Chicago Cubs

Time for Beckman, Illinois to dig deep

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Time for Beckman, Illinois to dig deep

CHAMPAIGN With big losses to Louisiana Tech and Penn State coming in back-to-back weeks, Illinois football fans, players and coaches are certainly feeling an unwelcome feeling of dj vu. Coach Tim Beckman addressed the losses at his weekly press conference on Monday, expressing his concern for the team and Illini Nation as a whole.

These last two weeks have been real, real tough. No question about it, he said. Our intentions are to continue to get better.

To get better, Beckman and the Illini will draw upon their personal experience. For the coach, that means remembering the lessons he learned in his first year at Toledo, when the Rockets went through a three-game skid and had to regroup.

We made it through doing the same thing were doing now: communicate with the football players, talk about it, and find the reasons why were losing, Beckman said. We have great kids and they understand. They want to win as bad as anybody.

The players are going to have to draw upon what they learned during their six-game losing streak during the final half of the 2011 season. The Illini are going to have to use that negative experience in a positive way to avoid a similar situation in the 2012 season.

Safety Supo Sanni, who played last week for the first time since Illinois loss to Arizona State, said the team would learn from last season but not let the memory of the 2011 campaign get them down.

Last year is in the past, this is a totally different year. We have new players, a totally different scheme, new coaches so last year is not in my thought process, Sanni said. The thing to do is just go out every weekend to the best of our ability.

As a senior leader, Sanni said it was tough for him to sit out, but he used the time to help younger players like Earnest Thomas grow as a player. He said the two watched film together and spoke in practice to help Thomas improve as a player and to help both of them improve as a secondary unit.

The practice time combined with Sannis familiarity with Wisconsin allowed the senior safety to feel comfortable about his assignment for the upcoming weekend.

Weve been going through every day, attacking practice with game day mentality. That will help tremendously, Sanni said. We know what Wisconsin is going to do theyre going to line up and try to run the ball.

This isnt anything new to us, this week we just have to play physical, get healthy and do the things we need to do to get a win at Wisconsin.

Having quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fully healthy will help the Illinois offense make the plays they need to in order to get a win.

One of the keys to the game, according to Beckman, will be the running game. With his ankle back at full strength, Scheelhaase expects to be a major factor in the Illini ground attack. He also expects his added contribution to open up other areas for success.

I felt good about running when I did a couple days ago and I really felt like I was starting to get my legs back underneath me, Scheelhaase said. This will benefit the team in a great way, not just on designed quarterback run, but when things start to break down being able to get loose and get out of the pocket. Those are some things I was able to on Saturday, and when I can do that it puts more pressure on the defense and when you can put more pressure on the defense from the quarterback position that helps the offense in the best way.

Before the Penn State game the talk around the Illinois locker room was about 12-1-12, the date of the Big Ten Championship game. After the loss, players and coaches altered their talking points, insisting their focus is solely on the game in front of them at this point and improving for that game.

Were not thinking about any tough stretches in the season, or really anything down the road. All were thinking about is going to Madison and doing what we need to do during the week to prepared and get a win, Scheelhaase said.

The preparation of the Illini comes down to Beckman, however, and hes not taking the responsibility lightly. Especially after his teams disappointing Big Ten opener last Saturday.

This has to be a process, we have to continue to push ourselves, Beckman said. No one likes to lose; theres not a young man in the locker room a player, or trainer, or manager, or coach that likes to lose. Weve got to continue to strive to get ourselves better, to find what the problems are and fix them.

Illinois Notebook

-- Linebacker Mason Monheim earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his performance against Penn State in which he came up with a career-high 11 tackles and forcing a fumble. So far this season he has 28 tackles, which ranks third on the team, and two forced fumbles, which has him tied for best in the conference.
 
Im sure Mason would say hed rather get the honor with a W, Beckman said. I was proud of Monheim and freshman Mike Svetina, they played hard. And I was proud of the way they took the challenge of coming in and playing as true freshmen.

-- Sannis return last week was a boost to an ailing Illinois secondary and Beckman was very happy to announce that the senior would be able to start at Wisconsin this Saturday. Sanni was pleased as well, and said he felt great.
 
Im healthy, 100 percent. Ready to lead our secondary and be a vocal leader on the team so we can get back to where we need to be, he said. It felt great being back on the field, it felt normal. But the best part was being out there with my brothers, my family.

-- The Illinois secondary got another boost when Thomas was not dealt a suspension after being ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the endzone on Penn State tight end Matt Lehman.
 
Beckman confirmed that he spoke with the Big Ten office and Thomass hit was judged to be unintentional, meaning he will not face further punishment for the hit.

-- Beckman did deliver bad news for the defense on Monday, however. The coach confirmed that sophomore defensive lineman Jake Howe will miss the rest of the season with a broken arm. He did not specify whether the McHenry product would seek a medical redshirt or not.

Its been a snowball effect thats happened to us in these last two games. I think weve competed, the kids have fought, but weve got to not be giving up big plays and we have to be successful on offense.

The mental aspect is the hardest part to correct, theres no question.

While 2017 has been underwhelming for other hitters, Ian Happ has become a reliable rookie fixture for Cubs

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USA TODAY

While 2017 has been underwhelming for other hitters, Ian Happ has become a reliable rookie fixture for Cubs

Go ahead. Be honest.

Did you really see Ian Happ coming this fast?

Obviously you knew he’d be here one day, another one of Theo Epstein’s much-ballyhooed first-round draft picks, a position player destined to fit snugly into the Cubs’ long-term lineup.

