Scott Baker has something to prove with Cubs

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Scott Baker has something to prove with Cubs

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

Scott Baker is on the long road back from Tommy John surgery. He believes he will be ready to go in spring training and part of the Opening Day rotation. Those are the mile markers in his mind.

Virtually every day is mapped out from here until the morning pitchers and catchers report to the Cubs complex in Arizona. Baker wasnt going to be told what to do in his rehab program he wanted to know the how and why. Being flipped at the trade deadline isnt a concern.

Thats kind of a far stretch, Baker said Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Well just have to see how things work out. First and foremost, I want to be healthy and productive. And I feel like that would be getting a little ahead of myself trying to think about contenders and all that.

The Cubs began to address their biggest offseason need with a low-risk, short-term commitment. It exactly fits the profile of what Theo Epsteins front office is trying to do this winter.

Baker will get 5.5 million with built-in incentives that could be worth an additional 1.5 million as well as the platform to prove himself again on the North Side. The 31-year-old right-hander had spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins, going 63-48 with a 4.15 ERA and working almost exclusively as a starter.

This is the blueprint the Cubs used last winter with Paul Maholm, who was shut down late in the 2011 season with a shoulder issue. The veteran left-hander got 4.25 million, plus a 6.5 million club option for 2013.

Maholm (13-11, 3.67 ERA in 2012) had only pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates and benefitted from a change of scenery, embracing the game plans designed by manager Dale Sveum, pitching coach Chris Bosio and their staff.

Maholm wound up getting traded to the Atlanta Braves in a deadline deal involving Arodys Vizcaino, whos recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be a factor in the Cubs rotation at some point in 2013.

Baker doesnt think hes Maholm 2.0, and Epstein allowed for the possibility of an extension, that hes more than a four-month rental.

If we catch some breaks and Scott manages to stay healthy, Epstein said, were going to look up and hell have outpitched some guys who signed for a lot more money than he did. I think theres a chance that Scott likes it here in Chicago, and we like what we have in him and we can talk about making this a longer-term relationship at a point down the road.

Baker went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 2011, but missed last season while recovering from the Tommy John procedure and rehabbing his right elbow. He has posted 770 strikeouts against 224 walks in 958 innings in the big leagues.

Epstein thinks Baker can take his career to the next level here. Baker can use the advanced scouting the same way Maholm and Ryan Dempster did last season, when they became two of the hottest pitchers in baseball.

Scott Baker is a pitch-maker, Epstein said. Hes somebody that can go out and execute a game plan against the best lineups. When hes commanding and healthy, hell have a lot of success in this division.

For his part, Baker took a leap of faith. He said he didnt have any existing relationships with anyone in the clubhouse, the front office or on the coaching staff that helped convince him to sign here. He wasnt scared away by the rebuilding project after a season in which the Cubs lost 101 games.

That doesnt necessarily concern me, Baker said. With the new front office, were going to put a good product on the field and give us a chance to win some ballgames. Being in an organization like this, there are obviously a lot of expectations. I can guarantee you that everybody they put out there is going to be giving it everything they got.

As long as theyre healthy

I have every intention of being a competitive pitcher next year, right away, Baker said.

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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.”