Theo Epstein says Cubs will grind through tough start

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Theo Epstein says Cubs will grind through tough start

Near the end of spring training, Theo Epstein told beat reporters that he could write their stories for them. The Cubs president of baseball operations already saw their angles.

Epstein didn't know when it was coming, but at some point he predicted the headlines would scream: The honeymoon is over.

The city isn't there yet, even if the Cubs had lost five of their first six games. As much as fans will demand to see Epstein riding on a float down Michigan Avenue, deep down they seem resigned that 2012 will be a bridge year.

Epstein watched batting practice from behind the cage on Thursday at Wrigley Field and then walked into the Cubs dugout.

Holding a dark suit jacket in his hands, the collar to his white dress shirt open, Epstein declined when a reporter jokingly asked him to write the lede.

"No, we've been in every game," Epstein said. "We just got to grind through it. These things even out."

A few hours later, almost everything fell into place in an 8-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. A lineup that had scored 19 runs in the season's first six games dropped eight on Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and went 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

There was Alfonso Soriano flicking a broken-bat, two-run single into right field, then stealing second base and crossing home plate with dirt covering the front of his uniform.

There was Matt Garza, one out away from a complete-game shutout, firing the ball into the seats behind first base. Who writes this stuff?

"No, I'm not discouraged about anything," Epstein said. "We just got to keep grinding. We faced some pretty good pitching. We haven't really locked in our approach yet. Our right-on-right performance hasn't been exemplary yet, but we'll get there.

"We got to make things tougher on opposing starters. It's tough to win games when they can be as efficient as they've been. Even early in the season, with the lower pitch counts, it keeps them in the games late. When you go starting pitcher, setup guy, closer, it's tough to win.

"You got to try to get into the other end of their bullpen. You do that by grinding at-bats, seeing pitches, having a disciplined approach. So we'll get there. We're a week into the season. We're finding our way."

No, the Cubs aren't relentless like those Boston Red Sox teams that used to grind out at-bats and play deep into October. You can't just rewire this lineup, flip a switch and expect it to be patient.

But the rotation has been better than advertised, and you've noticed how aggressive the Cubs have been on the bases. Dale Sveum projected calm after the bullpen meltdowns and doesn't carry himself like a first-year manager.

That's why catcher Geovany Soto pointed out they're only one pitch away, and second baseman Darwin Barney said you don't pull the chute in Week 1.

"Yeah, we've had a couple nights where we haven't had the best of luck," Garza said. "But I'll take the way we're playing over anything right now. The record might not show it, but we're playing good baseball.

"We're running out balls. We're making other teams panic. We're pitching, throwing strikes, playing catch.

"That's good baseball right there. The hits and the offense will come. But as long as we keep pitching and playing defense, we'll be all right."

Epstein has promised that his front office will block out all the noise on talk radio and shrug off what's written online and in the newspapers. The sky is falling in Boston, where the Red Sox also woke up on Thursday with a 1-5 record.

"Tough starts are always amplified," Epstein said, "no matter where you are, because there's no reference point for anybody when you're that early in the season.

"When teams have tough weeks at the start of the season, it gets a lot more attention than it would if it was the middle of August somewhere. No matter what team you're talking about, they're getting into the grind of the season.

"I'm not going to talk about another team, other than to say, 'Hey, they have a ton of time, they'll be fine.'"

The Red Sox will be celebrating Fenway Park's 100th anniversary on April 20. Every ex-player and manager has been invited to that game against the New York Yankees, for what should be a blowout ceremony.

This week Terry Francona told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy that he has no interest in attending. The former manager felt like his reputation was stained by anonymous sources on the way out of town last year.

Epstein grew up not far from Yawkey Way and helped build two teams that won World Series titles and changed New England forever. Will he be there?

"No, we have a game that night," Epstein said.

Former Bears DE Corey Wootton announces retirement

Former Bears DE Corey Wootton announces retirement

Former Bears defensive end Corey Wootton announced his retirement on Tuesday after a six-year NFL career.

The 28-year-old released this statement on his Twitter page:

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Wootton spent his first four seasons in Chicago before going to the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions for one-year stints in 2014 and 2015.

Wootton had the best years of his career in 2012 and 2013, his final two seasons with the Bears. He played in all 16 games both seasons and combined for 10 sacks, 48 tackles and three forced fumbles.

Wootton was selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

David Rundblad, Blackhawks mutually part ways

David Rundblad, Blackhawks mutually part ways

The Blackhawks and David Rundblad have mutually agreed to terminate the defenseman’s contract, as generalfanager.com reported on Monday night.

With the contract terminated, the Blackhawks will not carry any type of Rundblad-related cap hit. If the Blackhawks had bought out Rundblad, they would have carried a $133,333 cap hit this season and a $183,333 the next season.

