No pressure: Coleman gets the job done for Cubs

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No pressure: Coleman gets the job done for Cubs

Saturday, April 16, 2011
Posted: 10:33 p.m. Updated: 11:56 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER Casey Coleman does not pitch scared. Its in his DNA.

Drop Coleman into Coors Field in front of 40,264 fans against the hottest team in baseball and see what happens. The Cubs didnt have much of a choice, but theyve long liked the savvy of this third-generation big-league pitcher.

Coleman kept the Colorado Rockies in check on Saturday night before the Cubs exploded for a huge inning and rolled to an 8-3 victory.

Coleman hasnt eased into this at all. The 23-year-old wasnt stretched out much in spring training that was for Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs viewed him as the ideal insurance policy when someone got injured. They just didnt think it would happen so soon.

Coleman has a clear idea of what he wants to do on the mound and he made big pitches at critical moments. Overall the Rockies went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left 13 men on base.

Hes got a lot of guts, catcher Koyie Hill said. The thing that really helps Casey out is hes the same guy whether hes got a six-run lead or its a tie game. It makes those situations more manageable.

Coleman left with two outs in the sixth inning after a line drive hit the top of his foot. It wasnt a serious injury, but it was time to turn the game over to the bullpen. By then, he had given up only one run on four hits.

Coleman allowed the Rockies (11-3) to get the leadoff man on in four consecutive innings, but minimized the damage. He walked three and hit two more, the cost of establishing a presence inside.

They can take it however they want it, but I dont see that hitting guys is really such a negative all the time, especially for Casey, Hill said. The guys 5-foot-8 Im not knocking him. But its nice to sometimes let them know that hes going to come in there. Those are all accidents, but hes still pitching in, which is a big part of his game plan.

Coleman wont overpower hitters. He has to help himself by handling the bat and fielding his position. He showed all that in the fifth inning.

Coleman singled, raced to third on a double and scored the go-ahead run to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Back on the mound, he handled a sharp ground ball, looked a runner back to third and got the out at first. The inning ended with Coleman sprinting to cover first.

Hes got all the intangibles, manager Mike Quade said. Hes not huge of stature. He doesnt light up the gun, but he does everything else to make himself a good pitcher and needs to. He deserves a lot of credit and he should take a lot of pride in that, whether its composure (or) the way he handles himself in the clubhouse.

From Day 1 when he got here: Whos Casey Coleman? Hes been fantastic.

Randy Wells (forearm) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff) will be re-evaluated this week. The Cubs will likely go with James Russell on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres. But neither Russell nor Jeff Samardzija is viewed as a fifth-starter solution.

The way it lines up now, the Cubs could win a series against the first-place Rockies and finish 5-4 on this road trip, which few saw coming.

The Cubs (7-7) stepped up their offensive support Alfonso Soriano hit his fifth home run of the season and Starlin Castro hammered a three-run shot into the left-field seats to key a five-run seventh inning.

There are many unanswered questions left about this team. But for one night Coleman showed that his eight starts late last season (4-2, 3.33 ERA) werent a mirage.

As much as anything, this had to be reassuring for the Cubs: Maybe they only have to worry about one rotation spot. If the Rockies and Coors Field didnt faze Coleman, then what will?

I can see how its tough, Coleman said. You get the rubbed-up balls and then throw one pitch and theyre all slick again. So you have to make adjustments, but its definitely good to make it out of here alive.

Box Score

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

Jason Heyward resets after mental break and responds to playoff-lineup talk around Cubs

Jason Heyward resets after mental break and responds to playoff-lineup talk around Cubs

SAN DIEGO – With Jason Heyward looking lost at home plate, could the Cubs be forced to sit their $184 million outfielder in October?

It’s a question Joe Maddon doesn’t have to answer directly now, one that the manager wishes will go away, because Heyward’s Gold Glove defense, baseball IQ and playoff experience should translate in cold-weather, low-scoring, one-run games.

Maddon didn’t frame this as a benching, hoping to reboot Heyward’s offensive game with a four-day break that ended with Monday night’s 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. It shouldn’t be like flipping a switch for a hitter who woke up with an overall .617 OPS, a .170 batting average after the All-Star break and one home run since June 11.

But maybe this fifth-inning sequence shows Heyward’s luck is about to change. Moments after what looked like an RBI double landed just foul on the wrong side of the right-field line, Heyward lifted an Edwin Jackson pitch 365 feet out toward the top of the right-field fence, where it bounced off a fan trying to make a catch for a two-run homer. The way this season has gone for Heyward, you sort of expected an interference call to erase it.

“I’m not worried about the playoffs,” Maddon said. “I just want to make the playoffs and then we’ll take it from there.

“You still got six weeks (left). There’s so much baseball to be played. So many different things are going to occur. He can become the hottest hitter in the National League over the next month. He’s very capable of that. I don’t even think about the playoffs. I don’t think about playoff rosters. I think about Monday night in San Diego.

“To get any further than that along mentally is a trap.”

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Heyward has talked repeatedly about ignoring his own personal numbers, focusing on how to help the Cubs win that night and getting a chance to start over in the postseason. He laughed when a reporter asked if he felt any better or different and believes his luck will even out and that hot streak could be around the corner.

“You always think you’re going up there every at-bat to get a hit,” Heyward said. “Right now, if I’m going to err, err on the aggressive side. That’s a good way to be. I’m going to be ready to hit and let the ball go if it’s not there. But I’m not worried about six weeks. I’m worried about tomorrow.

