Cubs' Baker sets his sights on showcasing his recovery

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Cubs' Baker sets his sights on showcasing his recovery

While the rest of the city is anxiously awaiting Derrick Rose's return to the hardwood, one new Chicagoan is just focusing on his own comeback.

The Cubs signed Scott Baker this winter to help build up the stable of starting pitching options, but the 31-year-old is just nine months removed from Tommy John surgery.

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With spring camp just around the corner, Baker has advanced in his rehab and started mound progression a few weeks ago. He has his sights set on being ready for the start of spring training, but is more focused on Opening Day.

"Hopefully I'll be able to jump in and go as all the other guys are going," Baker said at the 2013 Cubs Convention last weekend. "I don't know if the team will allow me to do that, but that's what I'm planning on doing.

"You can only go as fast as the protocol will let you. I have it mapped out to where I would be ready for spring training and the season. But obviously the start of the season is more important than spring training.

"As long as I feel good and I feel like I'm able to progress and don't have any setbacks, the plan is for me to be ready for the start of the season."

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Baker missed all of the 2012 season after surgery in April, which was a major change of pace for a guy used to taking the ball every fifth day.

Just as Rose is admitting his injury has helped him become a more cerebral player and build strength in areas he had ignored before, Baker sees the silver lining in his year off.

"I tried to utilize the time and not just go through the motions," he said. "You don't try to reinvent yourself, but you definitely try to get back to the basics and get back to the things that you know helped you be successful at the beginning.

"In saying that, you really focus on the mechanics and try to do things that are very easy to get away from over a career. You don't feel like you waste time doing that.

"Obviously, you have to put in the reps, do the strength training program, the throwing program and all that. You are more of a complete pitcher when you're finally through the rehab process."

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Tommy John surgery has become so commonplace in baseball today that it is no longer the death sentence it was once considered to a player's career. Players are rebounding faster (the typical recovery time sits around nine months) and coming back stronger than ever.

"I tell you what, it's kind of exciting to -- I don't want to say have a new arm, but -- have a tune-up and have the knowledge that I have knowing how to pitch," Baker said. "I know things are taken care of. I just have to concentrate on pitching. It just really makes you feel good and makes you feel ready for the season.

"We'll have to see. This is all good in theory, but when you get out there, it's a whole different ballgame. I'm doing the best I can with what I have. As long as I don't have any setbacks, I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Baker was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the second round of the 2003 draft and has never known another organization. All 159 starts and seven seasons (eight if you include last year) of his big-league career have come in Minnesota.

But after signing a one-year deal worth 5.5 million -- plus another 1.5 million in incentives -- in Chicago, he's happy to be getting a chance with the big-market Cubs.

"I don't think there's any secret that the Chicago Cubs organization is really trying to do something special here with bringing in the great front office," Baker said. "There's a vision and everybody's buying into it, which is awesome. The Cubs organization is historical. There's only three or four organizations that have the same historical pedigree the Cubs do. It's just really cool. It's going to be a lot of fun.

"Everybody grew up watching the Cubs on WGN. That was the great thing about it -- being able to catch a ballgame after school. I'm excited that people back home are going to see the same thing. It's a great city for families. My wife likes it here, so it's a win-win situation."

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The Shreveport, La., native said he would be open to sticking around Chicago if he fit in the franchise's long-term plans. As for this year, Baker is just glad to have an opportunity to showcase his recovery.

The Cubs' dearth of starting pitching was exposed last season after Matt Garza went down with an injury and Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were traded. Cubs brass set out to rectify that during this offseason, adding Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva in addition to Baker.

Garza is on the fast track back from a stress reaction in his elbow and Jeff Samardzija will no longer be on an innings limit. And then there's Travis Wood, who put up a solid 4.27 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 26 starts for the Cubs last season.

There simply won't be enough starts to go around and if all seven guys start the season healthy, somebody will have to be relegated to the bullpen.

Baker -- who owns a career 63-48 record with a 4.15 ERA and 1.26 WHIP -- isn't focusing on that, however. He's just trying to keep a handle on what he can control.

"The starting pitching depth is nice for the team and the organization. But as for me, I'm going to try to get ready as fast as my body and my arm will allow," Baker said. "That's just me being me.

"I'm going to go out there and do the best I can, regardless of the situation, regardless of how many guys are slated for the rotation. For me, all I can focus on is to get ready and to progress."

White Sox top Tigers with two walk-offs on Sunday

White Sox top Tigers with two walk-offs on Sunday

The White Sox are somehow still afloat. But just barely.

Melky Cabrera’s game-winning single in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon got David Robertson off the hook and helped the White Sox to a 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers in front of 30,281 at U.S. Cellular Field. Cabrera’s single past Nick Castellanos to score Adam Eaton, who reached base four times. The hit arrived just minutes after Robertson surrendered three solo home runs and blew a victory for Jose Quintana, who may have made his final start in a White Sox uniform.

The White Sox, who entered Sunday with losses in eight of their last nine games, started the day by completing Saturday’s rain-suspended contest with a 4-3 victory over Detroit on Eaton’s two-out RBI single in the ninth inning. The victories kept the White Sox from entirely slipping out of the wild-card race as they remain 6 1/ 2 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays.

It has been widely speculated the White Sox could move Quintana before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline in an attempt to rebuild a roster that general manager Rick Hahn said has been “mired in mediocrity.” An All-Star and one of the top pitchers in the American League, Quintana and his team-friendly contract could fetch a handsome return were the White Sox to part with him in a deal.

