Beliveau hoping to make Cubs take notice

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Beliveau hoping to make Cubs take notice

MESA, Ariz. Jeff Beliveau remembers exactly where he was when Dave Roberts stole second base against Mariano Rivera and the New York Yankees.

Beliveau, who grew up in Rhode Island, had traveled to Arizona with his parents for a showcase tournament for high school prospects. They watched Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series at Flemings steakhouse in Scottsdale.

That ninth inning became an iconic moment to so many people from New England. The Boston Red Sox began to erase a 3-0 series deficit and take down the Evil Empire. A self-proclaimed band of idiots reversed the curse and gave Red Sox fans their first World Series title in 86 years.

That meant a lot to me and my family, Beliveau said Monday. Im pretty excited about whats going to happen the next few years.

Fast forward to last months Cubs Convention, where a fan asked Theo Epstein to name one under-the-radar prospect in the system who could make an impact. The new president of baseball operations identified Beliveau. The 25-year-old left-handed reliever will be given an opportunity to win a spot in the Cubs bullpen.

Beliveau has gone from being an 18th-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic University in 2008 to the organizations minor league pitcher of the year in 2011. He went 6-1 with a 1.89 ERA at Double-A Tennessee, finishing with 69 strikeouts against 13 walks in 57 innings, numbers that would make Epstein take notice.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum has mentioned how Beliveaus disappearing fastball should play at the next level. Beliveau has tried to model himself after retired closer Billy Wagner, with a short-arm delivery thats hard to pick up out of the left hand.

Beliveau was playing for Team USA last fall while the Epstein compensation negotiations dragged out. He thought about how it would be cool to meet the guy who helped build that forever Red Sox team.

Near the start of his first big-league camp, Beliveau met with Epstein, Sveum, general manager Jed Hoyer and pitching coach Chris Bosio in the managers office. Each player had a meeting to go over expectations. The message was loud and clear.

They told me: Dont come here just for the experience. You have a chance to make the team. You had a great year last year keep it going.

Booze ban?

After an epic collapse last September generated sensational stories about the fried chicken and beer culture around the Red Sox, new manager Bobby Valentine banned alcohol in the clubhouse.

Cubs players have been spotted drinking the occasional beer after games in the clubhouse its not widespread and the team doesnt serve alcohol on charter flights headed back to Chicago at the end of road trips. Sveum was asked Monday if policies have been discussed for 2012.

No, we havent talked about anything like that, Sveum said. Thats up to the front office and myself and I dont know, to tell you the truth, the policies that have been here before. So I dont really have much comment on that right now.

Etc.

Rodrigo Lopez is scheduled to start Sundays Cactus League opener vs. the Oakland As, followed by Ryan Dempster (Monday vs. As) and Matt Garza (Tuesday vs. the Colorado Rockies). Sveum said this isnt an indication of who will start Opening Day, a decision that should be announced by the middle of camp. Starlin Castros right arm was said to be fine after being hit by a Kerry Wood fastball during live batting practice on Monday at Fitch Park. Paul Maholm (flu) was sent home after throwing on Monday before his bunting tournament matchup against Lopez while Geovany Soto (groin) continues to be limited during workouts. Wood lost to Sveum in a first-round match in the bunting tournament. Also advancing were Soto, Dempster, Jeff Baker, Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus and Carlos Marmol.

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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

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

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”