Your complete Cubs wrap-up from Monday's news

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Your complete Cubs wrap-up from Monday's news

So we know today got cray here for you all trying to keep track of everything from the MLB Winter Meetings in Dallas. (For those of you not hip, the word "cray" is short for "crazy." That's how the cool kids abbreviate it now.)

To make things convenient, we've decided at CubsTalk here to aggregate all the content into one big post. You know, just 'cause we're nice and cool like that.

The first news of the day was the best, by far. Longtime Cubs legend Ron Santo finally earned his bid into the baseball Hall of Fame. In a way, it's too little, too late, coming just 367 days after the beloved icon's death, but we still cherished the news and reminisced on our favorite Ronnie moments. Even Blackhawks president John McDonough got in on the action, saying he was "thrilled" for Santo's induction.

Another Cubs icon and Hall of Famer earned an accolade Monday as well, as Ryne Sandberg was named the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America.

As far as moves being made, it was a rather quiet day around the MLB, especially for the Cubs. Theo Epstein's new crew didn't do anything specific, but they did meet with Albert Pujols' agent, only to let the word out later that it was because Dan Lozano also represents veteran Rodrigo Lopez, whom the Cubs are interested in bringing back next season.

Pujols got more attention Monday, but his slugging free agent counterpart Prince Fielder was anything but silent in the rumor mill, including word the Brewers may have dropped out of the sweepstakes for the big first baseman.

If the Cubs don't wind up with either Fielder or Pujols (something that seems increasingly more likely as time goes on), they could still bring back Carlos Pena if they sign him to a multi-year deal, or they could move on with an in-house replacement in Bryan LaHair.

Jed Hoyer and Theo keep stressing run prevention and they admit the starting rotation needs a lot of work. Word came out Monday that the Cubs reached out to C.J. Wilson's representation to gauge the market on the top free agent pitcher this offseason. Nothing serious at all, but an interesting move nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' top free agent to hit the market, Aramis Ramirez, may get his wish if he wants to play for a contender. The Phillies, who have been anything but in "wait" mode so far this offseason, are reportedly in on the veteran third baseman.

Nothing too cray (there's that cool, hip word again), but it's just day one. As Theo says, it could take 100 conversations to make just one move.

Stay tuned to see what tomorrow brings.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers tonight on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Dodgers on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies from Wrigley Field at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Wednesday's starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (5-3, 2.48 ERA) vs. Mike Bolsinger (1-1, 4.50 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.

 

How Hector Rondon transformed into dominant closer for Cubs

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How Hector Rondon transformed into dominant closer for Cubs

Hector Rondon is still good friends with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, two Cleveland Indians pitchers often linked to the Cubs in trade rumors. To the point where Salazar called Rondon during the offseason wondering if they were about to become teammates at Wrigley Field.

Rondon worked out separately with Salazar and Carrasco at the Indians’ complex in Arizona during different points in their recoveries from Tommy John procedures on their right elbows. Rondon mentions differences in their personalities and pitching styles and also marks that time in Goodyear by associating Salazar and Carrasco with his own different surgeries.

Instead of developing into a Salazar or a Carrasco — the kind of frontline starter the Indians envisioned when they named him their minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 — Rondon has transformed into a game-over closer for a Cubs team with the best record in baseball.

After missing almost three full seasons — and pitching 10 innings combined between 2011 and 2012 — Rondon now understands he doesn’t have the luxury of time or the ability to work through situations like a starter. He accepts the pressure and uses the adrenaline that comes from working the ninth inning in front of 40,000 fans. He is a survivor.

“Be aggressive,” Rondon said. “You have to kill the guy — or they kill you. That’s what I tell (myself). That’s why I always try to attack. I try to keep that in my mind to (always) be aggressive with the hitters.”

The “holy s---” moment for pitching coach Chris Bosio came during a bullpen session with Rondon in the second half of a 2013 season where the Cubs would lose 96 games, hours before a meaningless game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

The Cubs finished with 101 losses the year before, which put them in position to select Kris Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the June amateur draft. Completing that race toward the bottom also created another opportunity for Theo Epstein’s front office — the second pick in the Rule 5 draft at the 2012 winter meetings.

Around that time, major-league coaching staff assistant Franklin Font worked winter ball for Leones del Caracas — the same team Rondon was pitching for in Venezuela — and filed good reports. The Cubs would carry Rondon and allow him to develop a routine and slowly realize he could compete at this level.

As Rondon kept firing pitches to bullpen catcher Chad Noble that day in Pittsburgh, Bosio could see the potential that made him such a well-regarded prospect for the Indians — and the ability to think on his feet and make adjustments.

The Cubs suggested adding a hesitation mechanism to Rondon’s windup, a gathering point at the top of his delivery to improve his fastball command and tighten his slider as a put-away pitch. The idea was to create better alignment toward home plate and help stop him from spinning off the rubber. The sense of timing and motion would also help bump up his velocity toward triple-digit territory.

“It’s like when you plant that seed, and you wait to see that plant come up out of the ground,” bullpen coach Lester Strode said. “That’s what he’s done. He’s just continued to grow, and every year he’s gotten better.”

Rondon got the last three outs in a 2-0 Memorial Day victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers as the Cubs bullpen combined for seven perfect innings, something a team hadn’t done in 99 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That made Rondon 9-for-9 in save chances — with a 1.04 ERA and 27 strikeouts and only two walks against the 63 batters he’s faced so far this season.

