively, his numbers arent even close to what they could be. Hes probably hitting into as much tough luck as anybody in the game.

Im not saying he couldnt be better, but hes squared up a lot of balls right at people to where he could easily be .260, .270.

I think he feels pretty good about whats going on. Obviously, hed like to have better numbers and all that, but I think hes in a heck of a lot better place than he was last year at this time.

Stewart spent long stretches of last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and dealt with wrist, knee and hamstring injuries. The previous two seasons combined, he generated 43 homers and 131 RBI for the Rockies.

Entering Monday, three of Stewarts four home runs have come in his last nine starts. His .621 OPS ranked 10th out of the 11 qualified third basemen in the National League.

It is a slow start when you just look at the numbers right on paper, Stewart said. (But) my teammates (know) Ive been hitting some hard balls, a lot of at-em balls you could say.

Its kind of clich, but I feel like if I keep getting my work in with Rudy and Dale and just keep being aggressive, those are going to turn into base hits and extra-base hits. If I can get hot, thats just going to help the team even more.

When building out the roster, dont discount how much the Cubs want to stuff their lineup with left-handed bats. From signing David DeJesus to elevating Bryan LaHair to waiting on top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, its clear which way theyre leaning.

Its invaluable, Sveum said. It just wears the pitcher out. There are no quick outs with left-handed hitters up to the plate.

(Theyre usually) the guys that end up working the counts, just because pitchers dont have (the) ability to get quick outs with the slider (or) the cutter off the end of the bat or a quick groundball. Theyre just more patient.

On Sunday, Stewart launched one ball off the second deck in right field at Miller Park. Maybe his luck is about to turn. Either way, the Cubs are going to be patient enough to find out.

As long as I feel good up there and Im hitting the ball hard, then theyll come around, Stewart said. They usually come in bunches. Hopefully, thats pretty soon.

Bulls' Taj Gibson a late scratch with ankle injury vs. Mavericks

Bulls' Taj Gibson a late scratch with ankle injury vs. Mavericks

Just when you think the Bulls are back at full strength for one of the few times this season and able to hit the reset button halfway through the year, someone goes down with an injury.

Taj Gibson will miss Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks with a left ankle injury that he apparently suffered Sunday night in the Bulls’ win against Memphis.

This comes on the day Nikola Mirotic has recovered from his strep throat and apparently the flu bug that made its way through the locker room has finally run its course.

Paul Zipser, the Bulls’ rookie second-round pick, will start in Gibson’s place. Zipser has played in 12 games so far, starting in two of them.

"It's something that kind of popped up,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don't know exactly the time. He did have a little bit of soreness in the game. Again, it's not to the point where you're saying this is something that holds him out a while.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Gibson did have ankle surgery on his left ankle in June 2015, but he’s been an iron man this year, starting every game to this point and averaging 12 points with 7.3 rebounds.

Hoiberg said he’s not sure if Gibson will need an MRI or if this injury is somehow related to the ankle surgery that cost Gibson several months in the 2015 offseason.

It seems Hoiberg will start off with Zipser and then use Mirotic and Bobby Portis as reserves against the Mavericks team that gave the Bulls a 25-point whipping in Dallas on Dec. 3, their second-worst loss of the year.

“Again, we hope to sit him tonight, have a couple days off to rest and get him back in the lineup in the next one,” Hoiberg said. “We felt it was best to hold him out tonight."

Janarion Grant will return to Rutgers for fifth season in 2017

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USA TODAY

Janarion Grant will return to Rutgers for fifth season in 2017

One of the most explosive players in the Big Ten will be back for the 2017 season.

Rutgers announced Tuesday that do-it-all man Janarion Grant will be back on the field for the Scarlet Knights this fall. Grant suffered a leg injury in the team's fourth game of the season and missed the last eight games of the campaign.

"Fifth year, here I come! I'm excited about what I have been able to accomplish so far, but I look forward to getting out there and competing with my teammates again," Grant said in the announcement. "I thank coach (Chris) Ash and the staff as well as my family for their support through this process. Let's make this season special. Go Knights!"

Grant is tied for the all-time NCAA lead in kick-return touchdowns with eight. He's got five kickoff-return touchdowns and three punt-return touchdowns.

This past season, Grant got off to a lightning-quick start, scoring six total touchdowns. In just four games, he totaled 210 receiving yards, 195 kickoff-return yards and a kickoff-return touchdown, 138 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, 21 passing yards and a passing touchdown and 112 punt-return yards and a punt-return touchdown.

Grant is Rutgers' all-time leader in kickoff-return yards with 2,606, and he ranks fourth in program history in all-purpose yards with 4,251.

The Knights were offensively challenged in Ash's first season as head coach, dead last in the conference with an average of 15.7 points per game and 283.2 yards per game. Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill was hired earlier this offseason as the team's new offensive coordinator.