Mattingly: No disrespect, Dodgers missed the sign

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Mattingly: No disrespect, Dodgers missed the sign

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 12:43 p.m. Updated: 3:42 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mike Quade rarely veers this far off script. The Cubs manager usually sits in the interview room and stays on his positive message.

But after Fridays 12-2 loss, Quade took a question about his starting pitcher (Casey Coleman) and went in an entirely different direction, wondering why the Los Angeles Dodgers would be running with a seven-run lead.

A.J. Ellis got thrown out at second base in the fifth inning of an 8-1 game. The next morning there was Dodgers manager Don Mattingly talking with Quade during batting practice.

We figured they were going to be irritated, Mattingly said Saturday. We missed the sign.

Mattingly indicated that third-base coach Tim Wallach put the sign on by mistake and then motioned to call it off. Ellis is a 6-foot-2-inch, 224-pound catcher with zero career stolen bases.

I definitely wouldnt run A.J, Mattingly said.

Mattingly also pointed out that Wrigley Field is unpredictable and that the other night his team gave up eight runs in the ninth inning of a 10-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. You play to win the game.

Quade downplayed a similar incident on April 9 in Milwaukee, where Brewers speedster Carlos Gomez stole second and third with a 5-0 lead. If that violation of baseball code bothered Quade, he didnt let it show too much publicly.

There wasnt much restraint on Friday it definitely burned Quade. It will be fun to watch the manager if he reveals his sarcastic side more often as he grows into the job.

I do think that I probably need a copy of the Milwaukee and L.A. unwritten rules books, Quade said. I dont know if they missed a sign (or) if it was a hit-and-run. I got to brush up on my unwritten rules. There might be an L.A. and Milwaukee version I need to read.

How many runs are too many?

Oh, I dont know, I was just curious, Quade said. I guess 15.
Pitching plans
The Cubs are leaning toward giving James Russell a third spot start rather than promoting someone from the minors for Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies.

Russell has lasted 5 23 innings in his two starts, giving up nine runs on 14 hits. The 25-year-old left-handers future is in the bullpen, but hes stretched out to around 70 pitches and apparently the Cubs arent overly impressed by the options within their system.

This time the Cubs are going to try to avoid using Russell out of the bullpen in between starts, hoping that will make him more effective.

Fresh arm

Jeff Stevens took the bullet and went 3 13 innings in relief of Coleman on Friday, which essentially made him unavailable for the rest of the weekend. So the Cubs optioned him to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday and recalled right-hander Justin Berg to give them another fresh arm in the bullpen.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates out of Wrigley

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates out of Wrigley

Another quick hook left Jason Hammel seething over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, bringing back uncomfortable questions about how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him, and whether or not the Cubs would find a spot for him on a playoff roster.  

Four days later, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system as Hammel warmed up before facing the Pittsburgh Pirates – with no guarantees about October or next season.     

Hammel responded with another quality start in Wednesday’s 6-5 win, completing a three-game sweep that left the Pirates staggering in the wild-card race and helped the Cubs cut their magic number to win the division down to 16.   

Outside of a few extreme lows that distorted the perception of his overall season – 10-run outings against the New York Mets and at Coors Field and the 39 pitches he called a side day at Dodger Stadium – Hammel has been an integral part of the elite rotation that pushed the Cubs to an 85-47 record and such a huge lead in the National League Central (now 15 games up on the St. Louis Cardinals). 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) shut down the Pirates for six innings, allowing only one run on three hits and showing the confidence that made him an All-Star-level performer in the first half. With the bases loaded, Hammel screamed and flexed his muscles after striking out Andrew McCutchen swinging to end the fifth inning.       

On a night when the crowd chanted “MVP,” Kris Bryant launched his 36th homer (in the first inning off Ryan Vogelsong) and made Gold Glove-caliber plays at third base to back Hammel, diving to his left to catch a Sean Rodriguez line drive and prevent a run at the end of the second inning, and leaning over the wall and into the stands to catch a Josh Bell pop-up at the beginning of the fourth inning.        

This could become the next awkward conversation: If John Lackey (shoulder) returns to full strength – and the rest of the rotation doesn’t experience any setbacks down the stretch – what are the chances of Hammel making a playoff start?

“Stay healthy and we’ll see what happens,” Maddon said. “I don’t bet on the come. Let’s get to the playoffs first, make sure everybody’s well, and at that point then you look at the group you have. And then maybe at that point you look at the group you may be playing. And then you try to formulate the best plan of attack from your personnel versus their personnel. 

“I’ve not even thought about a playoff moment once.”  

Only the Cubs: Tommy La Stella finally returns from exile

Only the Cubs: Tommy La Stella finally returns from exile

The main takeaway from a 15-minute press conference where Tommy La Stella talked a lot and said very little: Only the Cubs.

Even La Stella realizes he’s fortunate to be working for Joe Maddon, perhaps the most liberal manager in an extremely conservative industry, and Theo Epstein’s front office, which takes a holistic view of player development and built out an entire wing for mental skills. 

There aren’t many other markets where one of the last guys on the roster could dominate multiple news cycles, but the appetite for information on the best team in baseball appears to be endless, and this story is so bizarre, even by Cubbie standards. 

