Manny Machado says Albert Almora will be 'a great Cub someday'

Manny Machado says Albert Almora will be 'a great Cub someday'

Manny Machado and Albert Almora aren't actually related by blood, but they call each other cousins after growing up together in South Florida.  

Machado thought of their Hialeah connection over the weekend at Wrigley Field, where Almora hopes to be an instant-impact player, the same way the Baltimore Orioles got a jolt from their All-Star third baseman.

"He's dying to come up here," Machado said. "He's had a couple injuries that have kinda held him back a little bit. But I tell him, 'You gotta stay strong. I'm going on my second knee surgery and you gotta stay positive.'"

Machado, 22, had just faced the reality he would need a season-ending procedure on his right knee, missing what Baltimore hopes will be a World Series run. But Machado still found time to talk up his “cousin” Almora, who is just getting his first taste of Double-A ball.

"He loves [being in the Cubs system],” Machado said. “He wants to help the team win. He's a very big team-oriented guy. He's all about winning and I think he's gonna be a great Cub someday. Hopefully, that day is sooner rather than later."

At the age of 20, Machado moved off shortstop and made the jump from Double-A to The Show, becoming an important piece to Baltimore’s surprise playoff team in 2012. He earned an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove last season.

Almora is 20 now, but the Cubs are in a different position and won't accelerate his timeline. Not with only 29 games at Tennessee under his belt.

A broken hamate bone and a groin injury limited Almora to just 61 games last season at Class-A Kane County. He had to come out of Tennessee's game on Saturday with a hamstring injury, but felt good enough on Sunday to collect a pinch-hit single.

Almora's numbers haven't been eye-popping this year. He entered Monday hitting .278 with nine homers, 59 RBI and a .701 OPS in 118 games split between two levels. But his intangibles are off the charts, a big reason why he became the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration (sixth overall in 2012).

The centerfielder has shown maturity beyond his years, a baseball IQ Machado thinks Almora developed by playing up a level with the high-profile teams in Miami.

"He's an overall elite player," Machado said. "He's young, but he's the type of player that, eventually, he's going to be one of the best players in the major leagues one day.

"I think what makes him the best is his defense. He's one of the best defensive outfielders out there. He could be one of the top guys in the big leagues right now. I'm a big defensive guy and I think that's what's gonna get him here.

"Overall, he's just a great kid, a great clubhouse guy that everybody loves. He's a team guy. He's going to go out there and bust his ass off for everything and lay it all on the field."

Machado and Almora still talk on a regular basis, trying to help each other make it in a sport that has a way of humbling young players.

"He hits me up on how he's doing and the things he needs to face, the things he's feeling hitting-wise and just overall," Machado said. "The biggest advice I gave him is to just keep grinding every day. Give 110 percent of what you do out there.

"That will take you a long way. He's a tremendously hard worker who addresses areas of his game that need to be worked on. And I think that will get him to the big leagues."

Brian Matusz will be spot starter in Cubs' series finale vs. Mariners

Brian Matusz will be spot starter in Cubs' series finale vs. Mariners

Joe Maddon is giving his five starting pitchers an extra day's rest.

Brian Matusz will be a spot starter in the Cubs' series finale against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday night at Wrigley Field. The Cubs optioned reliever Justin Grimm to Triple-A as a corresponding move.

"We'll use that day however we need to to the best of our abilities," said Jake Arrieta. "We'll find a way to use that day to get some work done and get better and move forward. At this time of year, every one of us might need to refine something.

"It actally might not be a bad idea. Hopefully Matusz is ready to come out and compete and be effective, and we'll move on."

Prior to Saturday's game, Maddon indicated that the club is looking to give his starters more days off.

"As we’ve talked about all along, attempting to try to give our regular five a rest in a particular moment, so we’re considering doing something right now," Maddon said. "We’re not ready to announce it yet just to be honest, but we are considering."

Matusz signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs last month.

The 29-year-old southpaw has spent the majority of his career with the Baltimore Orioles. In eight MLB seasons, he is 27-41 with a 4.85 ERA and 460 strikeouts.

As Matusz makes his Cubs debut Sunday, having a familiar face in the clubhouse might help ease any nerves.

