Schierholtz ready to make his mark with Cubs

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Schierholtz ready to make his mark with Cubs

With spring training just a couple weeks away, the parallels between Brett Jackson and Nate Schierholtz extend beyond just the fact they will man the same outfield in Arizona.

As the two were heading from California to Chicago for the 2013 Cubs Convention last week, they found themselves in the same row on the same flight.

That's not altogether surprising, considering they both hail from the same area on the nation's left coast. Schierholtz attended high school at San Ramon Valley in Danville, Calif., while Jackson grew up in Berkeley and attended the Berkeley campus of the University of California.

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According to Schierholtz, the two had the same coaches growing up.

"It's kind of a cool similarity," Schierholtz said at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers Friday. "I'm looking forward to giving him tips and helping him out any way I can. I'm looking forward to being his teammate."

The Cubs brought in Schierholtz this winter to help provide outfield depth on the big-league club, allowing Jackson to head back to Triple-A Iowa to start the 2013 season after striking out in almost half his at-bats in the majors at the end of last year.

Schierholtz turned down offers from several other teams to ink a one-year, 2.25 million deal -- with 500,000 in incentives -- with the Cubs.

There are still a few weeks left in the offseason and the Cubs continue to court local product Scott Harison to help bolster the outfield, Schierholtz was given the impression before he signed that he would receive regular playing time in Chicago.

"Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he was looking for me to come in and play the outfield every day," Schierholtz said. "That's something I've looked forward to my whole career. I got chances here and there in San Francisco, but I didn't really get a full-time job ever. It's my job to come in to spring training and show them what I can do.

"The opportunity here was a no-brainer to me. I wasn't looking to be a fourth outfielder. I wanted a chance to play every day. I felt like this team is going in the right direction and I thought I could help them out."

While some other clubs were offering multi-year deals or the chance to contend in '13, they couldn't provide the regular playing time the Cubs had to offer.

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"What it came down to is I just felt comfortable here," Schierholtz said. "I talked to Dale a couple times before I signed and I talked to a lot of other teams as well. It just came down to Chicago really believing in me and believing I can come in and play up to my potential.

"It wasn't as important to me to sign somewhere for, say, two years and potentially not play as much as opposed to coming here and playing. Everything just felt right. I love the city and the fans. I couldn't be happier to be here."

As for when Jackson arrives, Schierholtz has plenty to offer the young prospect.

Schierholtz -- who, like Jackson, hits lefty and throws right-handed and is considered an above-average defender -- is only four years older than Jackson, but knows what it's like to handle expectations.

The 28-year-old outfielder was a second round draft pick of the Giants in 2003, six years before the Cubs took Jackson 31st overall.

Both players are roughly the same size -- Jackson is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds while Scherholtz is listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds -- and ironically have the exact same career OPS in the minors (.867).

But while Jackson got his first taste of big-league action last season, Schierholtz has been here before and brings playoff experience to the Cubs outfield.

Schierholtz earned a World Series ring for his work on the 2010 Giants and spent the beginning of last year in San Francisco before being traded to the Phillies for Hunter Pence and watching his former team claim their second championship in three seasons.

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"I was fortunate enough to play for a couple teams that went to the World Series and won," he said. "So I want to get back there. I feel like once you've done it, you really want to get back and you have a little bit different perspective. I'll do everything I can to help the team out and hopefully we can start winning some games.

"Playoff experience has helped me a lot. It helped me just settle in and finally realize the importance of team chemistry.

"winning is more fun, that's really what it comes down to. When you win games, everyone's happy. That's the ultimate goal."

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center. 

But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.

It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.

But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.

So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.

“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.

“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”

To get back into October, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta (5-4, 4.92 ERA), who’s still fine-tuning his delivery and not always getting that extra burst of velocity that made him a Cy Young Award winner and unhittable one night at Dodger Stadium.

Two aging Dodgers crushed Arrieta fastballs. Chase Utley – who began the game hitting .204 – drove one over the center-field wall in the third inning. Gonzalez had gone 131 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run with two outs in the sixth inning.

“I understand how difficult this game is,” Arrieta said. “It’s a work in progress. I’m still not exactly where I would like to be. But it’s close. It really is.”

Even as Arrieta worked through command/mechanical issues last season, he still wound up winning 18 games and limiting opponents to a .583 OPS that ranked second in the majors. It took until the middle of last August before he gave up his 10th home run, or where he’s already at through 10 starts this season. 

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“The one that Utley hit out was on the corner – that’s a good piece of hitting,” Arrieta said. “The one to Gonzalez was too much plate in a 3-1 count. It was elevated. Willson (Contreras) called a changeup. I shook to the fastball. I expected to locate a little bit better than I did. But I feel like if I continue on this progression, I think I’ll be OK.

“I don’t intend to continue to give up as much hard contact, especially balls over the fence. It’s been a little bit of tough luck, but they just flat out beat us.”

There’s some truth to that – Arrieta continued to pile up the strikeouts (nine) and limit the walks (one) – while Dodger lefty Alex Wood extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings before handing the game over to a dominant bullpen. But whether it’s an underperforming offense, a defense not playing at the same historic level or those velocity questions, Arrieta doesn’t appear to have the same margin for error anymore.

All those elements could come roaring back, but the Cubs are now a 25-22 team that could be looking to replace 60 percent of the rotation by Opening Day 2018.

“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better.

“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”

Whatever happens over the next several months, this will be the reservoir of confidence Arrieta draws from, and ultimately his legacy as a Cub.

“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon. 

“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.

“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.

“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”

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Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.

“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”

For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.

“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.

“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.

“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”