Vitters returns, learning new position after injury

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Vitters returns, learning new position after injury

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010
8:20 PM
By Kevin Czerwinski
CSNChicago.com

Josh Vitters hasnt played first base in quite some time, certainly never as a professional. Yet, the Cubs former first-round pick has logged a few innings on the opposite side of the infield during the Arizona Fall League after spending his entire career at third base.

Vitters, whom the Cubs grabbed with the third overall selection in the 2007 draft, doesnt see the move as anything permanent. Rather, some playing time at first base will allow him to get the extra at-bats that he missed after breaking his left hand during the regular season at Double-A Tennessee. Vitters went down on July 25 after breaking the third metacarpal and is just now beginning to feel close to 100 percent.

I lost some time this year, Vitters told CSNChicago.com. I played a little bit in instructs to get ready for it and get back in baseball shape. The last time I think I played first base was in high school. Its a pretty new position to learn. Im getting comfortable there after a few games. Im not sure if its permanent but I want to be ready for anything.

Its something that should make me more valuable and versatile but my goal is to definitely stay at third base. Vitters appeared in four games at first base for Mesa heading into Wednesdays action, having committed one error in 29 chances while making one error in 18 chances at third. He said that hes learning to adjust his reaction time because the ball spins in the opposite direction off the bat on the right side of the infield.

Throw in learning where to be on cutoffs, who to back up and when and its made for an interesting fall. Still, its a time that Vitters seems to be relishing. He was starting to heat up at the plate with the Smokies when he suffered the injury. Though he was hitting only .223 in 63 Southern League games after moving up from Daytona, he was batting .303 with a pair of homers and seven RBIs in the 33 at-bats prior to getting hurt.

I started to play well that last month and I was glad that I was able to end it his regular season on a high note and take that into the Fall league and spring training, said Vitters, who hit .291 in 28 Florida State League games before moving to Tennessee. I feel like Ive gotten better as a player and Im trying to continue to improve. Ive had some setbacks here and there but Im actually pretty happy with the way things are turning out.

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Within the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs finished second in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, though nowhere close to the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate a six-year, $60 million deal with the Japanese superstar.

The Cubs will probably have to wait a few more months for their next shot at Darvish, who is “unlikely to move” before the July 31 trade deadline, a source monitoring the situation said Monday. Darvish means enough to the franchise’s bottom line as a box-office draw and magnet for corporate sponsors that the Rangers would be reluctant to trade a player with global appeal and potentially jeopardize that relationship heading into free agency this winter.

Beyond the possible impact on re-signing Darvish, that would also mean foreclosing on a season where Texas is only 2.5 games out of an American League wild-card spot, making this final week critical to the buy-or-sell decision.

The Cubs would obviously prefer to stay out of the rental market after shipping two top prospects to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. Quintana’s reasonable contract – almost $31 million between next season and 2020 once two team options are picked up – creates financial flexibility for a free-agent megadeal (Darvish?) or the next big-time international player.

But the cost of doing business with the White Sox probably means the Cubs wouldn’t have the super-elite prospect to anchor a trade for Darvish, anyway. That would be another obstacle in any possible deal for Sonny Gray, with an AL source saying the New York Yankees are going hard after the Oakland A’s right-hander (and have a deeper farm system and a greater sense of urgency after missing on Quintana).

All that means Kyle Hendricks could function as the trade-deadline addition for the rotation, with the Cubs instead trying to shorten games and deepen their bullpen by July 31.

After spending more than six weeks on the disabled list, the Cubs activated Hendricks for the start of this week’s crosstown series, watching him pitch into the fifth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss to a White Sox team that had lost nine straight games.

[Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

Hendricks is a rhythm/feel pitcher who blossomed from an overlooked prospect in the Texas system into a piece in the buzzer-beater Ryan Dempster deal at the 2012 deadline into last year’s major-league ERA leader.

Hendricks clearly isn’t locked in yet. He gave up eight hits, but minimized the damage against the White Sox, allowing only one run while putting up five strikeouts against zero walks.

“He wasn’t as normal,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was still down a little bit. There was not a whole lot of difference between his pitches. He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He would be the first one to tell you that. He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal.”

Hendricks described his fastball command as “terrible,” called his secondary pitches “OK” and ultimately came to this conclusion: “Health-wise, everything felt great, so we’ll take that. Just got to get back (to my routine).”

The biggest takeaway is Hendricks didn’t feel any lingering effects from the right hand tendinitis that was initially classified as a minor injury in early June. Meaning the Cubs (51-47) are just about at full strength and have another week left to upgrade the defending World Series champs.

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

The crosstown rivalry doesn't end on the diamond.

Both Cubs and White Sox fans are highly competitive when it comes to trivia, too. 

We found that out when we bounced around Wrigley Field to quiz North and South Siders in a special edition of "Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?" 

Watch the video above as we pitted fans against eachother for the chance to win a killer shirt.