Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

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Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum has been inside the interview roomdungeon where the Cubs manager will have to face the media. He checked it out trying to find space for pinch-hitters to get ready during games. The pillars were in a bad spot.

We searched a lot of little places, Sveum said. There was just nothing where you could get a full swing anywhere, unless you went out on the concourse.

Sveum doesnt want to hear excuses about day baseball or Wrigley Fields facilities. The first-year manager is looking for answers.

So as the clubhouse guys loaded bags onto the orange moving truck parked outside HoHoKam Stadium on Saturday Sveum was supposed to get his chopper on there it seemed like a good time to look at the imprint hes put on this team.

Hes got more tattoos than most managers, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I cant see Lou (Piniella) riding into the field on a Harley.

Sveum has been the hot prospect who had to make it as a utility guy. He recovered from a freak leg injury and lasted 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was willing to become a bullpen catcher to stick around with the 1998 New York Yankees and get to the World Series.

This is someone the Cubs want to ride with.

Hes been through it all in his career, utility man Jeff Baker said. When you see guys that have a lot of experience and a lot of perspective on that stuff, they are even keel. Its 162 games. Youre going to have your ups. Youre going to have your downs. The worst thing as a player is when you have a manager that rides that rollercoaster.

When youre doing well, everythings great. (And) if the team goes into a slump and youre not playing well, its disappointing when you see the manager get off you or get bummed.

You really dont get that feeling with Skip this year. Hes going to ride with you. He knows theres going to be good times. He knows theres going to be bad times. He understands how hard this game is.

Sveums normal routine in Arizona began by waking up around 4 a.m. and working out at the teams complex before the players walked into the clubhouse. It had all been scripted out long before then.

Theres no: What are we doing today? pitcher Randy Wells said. Theres no guessing.

Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm who had spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates felt a sense of urgency in Camp Sveum.

Guys on a consistent basis were here early, every morning, getting extra work in, Maholm said. When games start, guys are busting it. You dont see a lot of guys that are just kind of taking it like, Oh, its spring training.

Thats (Sveums) personality: You work hard. You play hard. Have fun later.

You just respect a guy for coming in and kind of laying it down and saying this is how were going to play and this is what I expect.

That sense of structure and purpose began with individual player meetings run by Sveum, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer at the beginning of camp.

One of the things he focused on in the interview is spring training (as) a tone-setter, Hoyer said. Thats where you build the makeup of your team about having that attention to detail and creating some camaraderie, too. Its not only about being a drill sergeant.

Sveum, whose late father was a Marine, believes its a sign of weakness to show emotion in the dugout. When things do go wrong, he will be able to lean on people he trusts, because he had a voice in choosing his coaching staff.

Everybody stresses fundamentals in spring training. But maybe its hammered home harder this time because Sveum and his new coaches Jamie Quirk (bench), Chris Bosio (pitching) and Dave McKay (first base) have 101 combined seasons of experience as a major-league player or coach.

Dales done a great job of setting the tone for detail, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. He teaches the game really well in every phase. We got some great coaches with a lot of experience. Thats real vital. Theyve been on championship teams, in the World Series.

Sveum views himself as a teacher, and still plans to be hands-on around the cage and in the video room, even as the demands on his time multiply. At least he wont have to be out there spinning negative stories about Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.

This has been a distraction-free zone, and welcoming toward the players of the future.

Dale is a pretty straightforward guy, top prospect Brett Jackson said. Hes so knowledgeable about the game. He wants you want to come out every day and bust your butt.

Some people ask: Why do you act so comfortable? You havent even been on the team yet. Well, I wouldnt want to act like I was uncomfortable. But the real answer is: Its an easy coaching staff to be comfortable with. Its an easy team to be comfortable with.

Sveum doesnt particularly enjoy talking about himself, but its not like he dreads talking to the media. Once the Cubs get back to Wrigley Field for Wednesdays workout, he will almost certainly be asked about changing the culture, as if no one had thought to ask that question the past six weeks.

That statement is kind of oblivious to me, Sveum said, because I wasnt here, so I dont know what the culture was. We all know that its been a long time since the Cubs have won a World Series. But in the meantime, I dont know whats gone on here.

I just wanted to bring in my two cents and get people to do things the way I expect them to do and how I expect them to play the game. Everybodys had a great spring that way. Guys have played hard and worked hard. So I cant ask for anything else.

There is approximately two-and-a-half days left in camp before the Cubs board their charter flight back to Chicago. Well see if there will be a carryover effect. There will be more heat from the fans and the media. Cracks in the foundation will begin to show. That interview room will feel a lot smaller.

Youre going to get more frustrating questions and youre going to get questions that are second-guessing you on a daily basis, Sveum said. Thats the nature of the business. I can sit here and say anything I want about it. But I havent been in that hot seat yet.

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Within the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs finished second in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, though nowhere close to the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate a six-year, $60 million deal with the Japanese superstar.

The Cubs will probably have to wait a few more months for their next shot at Darvish, who is “unlikely to move” before the July 31 trade deadline, a source monitoring the situation said Monday. Darvish means enough to the franchise’s bottom line as a box-office draw and magnet for corporate sponsors that the Rangers would be reluctant to trade a player with global appeal and potentially jeopardize that relationship heading into free agency this winter.

Beyond the possible impact on re-signing Darvish, that would also mean foreclosing on a season where Texas is only 2.5 games out of an American League wild-card spot, making this final week critical to the buy-or-sell decision.

The Cubs would obviously prefer to stay out of the rental market after shipping two top prospects to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. Quintana’s reasonable contract – almost $31 million between next season and 2020 once two team options are picked up – creates financial flexibility for a free-agent megadeal (Darvish?) or the next big-time international player.

But the cost of doing business with the White Sox probably means the Cubs wouldn’t have the super-elite prospect to anchor a trade for Darvish, anyway. That would be another obstacle in any possible deal for Sonny Gray, with an AL source saying the New York Yankees are going hard after the Oakland A’s right-hander (and have a deeper farm system and a greater sense of urgency after missing on Quintana).

All that means Kyle Hendricks could function as the trade-deadline addition for the rotation, with the Cubs instead trying to shorten games and deepen their bullpen by July 31.

After spending more than six weeks on the disabled list, the Cubs activated Hendricks for the start of this week’s crosstown series, watching him pitch into the fifth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss to a White Sox team that had lost nine straight games.

[Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

Hendricks is a rhythm/feel pitcher who blossomed from an overlooked prospect in the Texas system into a piece in the buzzer-beater Ryan Dempster deal at the 2012 deadline into last year’s major-league ERA leader.

Hendricks clearly isn’t locked in yet. He gave up eight hits, but minimized the damage against the White Sox, allowing only one run while putting up five strikeouts against zero walks.

“He wasn’t as normal,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was still down a little bit. There was not a whole lot of difference between his pitches. He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He would be the first one to tell you that. He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal.”

Hendricks described his fastball command as “terrible,” called his secondary pitches “OK” and ultimately came to this conclusion: “Health-wise, everything felt great, so we’ll take that. Just got to get back (to my routine).”

The biggest takeaway is Hendricks didn’t feel any lingering effects from the right hand tendinitis that was initially classified as a minor injury in early June. Meaning the Cubs (51-47) are just about at full strength and have another week left to upgrade the defending World Series champs.

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

The crosstown rivalry doesn't end on the diamond.

Both Cubs and White Sox fans are highly competitive when it comes to trivia, too. 

We found that out when we bounced around Wrigley Field to quiz North and South Siders in a special edition of "Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?" 

Watch the video above as we pitted fans against eachother for the chance to win a killer shirt.