Out of nowhere, Silva stays in the picture

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Out of nowhere, Silva stays in the picture

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 7:48 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Silva viewed this as a last chance. He had no idea what was going to happen and still doesnt but he needed it for his state of mind.

Silva pulled his blue socks up to his knees on Wednesday, a different look for a pitcher who desperately hoped to change his luck. He normally wears his pants baggy, long around the cleats, which causes rips. He says hes not superstitious the only other available pair ran short.

A month from his 32nd birthday, Silva can be insecure, sensitive and emotional. The pressure to compete for a spot in the rotation has weighed on him heavily. And as the Cubs finished off a 3-1 victory over the Oakland As, a religious man stood in front of his locker and said: Thank God for this game. I know I can pitch.

The 9,061 fans at HoHoKam Park saw Silva make his case for the rotation. He stretched out to six innings and allowed only one run on three hits. He retired the final 10 batters he faced, and 17 of the final 18.

When I cross that line with high confidence, Silva said, when I feel strong, powerful in my mind, its like (a) whole different pitcher out there.

All of a sudden Silva looked nothing like the guy who allowed 26 runs 20 earned on 29 hits through his first 11.1 innings. After Wednesdays game, Silva had lowered his ERA from 15.88 to 10.90.

At times Silva blamed his defenders, which led to a dugout altercation with Aramis Ramirez, and rationalized it as balls just finding holes. But really opponents made it look like batting practice this spring.

On a sunny, 67-degree afternoon, Silva did what manager Mike Quade dared him to do: Make it tough on me.

Quade said a decision on the fifth starter wasnt set in stone. He mentioned that ideally it would be finalized before Saturday, when Andrew Cashner starts again and tries to extend beyond four innings for the first time this spring.

But if it took watching another Cashner audition, Quade said he was good with that. Two data points released Wednesday indirectly showed you where the Cubs are at with Silva and Cashner.

Forbes assessed the Cubs as baseballs fourth-most valuable franchise at 773 million, which represents a six percent increase from the year before. They are a big-market team with resources that must figure out what to do with the 13.5 million Silvas guaranteed.

Baseball America also unveiled its minor-league system rankings and slotted the Cubs at No. 16, a drop from the top tier because of the prospects it took to import Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. They are invested in the idea of the homegrown Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick and a billboard for how the organization wants to run.

Even Silva knew his time could be running out with the Cubs.

This is a business, Silva said. If Ive been pitching good and got traded, Im going to be ok, but I dont want to walk out the door the way I was pitching.

(If they said) we need to trade you because were not going to use you, we dont need you here (thats) tough. One of the greatest places to pitch is Chicago and I would love to be there.

Silva said hed be fine if the Cubs asked him to come out of the bullpen. But hes too proud to ignore the chance to make the rotation.

When you say something to me like: Youre in the competition for the fifth-starter (spot) Im going to kill people for (it).

Quade is not an old-school manager like Lou Piniella or Yogi Berra. But he sounded like one before Wednesdays game, when a reporter asked if Braden Looper was still in the mix.

Looper will relieve Garza on Thursday against the White Sox, his second straight appearance out of the bullpen, which shows the Cubs could be looking at him as a long man. It could be either Looper or Silva for a final bullpen spot.

Until youre gone, youre here, Quade said.

Everyone assumed Silva was a goner. But after this performance the manager had to admit: The plot thickens.

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

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”  

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

MESA, Ariz. – In an alternate universe, Javier Baez might have become the goat after committing two errors in a World Series Game 7. But the young Cubs played without a sense of panic and wanted to write their own history.

Baez shrugged it off in Cleveland and homered off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber that night. Baez will be remembered as a breakout star from those playoffs, a game-changing defensive force with his mixture of lateral range, rocket-arm strength and instincts for tagging.

But there have also been times where manager Joe Maddon would like Baez to be a little more boring. The next stage of Javy Being Javy would be showing more of the consistency that made Addison Russell an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22. It may also partially explain why Maddon for now still sees Ben Zobrist as his primary second baseman, even after Baez started all 17 postseason games at that position.  

“You definitely continually speak about (how) you want guys to make the routine play routinely,” Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “I’ve often talked about lack of chrome. Gary DiSarcina (with the Angels) was the guy that really embedded that thought in my head, because he was so chrome-less and he was so good at the routine play. I used to always yell that at my infielders in instructional league: ‘No chrome!’

“Having said all that, Javy comes from a different background, and he has a flair about his game, so I don’t necessarily want to subtract that. But just have him understand the routine stuff has to be made routinely well.

“He’s very capable of that. I think as his game continues to develop and mature, you’ll see him make less mistakes, whether it’s that or sometimes even on the bases. He’ll make a spectacular play on the bases and then again do something that you don’t like. But I think that’s just part of his nature and his game.” 

Zobrist delivered a World Series MVP performance after signing a four-year, $56 million contract last winter with the idea that focusing on one position – instead of moving around as a super-utility guy – would help him age better.

“Last year, I played 147 games,” said Zobrist, who will turn 36 in May. “I don’t know what that number’s going to look like. You got to stay healthy. There were probably only a few games that I missed because there was physically something that was keeping me from playing.

“We’ll play it by ear. Some of those will have to do with if I’m a little tired and the matchup is right, maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days. But I know that there’s other times last year where – whether you’re tired or not – you got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club. So just make adjustments as the weeks and series go on.”

[MORE: After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as late-game force]

Maddon is already thinking of ways to rest Zobrist – who played into early November after helping the 2015 Royals win the World Series – on a team with so many versatile athletes. The Cubs could also try to go back to last year’s model, putting Baez wherever their scouting-and-data projections predicted the ball would be hit most that night.

“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said. “(Javy’s) going to play some second, of course, and so will Zo. Zo’s going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo can also do what he’s done in the past and play some outfield.

“What happens – and I hate to say it like (this) – but baseball has a very cruel way of determining things. I don’t want it to be any injuries. I’d rather have to figure all of this stuff out on a daily basis. Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.

“It’s all in theory right now. Of course, he’s going to play. Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out? We’re not 100 percent sure yet. But he’s pretty darned good.”