"Matusz and I played together for quite a while," said Arrieta, who spent time with Matusz in Baltimore. "I've seen him pitch extremely well his rookie year. He can pitch, he's a smart guy. He's got some really good pitches that he knows how to use effectively. I look forward to watching him pitch and catching up with him."

 

Cubs offense mostly quiet as bullpen blows late lead

Cubs offense mostly quiet as bullpen blows late lead

The Cubs offense had a quiet Saturday afternoon just 24 hours after putting 12 runs on the board against the Seattle Mariners in Game 1.

The Cubs only recorded three hits in their 4-1 loss to the Mariners on Saturday at Wrigley Field. 

The story for most of the game was Mariners pitcher Wade Miley, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before it was broken up by Kris Bryant.

“He was painting that outside edge pretty well," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "Honestly from the first batter when Dexter (Fowler) takes two fastballs for a strike and then swings at a slider, something’s going on for me. That told me the guy was on. He was.”

Bryant added, "He was throwing right where he wanted to I thought. He was just hitting the catcher’s glove. Working quick, that kind of goes unnoticed sometimes, but as hitters, it kind of keeps you out of your rhythm.”

It was the second time this week the Cubs allowed a no-hitter through at least five innings.

White Sox pitcher Anthony Ranaudo took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Wednesday before the Cubs poured it on and finished the game with eight runs.

Lost in the no-hitter was Arrieta, who had one of the best outings of the season. But the Cubs had nothing to show for it, losing their fifth straight game when the NL Cy Young Award winner takes the mound.

Arrieta finished the game allowing two runs on two hits and three walks, striking out four in seven innings.

After a scoreless six innings of play, the Cubs drew first blood in the seventh. Fowler opened with a leadoff walk. Bryant broke up the no-hitter with a single. Following a Ben Zobrist bunt that advanced the runners, Javier Baez hit a grounder to third. Fowler tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. But after a second look, Joe Maddon challenged the call and it was reversed, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

A couple batters later, Miley attempted to pick off Baez — who reached on a fielder’s choice — but Bryant stole home in the process. First baseman Adam Lind quickly relayed the throw over to catcher Mike Zunino, and Bryant appeared to slide under the tag. After being ruled safe, the Mariners won a challenge of their own and the call was overturned.

"That stunk," Bryant said. "I thought I had a good slide in there. Obviously looking back on it, I could have slid head first but that's one way to really get hurt. I thought I had my foot in there, but obviously (after) the replay, they overturned it."

In the eighth, the Mariners responded. Arrieta walked the first two batters and was relieved by Hector Rondon, who retired both batters he faced. Aroldis Chapman entered the game to try to get the final out of the inning. That happened, but not before the Mariners added three runs. A double by Leonys Martin scored two. Martin later stole third and scored on a wild pitch, making it 3-1.

"Didn’t see that one coming," Maddon said of Seattle's three-run eighth. "Just didn’t see that one coming."

The Mariners added another run in the ninth.

Slugger Anthony Rizzo didn't start, getting a day off to rest, but he came in to pinch hit for Chapman in the eighth, striking out. Willson Contreras started at first in Rizzo's place.

Joe Maddon hints Cubs could have spot starter soon

Joe Maddon hints Cubs could have spot starter soon

Joe Maddon hinted that the Cubs could have a spot starter soon to give his regular five some rest.

The Cubs manager said it's "possible" the player could start as early as Sunday in the Cubs' series finale against the Seattle Mariners.

Maddon would not confirm who the pitcher would be, but he said the move will happen within the organization and not via trade.

"As we’ve talked about all along, attempting to try to give our regular five a rest in a particular moment, so we’re considering doing something right now," said Maddon on Saturday. "We’re not ready to announce it yet just to be honest, but we are considering."

Prior to the All-Star break, Maddon gave Adam Warren — who has since been traded to the New York Yankees as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade — a spot start to give his starters an extra day's rest.

As the second half of the season slowly winds down, Maddon knows how important rest will be moving forward, especially with the Cubs bound to be playing in October.

"When you get the opportunities, take advantage of it," he said.

Cubs starters hold a 3.24 ERA on the season, which is tied with the Washington Nationals for the league's best.

Kyle Hendricks leads the team and also has the third-best ERA in the MLB with 2.39.