As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

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As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

Maybe Brett Jackson had to hit what manager Dale Sveum called rock bottom.
Thats an overstatement, because its not like the Cubs were surprised when Jackson was so over-matched last year (59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats). They promoted him from Triple-A Iowa in August so that he could see what it takes at this level and forget whatever stubborn ideas he had in his head.
The Cubs are not going to write off a 24-year-old plus defender who has shown a unique combination of power, speed and the willingness to literally run into walls. But they are insistent that Jackson will start this season in Iowa as they continue to weigh their options in the outfield.
Sources said theres mutual interest between the Cubs and Scott Hairston who hit 20 homers in 377 at-bats with the New York Mets last season and a strong opposition to signing free agent Michael Bourn because it would mean losing a second-round draft pick and sacrificing part of their signing-bonus pool.
The Mets have reportedly rejected Hairstons demands two years, 8 million and there could be reasons to sign here. Hairston spent part of his childhood in the Chicago suburbs. His grandfather Sam and father Jerry Sr. played for the White Sox. His older brother Jerry Jr. graduated from Naperville North High School and played for the Cubs.
Hairston is said to be a good clubhouse guy. He was part of the San Diego Padres team that won 91 games in 2010, Jed Hoyers first year as general manager. Between Hairston, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and Dave Sappelt and Alfonso Sorianos need for days off at the age of 37 the Cubs could take a mix-and-match approach in the outfield.
Jackson listened during his exit interview at the end of last season, when the Cubs told him hed be ticketed for Des Moines. He applied those lessons during a November minicamp with Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer at the teams complex in Arizona.
But Jackson still expects to force his way into the picture.
I have every intention of making the team, he said over the weekend at Cubs Convention. I have no intention of going to Iowa. Im going to keep working the way I always do. Im confident in my ability and who I am as a player and who Ive become as a player. I know what I need to do and Ive set my mind on that goal and Im not stopping until Im there.
Jackson should have the swagger (2009 first-round pick) and smarts (Cal-Berkeley education) to make those adjustments, like using his top hand more and smoothing out his swing path.
But the front office views Triple-A as the finishing school it was for Anthony Rizzo, who looked so lost in San Diego in 2011, tore up the Pacific Coast League for a half-season and then generated 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games with the Cubs.
We want (Jackson) to start in Iowa, Hoyer said. Things can happen over the course of a spring with injuries and whatnot, but I think we saw hes got some things he can work on in Iowa. I look at it very, very similarly to the way I looked at things with Rizzo.
(Jackson) can take some of those lessons back to Iowa. If he takes the same attitude Anthony did, I dont see any reason he cant do the same thing.
The strikeouts have become the thing with Jackson, but hes still an all-around player who can work the count and prevent runs in center. He walked 22 times during that 44-game audition, and 11 of his 21 hits went for extra bases. He thinks hes on the verge of a breakthrough.
Strugglings always going to test your confidence levels, Jackson said. Certainly it isnt easy to struggle, but Im a firm believer that struggle is what makes the man, makes the player. I wouldnt be where I am today I wouldnt have learned what I need to adjust for this season if not for last season.
The way I struggled is turning out to be an important lesson for me as a player, to help me evolve as player, to be the player I want to be.

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

Kyle Hendricks is finally making his return to the Cubs' starting rotation.

Hendricks, last year's ERA champ who's been on the disabled list since June 5 with tendinitis in his right hand, will start Monday's series-opener with the White Sox at Wrigley Field, the first game of this season's Crosstown series.

Hendricks' return should provide a big boost to a rotation that struggled to find consistency during the Cubs' sub-.500 first half. Combined with the acquisition of Jose Quintana and the better-of-late pitching of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, Hendricks' return should make for a formidable starting five as the Cubs enter what could be a knock-down, drag-out, months-long race for the National League Central crown.

Hendricks' 2017 hasn't looked much like his 2016 — something that could be said for many Cubs players during this slow-to-get-going quest for a World Series repeat — with the righty boasting a 4.09 ERA in his first 11 starts. After finishing third in NL Cy Young voting last season, he surely won't come close to that this time around, but the Cubs are hoping simply for a return to normalcy, which would go a long way in stabilizing that starting staff, the inconsistency of which was likely the team's biggest problem through the season's first three months.

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That rotation lines up like this moving forward: After Hendricks pitches against the White Sox on Monday, it will be John Lackey in the second game on the North Side, with Arrieta and Lester pitching the two Crosstown games Wednesday and Thursday on the South Side. Quintana won't pitch against his former team, throwing Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals and then, presumably, the first of next weekend's three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers.

With Hendricks returning to strengthen the rotation, the bullpen also gets a boost with Mike Montgomery returning to the relief corps. He'll be available out of the 'pen as soon as Saturday, manager Joe Maddon said before the Cubs' second game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. The bullpen also received the addition of Felix Pena, called up from Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, with infielder Tommy La Stella sent down. The bullpen could use an immediate influx of assistance after Friday's nightmarish eighth inning, in which Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm combined to yield nine runs.

Between Kris Bryant returning to the Cubs' lineup Saturday, Hendricks returning to the rotation Monday and the team's recent six-game winning streak that has them a game out of first place, things are starting to look a little more like they were expected to look for the defending champs.

Wake-up Call: Cubs targeting Yu?; Yoan produces for Sox; Q plots line combos

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USA TODAY

Wake-up Call: Cubs targeting Yu?; Yoan produces for Sox; Q plots line combos

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from a Friday: 

Will Cubs add another ace? Report says North Siders interested in Yu Darvish

Yoan Moncada 'relieved' to get first White Sox hit out of way

Who goes where? Quenneville is already plotting the options

One year later, White Sox have clear direction, no longer 'mired in mediocrity'

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Fire head to Yankee Stadium for big Eastern Conference clash

White Sox minor league trade could signal more big league moves to come

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these recent implosions from Cubs pitching staff

With NL Central suddenly bunched up, a reminder it won't all be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for Cubs in second half