“Playoff-wise, my teammates know I can help this team win. My manager, my coaches know I can help this team win. I know I can help this team win. And that’s the bottom line. We’ve done this collectively, so it’s not about one person.”

Maybe Maddon reaching into his bag of motivational tricks and relaxation techniques will help unlock the player who created a bidding war among the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals during the offseason.

“He’s endured a lot, in the sense that he hasn’t hit like he wanted to,” Maddon said. “Being the free-agent signing, honestly, that’s got to weigh on you a little bit.

“I’ve been really impressed with how he’s been able to maneuver through all of this, not hitting to the level that you would expect, but I know that he’s going to. But in the meantime, he’s just playing (a good game of) baseball.

“I give him a lot of credit. The guy is just dripping with emotional intelligence.”

OK, this home run came against Jackson, an ex-Cub who’s on his third team since getting released last summer in the middle of a $52 million contract. And Heyward committed his first error in a Cubs uniform in the sixth inning, running in hard for Brett Wallace’s line drive and misplaying it for a two-base mistake. But the Cubs are looking for any sort of confidence boost at this point.

“I want to see a smile on his face,” Maddon said. “Just play hard, like he always does. I’d rather see him cut back on his work right now and just play the game. I want him fresh, mentally and physically, because there are so many different ways he can help you win a baseball game.

“I just want him to go play. I mean that sincerely. He can’t do any more work. He can’t try anything differently. He can’t work any harder. He can’t do any of that. It’s impossible. Just go play.”

Jon Lester, Edwin Jackson and a Cubs rotation that keeps rolling

Jon Lester, Edwin Jackson and a Cubs rotation that keeps rolling

SAN DIEGO – The Cubs completely whiffed in their evaluation of Edwin Jackson and still built the best rotation in baseball, one filled with Cy Young Award candidates.

Whether or not This Is The Year, the Cubs will feel confident in any October matchup, even with John Lackey (strained right shoulder) on the disabled list, reliever Rob Zastryzny (2013 second-round pick) finally becoming the first pitcher from the Theo Epstein regime’s five draft classes to play for the big-league club and Jackson on his third team since getting released last summer in the middle of a $52 million contract.

The Cubs kept rolling through this summer of great expectations with Monday night’s 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, or about a mile from the Manchester Grand Hyatt, where team executives did shots in a hotel bar to toast the $155 million Jon Lester megadeal during the 2014 winter meetings.

Lester limited a rebuilding (again) Padres team to one run across six innings, giving the Cubs 15 quality starts through 20 games this month. The rotation has gone 13-1 with a 1.89 ERA in August, making the downturn that gave Cubs fans and the Chicago media All-Star-break fodder seem like ancient history.

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Lester’s All-Star season in Year 2 (14-4, 2.81 ERA) might get more attention if Jake Arrieta (15-5, 2.75 ERA) wasn’t the National League’s defending Cy Young Award winner and Kyle Hendricks (2.16) didn’t lead the majors in ERA. Take away two bad starts – a 10-2 loss to the New York Mets and Sunday’s clunker at Coors Field – and Jason Hammel would be 13-4 with a 2.14 ERA. Not that Lester – who comes from the Lackey School of Big Boy Games and Not Coming Here for a Haircut – feels overlooked.

“I don’t really care,” Lester said. “I don’t care what’s being said or what’s being looked at or whatever. I just try to do my job. That’s all I worry about. At the end of the year – like I’ve said before – the main number for me that I’m always concerned about is 200 innings. So if that’s there, then all the other stuff is kind of gravy.”

Lester has accounted for 154 innings this year and his 20 quality starts are tied for the major-league lead with Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner. Not that Lester – who brought a sense of purpose and a competitive drive into this clubhouse – is satisfied with that or happy with a 100-pitch count on a night where he had bat-breaking stuff.

“I don’t really like quality starts,” Lester said. “I think it’s kind of a made-up stat that helps guys that don’t go deep into ballgames. I think quality starts should go to the seventh inning.”

Jackson – who went 16-34 with a 5.37 ERA in a Cubs uniform and whose four-year deal will finally come off the books after this season – couldn’t navigate this lineup. Jackson got through five innings and gave up five runs, including homers to Addison Russell (18), Kris Bryant (32) and Jason Heyward (after a Joe Maddon-imposed four-game mental break).

“I wasn’t here when Eddie came in, but I can understand why the guys did it,” said Maddon, who managed Jackson with the Tampa Bay Rays. “He’s got that kind of ability, man. It’s in there. There’s no question it’s in there.

“He’s had a couple really wonderful years where expectations and reality came together. But overall with him, it’s just a matter of command and where his fastball is going. Stuff-wise, athletically speaking, he is one of the better young pitcher athletes to come around in a long time.”

That never happened in Chicago. The Cubs once dreamed about Jackson’s under-30 potential, giving a long-term deal to a player who had already bounced around to seven different teams. The Cubs understood you have to take risks in the free-agent market and projected a durable right arm. The Cubs got a good clubhouse dude who’s not a front-of-the-rotation leader.

Lesson learned. In Lester, Epstein’s front office could leverage all their shared history with the Boston Red Sox – makeup, medical, big-market/championship experience – and have a much better idea of the return on that investment.

“He’s just been really rolling them out there,” Maddon said. “Game after game after game, you kind of know what to expect from him right now.”

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs take on the Padres tonight on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs take on the Padres tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 8:30. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jake Arrieta (15-5, 2.75 ERA) vs. Christian Friedrich (4-9, 4.69 ERA) 

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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