Schierholtz ready to make his mark with Cubs

987537.png

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.

RELATED: As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

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.

MORE: Cubs' Baker sets his sights on showcasing his recovery

"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.

MORE: Edwin Jackson aiming to bring winning tradition to Cubs

"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."

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – There will never be another Vin Scully, who joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn as a kid out of Fordham University, moved to Los Angeles and became a face of the franchise, doing the one-man show that still connects and entertains generations of baseball fans.

The Cubs paid their respects to the legendary broadcaster before Friday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, with manager Joe Maddon and catcher David Ross visiting the Vin Scully Press Box for another photo op before the lyrical voice retires at the end of this season, at the age of 88.

“You’re ascending into the clouds to meet Mr. Scully,” Maddon said. “That’s like the window to the world up there when you sit in his booth and he talks about the purple mountain majesties on a clear day beyond the outfield fences here.”

The Cubs presented Scully with a green “67” scoreboard panel – to mark the number of seasons he’s worked Dodger games – as well as a Dodger banner from Wrigley Field. Maddon also gave Scully, who rocks the conservative coat-and-tie look on TV, several T-shirts from his collection, including “Try Not to Suck.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said he told Scully: “Maybe at the end of the year, sitting by your pool with the sandals on, you can put a T-shirt on where no one can see you and just be Vin.”

As the tributes pour in from around baseball, CSN Chicago will carry Scully’s third-inning call live during Sunday’s broadcast from Chavez Ravine.

“He makes you feel like he’s known you for the last 50 years,” Maddon said. “Just really kind and gracious. And you have to be all of that to survive that many years. Besides being good, it’s his authenticity and how he interacts with people that really (keeps) you on that stage that long.”