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.

Jason Heyward homers, Addison Russell gets four hits, Cubs score 14 in blowout of Pirates

Jason Heyward homers, Addison Russell gets four hits, Cubs score 14 in blowout of Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jason Heyward is getting tired of talking about his rebuilt swing. Considering what the Chicago Cubs center fielder is doing at the plate these days, the conversation will soon flip from his new-look swing to the results.

Heyward hit his third home run in four days, a sizzling line drive to right-center off Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl in the first inning to set the tone in a lopsided 14-3 victory for the suddenly hot Cubs on Monday night. Heyward added an RBI on a groundout during Chicago's five-run second inning as the defending World Series champions won for the fifth time in six games.

A year after he hit just .230 while managing just seven home runs and 49 RBIs, Heyward is at .294 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 18 games so far in 2017.

"I've been there before," Heyward said. "Had a down year before, didn't go exactly how I wanted. Had to put some work in and come back. It's great to see. It's not over. I'm not looking at it that way."

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Addison Russell had a career-high four hits for the Cubs, who set a season-high total for runs and tied their season-high total with 17 hits. A little over two years after going 0-5 in his major league debut at PNC Park, Russell singled four times while spraying the ball to all fields.

"I just put it in play and see where it goes," Russell said. "It's working out. Seems like a pretty easy approach."

Ben Zobrist added three RBIs for Chicago. Anthony Rizzo had three hits to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero all had two hits apiece. The Cubs are starting to get it going after a sluggish start, averaging 8.8 runs during their recent surge to first in the NL Central. It has helped take some of the pressure off a pitching staff that is struggling to get any sort of consistency from its starters.

"Some pieces are changed around but all in all if I'm producing, have Schwarbs here, him settled in for a whole year, there's a lot of good things that can come from it," Heyward said.

Chicago scored four runs with two outs in the first inning off Chad Kuhl (1-2) and added five more in the second to give Brett Anderson (2-0) all the breathing room he would need.

Anderson struggled at times with his command, walking six in six innings while striking out three and allowed three runs, one earned. Though Chicago manager Joe Maddon said he was "encouraged" by what he saw from Anderson, Anderson didn't exactly agree.

"I'd like to have a start where I don't have to battle, to grind, do all the things of that nature," Anderson said.

Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

CSN's Cubs Pregame and Postgame host David Kaplan and analyst David DeJesus discuss the upcoming matchups in this edition of the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

The Cubs' bats are finally coming around. 

On the back of Anthony Rizzo, who hit three homers this weekend, the North Siders took two out of three from the Cincinnati Reds and have been winners of four out of five overall. 

The offense will attempt to stay in their groove against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who swept the Cubs at Wrigley during the teams' last meeting. 

Luckily for Chicago's pitching staff, Starling Marte won't be anchoring the Pirates' order. The outfielder is serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. 

After Pittsburgh, Joe Maddon's club hits Fenway Park for what should be a wild three-game set against the Red Sox. 

Watch David Kaplan and David DeJesus break down the upcoming matchups in the video above.