Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Cubs, Looper feel Wainwright's pain

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Mooney: Cubs, Looper feel Wainwright's pain

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
Posted 4:45 p.m. Updated 8:32 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The St. Louis Cardinals still have Hall of Fame pieces. Albert Pujols will be in the lineup and Tony La Russa will be in the dugout, at least for one more season.

Chris Carpenter has a Cy Young Award and Matt Holliday has a 120 million contract. This is an organization that has finished under .500 just once in the past 11 years, making seven playoff appearances and winning the World Series during that time.

Self-pity is not part of the approach that were going to take, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told a St. Louis radio station.

The Cardinals will not crumble without Adam Wainwright, who had his right elbow examined Wednesday for whats being called a serious injury. He will seek a second opinion that may tell him to get Tommy John surgery. A baseball town should have the resources to do something.

Its a great franchise, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. They always have the ability to get better and add on. I fully expect them to be right in the thick of it no matter what.

The 29-year-old Wainwright has finished second and third in the Cy Young voting the past two seasons. Within that timeframe, hes won 39 games, made 67 starts and accounted for 463.1 innings.

Thats a damn shame, Cubs manager Mike Quade said. I dont know what else to say.

Braden Looper walled himself off from baseball last year. He went with his kids Little League team to two White Sox games, but otherwise didnt watch much of it as he eased toward retirement in Chicagos south suburbs.

Looper did make it a point to tune in when Wainwright pitched. Looper, whos trying to make the Cubs as a non-roster invitee, remains close with Wainwright from their time together as Cardinals teammates. Looper took the rookie out to lunch almost every day when he first came up.

You hate to hear that, Looper said. Hes such a great guy and has been pitching so well. You dont ever want anybody to get hurt. Its kind of sad, but hes young. Hell be all right. Hes strong.

Hendry, who once had so much invested in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, knows what its like to receive those phone calls.

Its the nature of this business, Hendry said. The years you think you have it knocked and got great pitching, (one) or two devastating things happen and youre looking at a whole different ballgame.

The 36-year-old Looper has thrown 1,176 innings in 670 major-league games. Hes been on the disabled list just once in his career. He has no idea why hes remained so healthy.

The National League Central became a lot more interesting this winter when the Cubs traded for Matt Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers added Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Its still a wide-open division. The Cubs were in no way gloating over this misfortune.

The Wainwright news was a reminder that this is a fragile game and pitching is an unnatural action. The best offseason plans can be shredded instantly.

Any team youre ever on has to deal with adversity in some way, Looper said. Inevitably, theres something, (but) they got a good group of guys over there. Theyll be fine. Its going to be a good battle, with or without Adam. Its still a rivalry.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

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USA TODAY

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Cubs had so much confidence in Kyle Schwarber last year that they made him their World Series designated hitter – less than seven months after major surgery on his left knee and with only two Arizona Fall League games as the warm-up – and expected him to deliver against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dynamic Cleveland Indians bullpen.

Now? Manager Joe Maddon isn’t quite ready to make that leap of faith with Schwarber, even as the October legend closes in on 30 home runs this season and puts up a .900-plus OPS since his reboot at Triple-A Iowa this summer.

“The thing you’ve got to be willing right now with Schwarbs is understanding that he’s going to do that,” Maddon said Wednesday, pointing toward the right-center field seats where Schwarber launched Chris Archer’s 96-mph fastball the night before at Tropicana Field. “And then he might strike out with a runner on third base. You have to accept both sides.

“You’re playing for that (home run) based on his ability against that pitcher, also knowing that you’re going to see the punch-out in there, too. It’s just part of who he is right now.”

That would appear to be a part-time player, as Maddon went with Jon Jay’s contact skills in the designated-hitter spot against Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell and continues to think about what will give the Cubs the best chance to win the final stages of the National League Central race.

Looking back on his time with Rays, Maddon explained some of the creative tension within a small-market operation constantly looking for ways to find an edge. Maddon called it buckets of information, how certain data points and sample sizes should be used in free agency and trades, while others informed the daily lineup/bullpen decisions and why you had to look inside the numbers.

How do you assess Schwarber in 2017? During the time of the year when he narrows his focus and becomes extremely calculating, Maddon started talking about Schwarber in terms of player development and the future, which didn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence.

“Big bucket, everybody’s going to love this guy,” Maddon said. “And then I think the smaller buckets are going to get even more attractive. I do believe the more he plays in the years to come, you’re going to see the strikeouts come back down, a better adjustment when the count gets deeper.

“He’s already trying to choke up. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that from up top – he’s really trying to do different things in counts right now – and I’m starting to see some progress with that, too.

“But, God, the guy missed all of last season, and I still think that we all forget that sometimes. I thought he was a little bit better – when I first met him – at the ball with two strikes. I think that went away for a bit. Now I think he’s really trying to nurture that coming back.

“So I would say next year you’re going to see the same kind of power, but probably more contact when it’s needed. That’s the bucket he’s going to fall into.”

Coming off that dramatic World Series comeback, Schwarber fell into an offensive spiral that got him demoted to the minors three months ago. He’s still managed to blast 28 homers while striking out 31 percent of the time, struggling against left-handed pitching (.663 OPS) and batting .208 overall.

Schwarber also has the type of hard-charging personality that feeds off those doubts, loves the big-game pressure and creates energy for the rest of the team. There will be another chapter to his 2017.

“It is what it is,” Schwarber said. “That first whole part of the season was a wash for me. I was able to go down and just kind of get my head recollected and get some parts of my swing down.

“I can’t worry about the number up on the scoreboard. It’s just stupid to do that. So that’s all I’m worried about every time I go up to the plate – I want to put in a good team at-bat.”

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

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Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

The Cubs have parted ways with the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein's front office.

The Cubs designated Pierce Johnson for assignment last week when they purchased the contract of Jen-Ho Tseng to make his first MLB start against the New York Mets.

Now Johnson is with a new organization.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Johnson off waivers Wednesday. He was initially selected in the supplemental first round in 2012 with the 43rd pick, 37 spots behind Albert Almora Jr.

Johnson is now 26 and just made his first — and only — big-league appearance May 19 this spring.

In Triple-A Iowa, Johnson had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games, including one start. He struck out 74 batters in 54.1 innings, but also walked 27 batters and had a 1.454 WHIP. 

Johnson spent six years in the Cubs minor-league system, going 29-21 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.305 WHIP and 9.3 K/9, working slightly more than half the time as a starter (74 starts, 56 relief appearances).

With the Cubs taking Johnson off their 40-man roster in mid-September as opposed to promoting him with expanded big-league rosters, it clearly shows he was not a part of their long-term pitching plans.