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Sunday’s 118-pitch effort displayed exactly why Quintana is an attractive option for a contender as he shut down a Detroit lineup that has given him trouble over the years. Quintana kept the Tigers off balance throughout the effort, never allowing more than one runner to reach base in any inning. Quintana faced two over the minimum through five innings and struck out Miguel Cabrera to end the sixth after he surrendered a two-out double to Jose Iglesias.

Though he started the inning at 107 pitches, Quintana returned in the seventh and recorded two more outs before he allowed a bloop-base hit to Justin Upton. Nate Jones struck out Mike Aviles to end the inning.

Quintana allowed three hits, walked one and struck out four. He also lowered his earned-run average to 2.97.

It’s no secret the White Sox have struggled to score runs for Quintana since he arrived in the majors in 2012. Even though he owns a career ERA of 3.39, Quintana’s career record remained at 41-42 after David Robertson blew his fourth save in 27 tries. Robertson, who earned the win in the first game of the day, allowed three ninth-inning solo homers.

The sub-.500 record is in large part because the White Sox never seem to score with Quintana on the hill. This season, Quintana ranked 126th out of 136 qualified starters with a 3.2 runs per start headed into Sunday.

But the White Sox followed Eaton’s lead. Less than 45 minutes after he won the opener, Eaton singled in the bottom of the first and scored on a two-out RBI single by Jose Abreu. An inning later, Eaton took advantage of singles by Dioner Navarro and J.B. Shuck went he lined a three-run homer with two outs off Anibal Sanchez to give the White Sox a four-run lead.

The four runs scored for Quintana marks the team’s second-highest output for one of his starts this season.

The White Sox didn’t take long on Sunday to wrap up a lengthy Saturday contest that included three rain delays. Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth inning in Saturday’s game, too. Avisail Garcia made it count with a single and a stolen base and Eaton singled him in off Justin Wilson for the game-winner.

Ken Griffey Jr. finished his Hall of Fame speech in most fitting way thanks to Frank Thomas

Ken Griffey Jr. finished his Hall of Fame speech in most fitting way thanks to Frank Thomas

Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon, and he went out in the most fitting way possible.

At the end of his speech, Griffey Jr. grabbed a hat from under the podium and put it on backwards, rocking his signature look.

Griffey Jr. said in his speech that it was White Sox legend Frank Thomas who pitched the idea and ultimately convinced him.

"You gotta do it," said Thomas, who joined Cooperstown in 2014.

In his 22-year career, Griffey Jr. played half a season with the White Sox in 2008. He had three homers and 18 RBIs in 41 games with the team.

Cubs: Joe Maddon trolls White Sox and explains why trade rumors would bother Chris Sale

Cubs: Joe Maddon trolls White Sox and explains why trade rumors would bother Chris Sale

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs won’t walk onto U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night wearing black “Try Not To Cut” T-shirts with a scissors image replacing the manager’s iconic glasses. But Joe Maddon still couldn’t resist trolling the White Sox after Chris Sale’s temper tantrum.

With an AWOL pitcher, a manager on the hot seat and a front office under siege, the Cubs will see what they used to be in a rivalry that sometimes brought out the worst in them.

This is Carlos Zambrano-level bizarre on the South Side, the White Sox suspending Sale for five days after their franchise player cut up 1976 throwback jerseys, creating a feeding frenzy in the middle of trade-deadline-rumor season. That speculation apparently bothered Sale, who got sent home before Saturday’s scheduled start against the Detroit Tigers, leaving the bullpen to cover for his unprofessionalism.

“It’s not easy,” Maddon said before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “Obviously, it’s only going to occur if your team’s struggling a bit.

“If you’re doing well, that doesn’t happen. So you have the struggle of the group, and then a really good player being mentioned as a trade piece. From the manager’s perspective, it’s not as difficult as the player himself and then the inter-politics of the clubhouse. That’s where it becomes more difficult.

“You don’t even know what those conversations sound like and how that cuts at the fabric of what you’re attempting to do. No pun intended.”

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Maddon’s presence as the team’s smirking ringmaster helps a rivalry that missed larger-than-life personalities like Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen. The Cubs won’t see Sale until Thursday night at Wrigley Field in this season’s fourth and final crosstown game between two franchises heading in opposite directions.

Maddon remembered the end of an era with the Tampa Bay Rays, when superstar pitcher David Price got traded to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal at the 2014 deadline. Within the next three months, Rays executive Andrew Friedman jumped for a president’s job with the Los Angeles Dodgers, triggering an escape clause in Maddon’s contract and giving Cubs fans a new costume for that Halloween.

“It was hard for David,” Maddon said. “It really was difficult, especially if it’s your first organization. I think if you bounced a little bit, it’s not so difficult. But if it’s your first time being included in trade conversations, it’s hard for the guy.

“Regardless of knowing that you could end up in a good spot, or you’re going to be wanted, (because) there’s really actually a lot of positives attached to it. It’s still the negative – you might really like where you’re at, it’s your first organization, you have a lot of friendships.

“Awkward. It’s an awkward feeling. You adjust. Everybody does. But there’s still all this unknown stuff that is unsettling.”

Like what the media circus and the fan atmospherics will be like during those two first two games at U.S. Cellular Field. Or if Buyers vs. Sellers plays out this week and the Cubs and White Sox start making big deals. So much for the White Sox bonding after Adam LaRoche’s retirement in the middle of spring training and using that money to reinvest at the trade deadline. Or Sale smoothing everything over after torching executive vice president Kenny Williams for the way he handled Drake LaRoche’s clubhouse access.

“I’m sure it will be entertaining,” Maddon said. “The South Siders have a wonderful sense of humor that we can definitely all appreciate.”