Both Rondon and Joe Maddon identified a turning point last year, when the manager took closing responsibilities away from him and gave him a mental break and the chance to reset. Rondon responded with a 30-save season, putting up a 1.10 ERA after the All-Star break and converting his final 11 save chances for a 97-win team.

“He’s just been more assertive,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing I think that happened from that episode when he was not closing, per se, was he started using his other pitches and he found his other pitches. He’s more of a pitcher (now) when it comes to closing games as opposed to just being this primal, one-pitch kind of a guy.

“So now when you see him, it’s not just about trying to pump fastballs the whole time he’s out there. He’s throwing slider, split, changeup, dotting his fastball. I just think that he got more into pitcher mode from that particular episode.”

Rondon’s story is the story of the Cubs during the rebuilding years, how they became the biggest story in baseball. It’s calculated risk, good scouting, effective coaching and a relentless attitude. From the rubble of fifth-place finishes in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Cubs found a lights-out closer.

“He worked tirelessly,” said Strode, who’s now in his 28th season in the organization. “Even the days he got out there and didn’t have success, he didn’t come back with his head down the next day. It’s like he learned something from every outing.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys with his ability who think things are just going to happen — and they don’t have to work. He was totally the opposite. He worked hard. He grinded every day, day in and day out. And finally it clicked.”

After 23 wins in a row, Cubs finally lose a Jake Arrieta start, and it takes a Dodgers' one-hitter

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After 23 wins in a row, Cubs finally lose a Jake Arrieta start, and it takes a Dodgers' one-hitter

Even as Jake Arrieta defends his Cy Young Award, makes a case to start the All-Star Game and keeps the meter running toward a potential $200 million megadeal, he can talk about not quite having the precise feel he wants, that in his mind he can be 9-0 with a 1.72 ERA and still searching. 

The Cubs are surrounded by those enormous expectations, and so much of that involves Arrieta’s evolution into the bearded face of the franchise and one of the best pitchers on the planet. Which makes it a breaking-news alert when the Cubs actually lose when Arrieta pitches.

Until Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, that hadn’t happened in a regular-season game since July 25, 2015, when it only took Cole Hamels throwing a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies.

This time, Scott Kazmir and two Los Angeles relievers combined for a one-hitter. The Dodgers didn’t so much beat Arrieta as they outlasted him, taking advantage of the softer spots in the Cubs bullpen.

“Well, I don’t know if I got outdueled,” said Arrieta, who threw seven scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.56. “But Kazmir was good.”

The Cubs had won Arrieta’s last 23 starts, tying the major-league record since 1913, first set by Kris Medlen with the Atlanta Braves between 2010 and 2012. Arrieta is now 20-0 with a 1.01 ERA across his last 24 starts, an unconscious stretch that helped transform the Cubs from a young group learning how to win last summer into a legitimate playoff contender last October and the team with the best record in baseball this year (35-15).

Arrieta ran his pitch count up to 107, ending the possibility to go back out for another inning with three straight two-out walks in the seventh. Arrieta then fired three pitches clocked at 94, 95 and 94 mph, striking out pinch-hitter Justin Turner looking, escaping the bases-loaded jam and causing an eruption from the crowd of 34,681.

“I didn’t want to make a mistake in the middle of the plate,” Arrieta said. “I made some good pitches. Borderline. Didn’t go my way. I pitched around some walks, got into a situation where I had to make a big pitch, and I was able to do so.”

After four Cubs relievers combined to throw seven perfect innings against the Dodgers on Memorial Day, manager Joe Maddon turned the game over to Clayton Richard. The lefty gave up three consecutive singles to the left-handed top of the Los Angeles lineup — Chase Utley, Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez — to begin the eighth inning.

Richard walked off the mound without getting an out and the Cubs trailing 1-0. After getting charged with a second run, Richard has now given up eight earned in nine innings this season, and Theo Epstein’s front office will probably have to make upgrading the bullpen a priority at the trade deadline.

“That was the perfect slot for (Richard),” Maddon said, “to attempt to not beat up the rest of your bullpen. It was a tie ballgame. It couldn’t have been lined up any better for him.

“I have a lot of faith in him. We just need to get him more work. But that’s the kind of a moment he’s here for, and it just didn’t happen.”

Arrieta truly burst onto the national scene with that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 last year. This time, after a 24-minute rain delay, Gonzalez ended the no-hitter suspense with a two-out single in the first inning. Against Arrieta, the Dodgers (28-25) only managed another Seager single in the third inning.

“Of course, we’ve gotten used to winning when he pitches, but it’s not going to last forever,” Maddon said. “That’s the nature of the game. And he pitched well enough for us to win tonight. But their pitcher was really good, too.”

Kazmir — the All-Star lefty who pitched for Maddon’s 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that went to the World Series and wound up in independent ball four years later — only allowed a Dexter Fowler single across six innings and finished with seven strikeouts against one walk.

Seager — the 22-year-old shortstop who could become a star at Dodger Stadium — put the game out of reach in the ninth inning when he blasted a three-run homer off Trevor Cahill onto the right-field party deck.

It takes extraordinary circumstances. But Arrieta is, in fact, beatable.

“You play this game long enough, you’re going to lose a game here and there,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of part of it. But it was a good streak, and we’ll get started on something else.”