La Stella addressed his teammates inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse for about 10 minutes before starting at second base and batting seventh in Wednesday night’s lineup against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But La Stella – the second act in a trilogy of media sessions in the underground interview room, after Maddon and before Epstein – didn’t offer any real insight into why he refused to report to Triple-A Iowa in late July, moved home to New Jersey, told ESPN he might retire if he couldn’t play for the big-league Cubs and finally ended his three-week holdout in the middle of August.

“That’s pretty much between me and them – and me and Theo,” La Stella said. “I understand that there’s going to be people out there who kind of draw conclusions and stuff. And that’s fine. I’m not necessarily out here to make anybody see anything or explain anything. 

“As long as people understand that there are things out there that are kind of personal to me – and I’ve shared those with the guys. It’s not necessarily going to be just like a cut-and-dry, black-and-white answer where everybody goes: ‘Oh, yeah, I get it now.’ That answer doesn’t really exist.”

La Stella confirmed the answer didn't involve a health issue or crisis in his family. This reunion became inevitable the longer the Cubs played this game, taking a softer approach, knowing his left-handed swing could help win a playoff game and not immediately cutting him.

“That was obviously a very real possibility that I was fully prepared for,” La Stella said. “I was at a point in my life, just personally and professionally, (where) that wasn’t something that I was in fear of. I was OK with it.

“The way Theo approached it…I was very lucky because he treated me like a person and not an employee.”

La Stella, 27, isn’t sure if he wants to remain a Cubs employee beyond this season: “I don’t know, to be honest with you. I don’t want to say something, because I don’t have an answer.”

And when asked if he missed the game during his retreat, La Stella said: “I missed the guys. The game, to me, that’s kind of just the avenue for the other type of enjoyment that I get through those guys and the stuff that we get to do together.”

How much of your decision to step away came out of pure frustration after being sent down to the minors with a .295 average?

“None of it,” La Stella said. “I know that sounds absurd to say. (But) that had absolutely nothing to do with that. I made that very clear to Theo. I told him when it happened: I totally understood the move. He’s doing what he believes is in the best interest of the team. I’m all for that.”

It got to the point where an exasperated columnist asked: Do you understand how strange this is for us to comprehend, how there’s nothing to grasp here?

“I hear ya,” La Stella said. “It’s certainly not a typical situation.”

Epstein – who’s in his 25th season in Major League Baseball, which should be converted into dog years after all the time he’s spent with the Cubs and Boston Red Sox – had never seen anything like it before.

“There are appropriate times for punishment,” Epstein said, “and standing up for the organization if we think an individual is acting in a malevolent way and putting himself before the organization and trying to do damage to the team concept.

“I can just tell you that after talking to him, we didn’t feel that way. We felt it was more misguided and not malevolent, so we wanted to work with him to get him back to this point.” 

La Stella’s personal journey included temporarily quitting baseball in high school, transferring from St. John’s University to Coastal Carolina University and deserting the Atlanta Braves, which he explained as a “completely different” situation: “Somebody close to me was sick in the hospital.”

“One of the things I like about Tommy the most is that he is his own man,” Maddon said. Another thing: “The guy can wake up in the middle of the night and hit a line drive on a 1-2 count.” 

La Stella clearly made a connection with Maddon, forged alliances in the clubhouse with respected professionals like Jake Arrieta and Jason Heyward and should still have that unique hand-eye coordination and contact skills. As for the reaction from the fans…

“It’s tough for me to say, because I haven’t read anything,” La Stella said. “I haven’t looked at anything – good or bad – so I don’t really necessarily know what the perception of all of it is. I’m sure negatively there’s going to be some people who don’t understand, or don’t agree. And that’s fine. 

“A couple difficult personal experiences for me between now and the end of the year isn’t going to outweigh all the incredible stuff I’ve gotten to see here at Wrigley. It’s a pretty sacred place. It’s going to take more than a couple difficult moments for me personally to change any feeling on that.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

La Stella did admit that he wondered how he would be received by teammates – and if they would question his commitment to the game.

“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t something that eventually enters your mind,” La Stella said. “But the thing that outweighed that for me was I couldn’t not do what I felt was right for me, just because of how it might be perceived by other people.

“That group of guys in there is an unbelievably special group. And if there was one team that would welcome something like this back, it’s those guys. I’m very lucky.”

Only the Cubs.

Cubs bring Tommy La Stella back to big league team, option Spencer Patton

Cubs bring Tommy La Stella back to big league team, option Spencer Patton

Tommy La Stella is back with the Cubs.

The team announced Wednesday that the infielder was recalled from Triple-A Iowa, with reliever Spencer Patton heading back to Iowa to make room for La Stella.

La Stella made headlines when he refused to report to the minors following his demotion on July 28. He spent several weeks away from the organization and even said in one interview he was contemplating retirement. He eventually made his way to the minors, getting 27 at-bats in eight games while working his way back to big league shape. He hit .296 with a pair of doubles and four runs scored in those eight games with Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.

On the season, La Stella is hitting .295 with a .388 on-base percentage, two home runs, eight RBIs and 14 runs scored in 51 games.

La Stella was in the Cubs' lineup for Wednesday's series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates, batting seventh and playing second base.