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.

Former Blackhawks D-man Trevor Daley reflects on bittersweet postseason

Former Blackhawks D-man Trevor Daley reflects on bittersweet postseason

Trevor Daley’s hearing the same chatter in the Pittsburgh Penguins this season as he did with the Blackhawks last fall.

“It feels a lot like when I started last year with Chicago, where a lot of guys were speaking the same thing: ‘We want to try to do it again,’” Daley said on Wednesday evening. “I felt I was in that situation with the same feeling with the guys around me, so it was an exciting time.”

Well, there is one difference this time around. When Daley was traded to the Blackhawks in the summer of 2015 he didn’t know that feeling of winning a Stanley Cup. Now, he does. After the Blackhawks traded Daley to Pittsburgh he became a key part of the Penguins’ run to their Cup triumph.

Daley fit in immediately with the Penguins because they all found common ground: he wasn’t the only one going through changes at the time. Daley was traded to Pittsburgh two days after the team named Mike Sullivan its new head coach.

“The way they were going with a new coach coming in, I think everyone was happy to have a fresh start, including myself. I felt I was in the same situation they were,” Daley said. “It all worked out obviously in the long run. But a lot for my success had to do with being on the same page as everyone else.”

Daley suffered a fractured ankle in late May, missing the rest of the postseason. But after the Penguins won the Cup in Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks, Daley, on the ice in full uniform and skates, was the first to get the Cup from captain Sidney Crosby.

“When you get to hoist that thing,” Daley said. “There’s nothing better than that.”

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The postseason was bittersweet for Daley, as his mother became ill with cancer as the playoffs began. She got to see Daley hoist the Cup on June 13. Sadly, she died on June 21.

“Pittsburgh was great to me. I got to go home in between series. When I had time off I got to see her and when I got hurt I got to spend more time with her. It did make it bittersweet,” Daley said. “Before she passed she would always say, ‘Why are you here? I want you to be playing.’ But under the circumstances, at least I got to say I got to spend a little more time with her.”

The Penguins are waiting for a few players, including Crosby, to return from the World Cup. Who knows how the season unfolds but much like last fall, Daley is part of the let’s-try-to-repeat talk.

“We’re excited for those guys to be able to have the opportunity they have [at World Cup]. We get to watch the best player in the world doing what he does, knowing he’s coming back to us,” Daley said of Crosby. “We’ve been enjoying it; we’ve been staying in touch with them while they’re gone. Most of them are back now. Those guys are going to be ready to go. They’ve already played some big games, so it’ll be good.”

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Brian Hoyer spent Wednesday’s practice as the presumptive No. 1 quarterback, sources said, and with Jay Cutler limited due to his thumb injury, the Bears began prep for the Detroit Lions next Sunday in Soldier Field with Hoyer getting more used to the offense that he has only sparingly run since training camp.

Some of Hoyer’s teammates spent Wednesday’s practice getting a little more used to him.

A veteran of 27 NFL starts, Hoyer doesn’t do things the way Cutler does them. He doesn’t throw as hard. He doesn’t throw as far. And he runs a sort-of hurry-up offense compared to Cutler.

“Hoyer has a real good sense of urgency to him,” said left tackle Charles Leno Jr. “He’s more fast paced. He likes to quicken up things, whether it’s the cadence, the flow – he just has a real natural sense of urgency about himself.”

This involves more than just a feeling. The Bears ARE faster under Hoyer, based on one very unofficial measure, because game situations differ even though the Bears ultimately lost all three games.

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Based on snaps and time played, the Bears have run 2.2 plays per minute with Cutler. They have run 2.6 per minute, approaching 20 percent more, under “urgent” Hoyer.

The play rate, however, is not entirely on the quarterback. Like all teams, the Bears build tempos into their system, and defenses also dictate some of how the Bears elect to work.

Still, “Jay is more laid back, more relaxed, even-keeled,” Leno said, smiling. “But that’s just Hoyer, more sense of urgency."