Slow down: Cubs, Ramirez want green light to run

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Slow down: Cubs, Ramirez want green light to run

Sunday, March 6, 2011
3:14 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
MESA, Ariz. Aramis Ramirez carried a sandwich and a Mountain Dew back to his locker on Sunday and saw five reporters approaching.

I thought I got traded or something, he joked.

They were curious about another idea that seems just as unlikely Ramirez telling manager Mike Quade that he wants the green light to run. Ramirez, who made his major-league debut in 1998, has 15 stolen bases in his career. He thinks he could get as many as 10 this year.

Hey, if you can sneak one here and there theyre not paying attention to me. I know that for a fact, Ramirez said. I dont think you have to be a fast runner to steal bases. I dont think (Albert) Pujols is fast. He steals 15 to 20 bags.

The Cubs do not have a prototypical leadoff hitter. The middle of their order Marlon Byrd, Ramirez, Carlos Pena and Alfonso Soriano will be at ages 34, 33, 33 and 35 by seasons end. Their lineup is built around power, not speed.

But as Byrd pointed out, new first-base coach Bob Dernier is pushing the Cubs to be more aggressive. Dernier stole 218 bases in his career and previously worked as the organizations minor-league base-running coordinator.

Oh yeah, we can run, Byrd said. Im sure 'Q' is going to let us run a little bit with all our athleticism that we do have on the team. We didnt show it last year. Now its time to pick it up.

The message from Quade on Sunday was slow down. Ryan Theriot, who was shipped out at last seasons trade deadline, led the team with 16 stolen bases in 2010. Overall the Cubs stole 55, which tied them for last in the majors.

I know Bobby is very interested in making sure that this label that we dont run gets eliminated, Quade said, but we need to run intelligently. (We) dont have a bunch of flyers on this club, but we want to take advantage when the situation presents itself. Were not selling out to quote-unquote run.

I always used to laugh (when guys say): I want to be aggressive and I want to run. I look at his roster and (they) got a bunch of heavy-legged home run hitters. Youre going to run yourself out of innings.

That sounds like a more accurate description of your 2011 Cubs. But Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Tyler Colvin and Fernando Perez if he makes the team as the fifth outfielder should pressure teams.

Ultimately, its not a question of running or not running. Its being smarter, more decisive and aware of your surroundings.

If you get a good jump, Ramirez said, you can steal some bases.

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

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs studied all the MRIs and analyzed every pitch Wade Davis threw last season, poring over the information on the All-Star closer. During the winter meetings, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore even took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Davis a physical exam.  

The Jorge Soler trade wouldn’t be announced until athletic trainer PJ Mainville met with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Cubs got another read on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list last season.

Davis now has a 19.64 ERA through five Cactus League appearances – and the complete confidence of a manager who isn’t connecting those dots.

“The injury’s really not an issue,” Joe Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “He feels really good right now. He kind of thought that whole thing was a little bit overblown last year, according to (what he told) me. Because even in talking to him in the offseason: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. I feel really good.’”

Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays while Davis broke into the big leagues as a starter and began the transition to reliever. Everything clicked in Kansas City’s bullpen, with Davis blowing away hitters and notching the last out of the 2015 World Series.

“I’m watching him,” Maddon said. “He’s throwing the ball really well easily. That’s what’s really encouraging to me. From the side, there’s no bumping and grinding and…” Maddon made a grunting noise to illustrate his point: “There’s none of that. It’s easy. I look up at the gun and I’m seeing 94, 95 and sometimes 96 (mph). It’s like: Wow, I have never seen him do that in camp.”

Across the last three seasons, Davis allowed three home runs while piling up 234 strikeouts in almost 183 innings. This spring, he has twice gotten only one out, like Saturday’s 29-pitch, four-run appearance against the Colorado Rockies. Overall in March, he’s given up eight earned runs, nine hits and five walks in 3.2 innings.  

“Honestly, I’ve known him long enough that it’s not” a concern, Maddon said. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s actually throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having right now is command.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well.

“But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

This isn’t the Cubs saying Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras is our closer. A guy with a 0.84 ERA in 23 career playoff appearances doesn’t care about Cactus League stats. As long as Davis is healthy, there should be no doubts about the ninth inning. Check back next week amid the sea of red at Busch Stadium.

“A lot of it’s just an adrenaline rush sometimes,” Maddon said. “A lot it’s just a moment that you can’t recreate here. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night, downplaying any health concerns about their All-Star middle infielders. 

One week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, manager Joe Maddon spent part of Sunday's media session saying how he had no concerns with his World Series MVP's stiff neck and his franchise shortstop's stiff back.

"You can tell with 'Zo,'" Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "He'll come around and let me know specifically if he feels it's going to be anything longer than that. He's talking either tomorrow night or the next day."

Zobrist, who spent nine seasons with Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays, hasn't appeared in a Cactus League game since March 19. Maddon also signaled Russell is close to returning to action after being a late scratch from Friday's lineup.

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Not like this, but the Cubs already planned to schedule extra rest for Zobrist, given his age (36 in May), the playoff stress on his body from back-to-back World Series titles and emerging options like Javier Baez on a mix-and-match team. 

All along, Maddon hasn't worried about finding enough at-bats for Baez, knowing that injuries are inevitable and the Cubs have insurance policies up and down the roster that should pay off across a 162-game season. But in this case, it doesn't sound like the Cubs are testing that theory with Zobrist and Russell.

"None of this stuff is really threatening," Maddon said. "The trainers have no real strong issues with anything. It's almost like you'll be overly cautious right now. And that's all we're doing."