Per generalfanager.com, the Blackhawks now have approximately $2.3 million in cap space.

Rundblad was placed on waivers on July 1. The defenseman spent part of the 2015-16 season playing in Switzerland. He returned to the Blackhawks last spring and played in three of the team’s seven playoff games against the St. Louis Blues.

But Rundblad could never find a consistent place in the Blackhawks’ lineup. General manager Stan Bowman talked in July of Rundblad wanting a fresh start.

“He’s still a young guy, wants to get back to playing a lot of hockey and that’s why he wanted to go to Europe mid-season. We were willing to honor that request. We’ll let him find a spot where he knows he’ll be a regular player every day,” Bowman said in July. “He has a bright future. We wish him well. But it’s hard as a guy trying to establish yourself in the NHL if you don’t play a lot of minutes. But I think we’ll see David back in the NHL in a few years. I think he wants to find a better fit where he’ll play a lot.”

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

It might be figuratively held together with chicken wire and duct tape at this point, and it hasn’t been entirely effective recently. But the White Sox bullpen can’t be criticized for a lack of effort. 

Over the last four days, White Sox relievers have had to throw 19 1/3 innings. To recap: Starter Jacob Turner only lasted 3 1/3 innings Friday against the Detroit Tigers, then Chris Sale was scratched from his start Saturday after blowing up over the team’s uniforms and earning a five-game suspension. The White Sox bullpen shouldered Johnny Wholestaff duties and threw eight innings on Saturday — right-hander Matt Albers started and pitched two of those innings despite throwing an inning in the team’s last two games — in lieu of the team’s All-Star ace. 

David Robertson, who pitched a third of an inning in relief Saturday, pitched twice on Sunday (he allowed three solo home runs to the Tigers to blow the save in his second game). Nate Jones appeared in the first three games of the Tigers series, too, totaling 2 1/3 innings. 

On Monday, both Jones and Robertson were given a much-needed rest day. So Zach Duke, Albers and Dan Jennings were called upon by manager Robin Ventura to cover seven outs against the powerful Cubs lineup. Albers blew the save, but Jennings’ strikeout of Jason Heyward with the go-ahead run on second set up Tyler Saladino’s walk-off single to net the White Sox a 5-4 win. 

“We’ve picked up a lot of innings lately,” Robertson said. “Everybody’s just giving it everything they got right now. It’s obviously, we would’ve loved to have nothing but zeros go up, but that’s not the way baseball works. We’re facing a lot of good lineups. And we’ve just hung tough and tried to at least give us a chance to win. Thankfully, we’ve been very fortunate to walk off these last three games.” 

It’s not just the volume of innings that’s taxing the bullpen, though. With three consecutive walk-off wins — the first time the White Sox have done that since Aug. 4-6, 1962 — have come plenty of high-stress pitches. Over the last week, the White Sox bullpen has the highest average leverage index in baseball, and that’s with this group shouldering the generally low-leverage early innings of Saturday’s game in place of Sale. 

“The more we work, the more proud we are of what we do,” Jennings said. 

Still, this group could probably use a breather. Without an off day until Aug. 1, though, the only way to get one is to be ruled out for a game, as Robertson and Jones were on Monday. 

“Hopefully we can rotate, I know there’s some other guys that I know might need a day so maybe hopefully Nate and Robertson are really fresh tomorrow and we can build off that,” Jennings said. “(Or) maybe we can get that eight, nine, 10-run win where we can kind of sit back and relax a little bit, hopefully.”

Manager Robin Ventura said he went with seniority in choosing who to cover Jones and Robertson’s innings Monday, which helps explain why he didn’t use 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer against the Cubs. Fulmer’s recent control issues — he only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes in blowing a lead against the Tigers on Friday — could’ve played a factor, too. 

“You’re trusting the guys who have been here,” Ventura said. “You’ve got some new faces that are out there, it would’ve been asking a lot to bring them in and put them in that.”

White Sox relievers have squandered leads in each of the team’s last four games, though: Fulmer on Friday, Jones on Saturday, Robertson on Sunday and Albers/Jennings on Monday. In addition to a short outing from Turner and no outing from Sale, the White Sox are missing right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam from a group that looked to be fairly deep earlier in the season. 

The White Sox relief corps could certainly use a day off or at the least, as Jennings said, a blowout win where some of those young arms — Fulmer, Michael Ynoa and Tommy Kahnle — could polish off some low-pressure innings. But those easy wins have been few and far between this season: The White Sox only have three wins by more than three runs since May 14. 

So if that trend continues, this group is going to have to continue to cover plenty of high-stress innings without a break, at least for the next week. 

“Obviously the bullpen the last few days had to pick up the team, and we take pride in that,” Albers said. “Especially Nate and D-Rob were down today, shoot, they’ve been pitching every day too. Everybody else started to try to pick them up. That’s what we’re here for.”