LaHair giving Cubs the power surge theyre missing

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LaHair giving Cubs the power surge theyre missing

The Cubs believed Bryan LaHair would produce in the big leagues if given a chance. The first baseman rewarded their faith by putting together a monster April, hitting .390 with five home runs and 14 RBI.

Four of LaHairs five homers have either tied a game or given the Cubs a lead, and that sense of calm when everyones watching could be a preview for how he will handle success.

I live for those moments, LaHair said. I just stay consistent with each at-bat. I dont let any at-bat overwhelm me. Pitch to pitch, all I do is try to get good balls to hit and hit them hard every at-bat.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt. As long as Im consistent doing that, Ill be all right.

Dale Sveums relationship with Prince Fielder didnt matter that much in the end, and Theo Epsteins meeting with the agent for Albert Pujols during the winter meetings was mostly about Rodrigo Lopez.

The Cubs werent prepared to do a megadeal.

Sveum, a former Brewers hitting coach, broke down LaHairs mechanics and saw the potential to do some damage.

Heres the scouting report the Cubs manager gave just before the games were about to begin in spring training:

I knew he had power, obviously, because of his numbers, but hes got tremendous leverage through the strike zone, Sveum said. I think hes the kind of guy that can run into 10 home runs a year just because of the leverage.

What I mean by that is he can hit home runs when hes not perfect, when hes off-balance, whether its a changeup or a breaking ball down.

The bat stays through the strike zone and the back side works correctly to where you can get a lot of home runs when it doesnt look like a prototypically perfect swing.

One reason why the Cubs are 8-15 is the power outage throughout the lineup. The last time they hit just nine homers in a month was August of 1981.

The last Cub to account for more than half of the teams home runs in a month was Sammy Sosa in August of 2001, when he hit 17 of 32.

Power usually comes later in the year, LaHair said. You never know with power. (It) comes and goes. We got guys on this team that have power and Im sure theyre going to hit for power.

I dont really read into that kind of stuff.

People should question whether LaHair will really keep this up, and the sample sizes are way too small at the major-league level.

Top prospect Anthony Rizzo is coming fast to play first base at Wrigley Field, though the Cubs have to be curious what it would be like to have both left-handed hitters in the same lineup.

There is also the possibility that the Pacific Coast League MVP who hit 38 homers last season and crushed the ball over the winter in Venezuela is starting to figure it out.

By 29, youve had a lot of at-bats and youve learned a lot of things about hitting, Sveum said. Thats about when most guys are coming into their own anyway.

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”