LIVE: Cubs trailing Pirates 6-3

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LIVE: Cubs trailing Pirates 6-3

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 9:27 a.m.

CHICAGO (AP) Kerry Woodgot his old locker back in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, even though he'dbeen away for two years. And now he'll enjoy something else heremembers well - another opening day at Wrigley Field."There's a buzz," Wood said Thursdayas the Cubs pulled on ski caps and hoods and headed out for a workouton a sunny day with temperatures in the low 40s.The forecast is for rain and maybesome snow flurries when the Pirates and Cubs start the season Friday.Wood felt the chill when he got off the plane from Arizona on Wednesdaynight. He expected it after six weeks-plus at spring training."It definitely hits you in the face," Wood said. "That's what it's about. It's baseball in April in Chicago."The Pirates went 57-105 a year ago, their 18th straight losing season. Of course, 10 of Pittsburgh's wins came against the Cubs."They always give us a good fight," said Ryan Dempster, who will start for the Cubs against Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia.Carlos Pena,who signed with Chicago as a free agent after playing for Tampa Bay thelast four years, is looking forward to playing in the second-oldestpark in the majors. He played briefly with Boston in 2006 and spentfour seasons in the AL East, so he's already spent time in the oldest,Fenway Park.But once he arrived to Wrigley on Thursday, he had to see for himself."I walked in this morning and Iwalked up on that concourse and got the fans' perspective and all Isaid was, 'Thank you.' I'm pumped to be here," he said.Pena's performance will be a pivotalone for the Cubs. He batted just .196 last season for the Rays but hehas the left-handed power and the great glove at first base thatChicago needs.Like teammate Matt Garza,who also came over from Tampa - his arrival via a trade - he'll have toadjust to the weather, a new league and a home schedule heavy with daygames."He's going to be fine. He's the kind of guy I think he'll love it," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.Pena and Garza are newcomers andWood is making his return after two seasons with Cleveland and theYankees, but it's Quade who really has a new task. He is going to runthe team for the first time as the full-time manager. He was theskipper on an interim basis for the final 37 games a year ago after LouPiniella retired in August. The Cubs responded with a 24-13 record.Quade entered a press room Thursdayand began counting the number of recording devices in front of him -11. There were also a half-dozen TV cameras aimed at him.Quade, who managed more than 2,000minor league games and was Chicago's third base coach before beingpromoted last season, brought along a familiar companion with him - hisfungo bat."I always feel like a little kid,"he said, looking forward to Friday. "I think there will be a millionemotions and I'll deal with them however I do. My folks will be there,that's great. Long journey and all that stuff."He has got a lot of work to do toimprove on the Cubs' fifth-place finish of last season. And no oneneeds to bring up that the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908,a record of futility that always surfaces.Clint Hurdle's job? Lead the Pirates out of their nearly two-decade stretch of losing baseball.Pittsburgh features young players to build with in Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, and they've also added a veteran in Lyle Overbay.Among Hurdle's ideas to change things up has been to give the team more structure on the road - workouts, breakfasts, meetings."We don't want guys rolling out ofbed at noon, coming to the park and eating three meals before we takethe field," he said. "We got to be smarter with our time."He said he and the coaching staff have also sought input from the players."We want them to take ownership," he said, something he said he stressed while managing the Rockies.And how about the cold that inevitably is part of early season baseball, especially in cities like Chicago?"It is what it is," Hurdle said. "Ihad a game here with (Colorado star) Ubaldo (Jimenez) and Ubaldocouldn't get a grip on the ball. For four innings, his command was allover the joint. What are you going to do? You go play. You just figureit out."Everybody would like it to be balmy and 75 or 80. It will. In June."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."