But Happ was drafted mere months before the Cubs made their breakout run to the 2015 National League Championship Series. He spent his first full season as a professional while the big league team marched to that curse-smashing World Series championship.

Though like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras before him, Happ has landed in the big leagues and become a fixture in the North Side batting order. He’s an everyday player who might not be tearing the cover off the ball on a daily basis, but it’s now hard to imagine the lineup without him.

“I’ve felt really good since I’ve been here,” Happ said earlier this week, “the way guys are super accepting and the way they’ve embraced me in the clubhouse, I couldn’t ask for more. Being with the team for the entire spring training, getting to know the guys, it made it easy for the transitional period and making me feel like I belong right away.”

Happ showed his stuff Saturday, playing a starring role in the North Siders’ narrow 4-3 win over the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. Happ was on base three times, drove in a pair of runs and scored twice, too. He drove in the game’s first run in the first inning, launched a game-tying solo homer in the fourth and scored the go-ahead run on a Javy Baez base hit in the sixth.

Right in the middle of the action is where Happ’s been since he arrived in the bigs back in the middle of May.

It’s been a good thing, too. Because at this point in this odd season, this quest to repeat that has hardly gone according to plan, it’s possible that the Cubs aren’t in first place without Happ. A playoff spot is still nowhere close to a certainty with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals hot on the Cubs’ tail in the NL Central standings.

With the underachieving and in some cases injury-plagued seasons to date from the likes of Russell, Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, the reliability of Happ has made him, even if quietly, one of the key cogs on a team that is still in first place, even if they haven’t been able to pull away and lock down a third straight trip to the postseason.

And he’s doing all this with just 80 games of major league service time.

“I think the more experience you get, as you start to see different pitchers over and over again, you kind of start to see the way guys are going to pitch you, the way the game develops,” Happ said earlier this week. “The more experience you have with that, it kind of helps you to slow the game down.

“I think all the way up for me, once you move up a level, you have to adjust. Sometimes, it happens quick and sometimes it’s more of a process. I feel like I’ve had to make adjustments at every level and definitely this level, you’re making adjustments every day. The quicker you can make them, the better off you’ll be.”

As mentioned, Happ isn’t putting up some sort of jaw-dropping, send-him-to-Cooperstown kind of a rookie season. He's hitting .249 after Saturday’s two-hit day, and undoubtedly he’s had his struggles. In his last 21 games prior to Saturday, he hit .189 and punctuated that rocky stretch with a four-strikeout day Friday against this same Blue Jays team.

But his .819 OPS ranks fifth among NL rookies. It ranks fourth on the Cubs, lower only than Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Contreras. He’s also in the top five on the team in RBIs and slugging percentage. Saturday’s long ball was his 18th homer of his 80-game season. Extrapolate those numbers to the team’s 122 games on the season, and he’d have more than 25 dingers already.

Thrown into the major league fire, he’s doing all this while asked to be an everyday contributor for a team with World Series aspirations — or rather World Series expectations.

“It’s tough. It’s a new adjustment,” Rizzo said Saturday. “It’s a new everyday grind up here that’s different from the minor leagues. And he’s hit his bumps along the way, but he keeps adjusting, keeps virtually getting better every day. And it’s fun when you see his success pay off.”

“The game ebbs and flows all the time,” Happ said Saturday. “That’s why it’s a beautiful game and a terrible game at the same time. You’re going to have your good weeks, your bad weeks, good days, bad days. Being able to stay even and keep fighting through it is important.”

While the focus for the Cubs is on the present and winning the NL Central crown, this franchise’s championship window extends far beyond the end of the 2017 campaign. Happ will continue to be a big piece of that window staying open, and Maddon said that this rookie season will have positive effects far down the road.

“Developmentally, I think this year’s going to be a boon to him for next year, absolutely, getting this kind of experience,” Maddon said earlier this week. “Defensively, I think he’s really improved at second base. I think he’s very nice in the outfield. I think there’s actually more positions he can venture into, whether it’s first base, third base, other things that he can do that make him even more valuable.

“The moment he starts forcing pitchers into the zone, he’s got extreme power. He really does. He’s not tall, but he’s strong. The ball comes off his bat as hot as anybody out there. It’s just a matter of him understanding the major league game and what they’re trying to do and veteran pitchers trying to take advantage of young hitters, which they do often. You’ve just got to make sure you force this guy back over the plate.

“When he learns that, like these other guys, they’re going to be very good players.”

Surely the future is bright for Happ, as it is for many of the Cubs’ young players. But as it’s plain to see on a daily basis, there’s a lot of brightness right now, too. Happ might be a rookie, but he sure doesn’t act like it. And at times, with his play, he sure doesn’t look like it, either.

“I’ve felt comfortable here, I have for a long time, and I feel really great with this group of guys,” Happ said Saturday. “And winning baseball games is a lot of fun.”

If the Cubs are going to keep winning baseball games, expect Happ to play a major role.

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut will be pushed back as club makes rotation changes

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USA TODAY

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut will be pushed back as club makes rotation changes

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut will be pushed back a day.

Originally scheduled to start Monday, Giolito will make his team debut on Tuesday now, manager Rick Renteria said on Saturday. Giolito will take Reynaldo Lopez's place in the rotation as he recovers from a strained back.

The White Sox also made some other pitching rotation changes.

Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer will be the two starters for Monday's doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. Renteria said that Fulmer — who will be making his season debut — will serve as the 26th man and then head back to Triple-A Charlotte.

In 24 starts this season with the Knights, the 23-year-old prospect is 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA and 95 strikeouts.