Stewart will have to grind it out

708506.png

Stewart will have to grind it out

MESA, Ariz. Ian Stewart felt something last summer while taking batting practice at Dodger Stadium. He tried to play through it, but it got to the point where he couldnt really swing anymore. He went on the disabled list with what was termed a left wrist contusion.

Almost eight months later, Stewart walks around the clubhouse at HoHoKam Stadium with a wrap around his arm thats so big it almost looks like a cast. The new Cubs third baseman says this is just a precaution (and not a huge red flag).

It stinks to say, but Ive kind of got to the point where Ive got some nagging stuff thats probably going to linger for awhile, Stewart said. Thats why I always have heat or ice on my wrist. Thats just a thing thats going to be there. You guys will probably see it a lot. Its just going to be one of those it is what it is-type-things (where youre) just trying to maintain it. But it feels good.

Stewart who hadnt played in a Cactus League game for almost a week because of a quad injury returned to action on Tuesday in Phoenix during a split-squad game against the Oakland As.

To be clear, the Cubs did extensive background work on Stewart before making him the centerpiece of a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies last December. Manager Dale Sveum downplayed the issue, saying its something you monitor, but dont notice because every batting practice he takes he swings at 100 percent.

But the admission seemed curious for a two-way player the Cubs believe has the power to hit 20-plus homers and play defense at a Gold Glove level. Stewart understands that hes going to have to manage the wrist. The nature of the game and the injury means that you cant expect it to just disappear.

Its a thing thats probably not going to heal during the season, but its not like its broke or anything, Stewart said. Its more like inflammation, just some general soreness. The best chance is in the offseason and even then (we) start working out right when the seasons over.

If I had probably whole year off, then it would be better, but (thats not an option). The wrist hasnt effected my play or being in the lineup at all in spring training, which Im very happy about.

The Cubs have shown a lot of faith in Stewart, believing that he can still be the player Baseball America fell in love with years ago. He will turn 27 on Opening Day and has been given the everyday job.

Stewart has shown flashes of the potential the Rockies saw when they made him the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Combined he generated 43 homers and 131 RBI for Colorado in 2009 and 2010.

But knee, hamstring and wrist injuries conspired against Stewart last season. He hit .156 with zero home runs in 48 games with the Rockies and spent a significant amount of time at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Stewart rejected the change of scenery narrative presented by the Cubs front office. The laid-back guy who grew up in Southern California has enough confidence to think that all he needs is an opportunity.

Stewarts not nearly as accomplished as ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez the Opening Day third baseman the past eight seasons but he uses the same calculus: If Im healthy, Ill put up numbers.

I dont think breakout year. I dont think I have to replace anybody, Stewart said. Im just focused on getting healthy. Thats all Im looking forward to just being as productive as I can (once) the season (starts) and maintaining that preparation throughout the year and getting 400 or 500 at-bats.

When I get those at-bats, the numbers have been there in the big leagues.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."