Mooney: Looking out for Colvin's future

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Mooney: Looking out for Colvin's future

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011
4:31 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Albert Pujols is baseballs biggest story. The Cubs are a big-market team that needs to fill seats and hundreds of hours of television programming. Inevitably the two will be caught in the crossfire of Internet rumors.

Already trying to shift the focus, Tony La Russa suggested Tuesday that the union will pressure Pujols to take the largest deal possible, a claim denied by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Wednesday looms as a self-imposed deadline to negotiate a contract extension.

Cubs fans can dream about stealing from the St. Louis Cardinals, but their team has more immediate issues at first base.

A serious injury to Carlos Pena would be devastating. And with Pena using Wrigley Field as a platform to launch himself back into the free-agent market, the Cubs dont have a long-term option either.

So Tyler Colvin is working out at a position that he hasnt really played since he was an undergraduate at Clemson University. Even that was in a backup role. Any hesitation manager Mike Quade may have had throwing Colvin out there near the end of last season is gone.

No backing off this year, Quade said. Youre going to see him at first base some this spring. We cant afford to get into a situation where, God forbid, something happens to Carlos. Well make sure that were protected.

Insurance policy

Quade meant to pull Colvin aside at Fitch Park on Sunday and tell him first about these plans, but couldnt locate him in time. The manager then accidentally let it slip during his media briefing, something he regretted immediately. It didnt matter.

I knew it was coming, Colvin said. Its a great idea.

The 25-year-old outfielder doesnt get caught up in any of the hype. Hed be the last person youd expect to lash out or publicly complain about a position switch. And this versatility could be good for his career, and the Cubs need to find out whether or not he can play there.

On Tuesday he patiently answered the same questions about the freak accident that ended his promising rookie season last September. Yes, Colvin will continue to use maple bats, the same kind that punctured his chest. No, he wont play scared.

Colvin is self-contained and typically keeps his comments serious and brief. But he did joke that the Cubs will put up a protective screen whenever he plays first base.

Im going to go about my business the same way I did last year and get ready, Colvin said. You cant ever be comfortable here. You always have to try to get better, but, yeah, I know the league a little better. (And) they know me, too.

Colvin 2.0

A first-round pedigree helped, but Colvin forced his way onto the team last spring by crushing Cactus League pitching. It became a billboard for everyone else in the organization. Brett Jackson, the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft, certainly noticed.

He attacked (with) his work ethic and really made his strides getting to the big leagues and then making an impact, Jackson said. Colvin is a good example for us all. Thats the dream to come out to spring training and tear it up.

Jackson hit .297 with 12 homers, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases during his first full professional season, 128 games split between Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. MLB.com has ranked the 22-year-old outfielder as the games No. 46 prospect overall.

Cubs ownership is clearly more inclined to invest in the player-development system, and its uncertain how eager the Ricketts family would be to put together the type of contract it will take to lure someone like Pujols to the North Side.

The front office has visions of Jackson and Colvin forming an outfield built on speed and athleticism. Given those expectations, Jackson was asked about nerves, and he sounded like the Cal-Berkeley kid he is, and nothing like Colvin.

You just got to get goofy and have a good time, Jackson said.

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

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Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of The Plan and that wacky, fun-loving Cubs team to bring you a snapshot of clubhouse frustration.

Jake Arrieta sounded defensive while talking to reporters after Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, standing in front of his locker and second-guessing manager Joe Maddon. On the other side of the room, veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the way the Cubs are preparing for the playoffs with Cactus League scripts.

The postgame questions started with Arrieta’s first-inning issues with umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. When reporters mentioned Maddon’s positive spin on a seven-run outing, Arrieta dismissed those happy-talk answers about his stuff — “it just wasn’t crisp” — and then wondered why he went from throwing to Montero to rookie Willson Contreras.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Montero went with a similar passive-aggressive tone, riffing on how the Cubs will maintain their edge almost two weeks after clinching the National League Central title and nine days before their first playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“Did it feel like spring training?” Montero said. “I do believe that. And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is.

“This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.

“We have to trick our mind. Because if that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

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Unprompted, Montero brought up the Pirates scoring three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night before the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 victory — without using Aroldis Chapman — as Maddon tries to keep the bullpen fresh for the playoffs.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” Montero said. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win.

“It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

OK then, the Cubs are still a 101-win team and the NL’s No. 1 seed. But this became a sharp contrast to all the backslapping after the pregame announcement of Theo Epstein’s monster contract extension. And Arrieta didn’t look like a reigning Cy Young Award winner, giving up 10 hits while John Jaso — who does look like a Pirate — lined a curveball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning and hit for the cycle.

“We’re moving on,” Arrieta said. “We’ll prepare for the next one. I don’t like giving up seven runs. I’m pissed about that. But moving forward, everything’s fine.”

With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lined up at the front of the playoff rotation, Arrieta’s next start is almost two weeks away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arrieta said. “I’ll throw sides. I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round — they’re going to be in trouble.”

After burning through 103 pitches in five innings, Arrieta’s regular-season odometer is now at 197 1/3 innings, but he has zero interest in a gimmick that would get him to 200 this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“Listen, I want to pitch on a schedule,” Arrieta said. “I don’t want to throw an inning in a game. I’m not trying to do anything different. Let’s just prepare like we normally do and go out and try to win games. I’m not trying to throw a bullpen in a game.”

Look, if this isn’t trouble in paradise, then it’s obvious that the Cubs are a hyper-competitive group that knows what’s at stake in October and has some independent thinkers and strong personalities. And that Arrieta’s unreal 2015 season created impossible standards for this year that couldn’t be met with an 18-8 record and a 3.10 ERA, the type of numbers that still get pitchers $200 million contracts.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”