MLB pitcher nearly throws 2nd career no-hitter


MLB pitcher nearly throws 2nd career no-hitter

From Comcast SportsNet
CHICAGO (AP) -- One thought kept crossing A.J. Burnett's mind as he made his dramatic push for a no-hitter. He wanted it -- badly. Instead, he will have to settle for a close call and maybe the best performance of his career. Burnett pitched a one-hitter, Neil Walker drove in five runs and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat Chicago 5-0 on Tuesday night, hours after the Cubs traded ace Ryan Dempster. Burnett started thinking about a no-hitter in the third or fourth inning. "I'm not going to lie," he said. "So, it's one of those things that you want to do, you want to take pride in, but at the same time a lot of luck's got to go into it. I had a lot of great plays behind me. ... Bottom line is it's a W' for us." Burnett just about stole the spotlight after the Cubs traded their best pitcher to Texas just before the non-waiver deadline. His bid for a second career no-hitter and the sixth in the majors this season ended with two outs in the eighth. He had already hit Darwin Barney in the helmet with one out before striking out Luis Valbuena, but his no-hit bid ended at the hands of a rookie when pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas lined a 3-2 pitch to right for a single after two close pitches were called balls. Burnett said he was angry about a 2-2 curve that just missed outside, and he appeared to be yelling at the umpire after the hit. But he struck out David DeJesus with runners on first and third to end the inning. That's probably not much consolation for the veteran, who pitched a wild no-hitter for the Marlins against San Diego on May 12, 2001. He walked nine in that game, two in this one while striking out eight. "I always think about it," he said. "I want to clean that one up. That was a wild one." That a Miami-area native, who was 13-years-old back then, broke it up was a bit of an ironic twist. Not since Sandy Koufax did it to them in September 1965 have the Cubs been no-hit, and the last no-hitter at Wrigley Field came when Milt Pappas pitched one for Chicago against San Diego in September 1972. Burnett sure made it interesting, though. His curve was as sharp as it's ever been, and he just missed the eighth no-hitter in franchise history. "I thought he had a shot," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was just so efficient, pinpoint command. He pitched the left-handers so extremely well tonight. Fastball gloveside, his curveball was sharp for strikes, for chase. Great tempo -- 25 out of 31 first-pitch strikes. The pitch count was in a great place. That's one of the best games I've seen pitched ever." Cubs manager Dale Sveum was impressed, too. "He probably threw 60, 65 curveballs," he said. "Even his fastball, he kept it out of the middle of the plate. We hit a few balls hard. A couple balls without the wind might have been home runs, but he pitched a heck of a game." He retired the first 11 batters before walking Anthony Rizzo, and as the game wore on, the sense that something special was happening filled the old ballpark. There was a loud gasp when Alfonso Soriano sent a drive to deep left-center in the seventh that Andrew McCutchen caught, and first baseman Garrett Jones then made a sliding stop on Bryan LaHair's grounder to end the inning. The Cubs got some relief when Cardenas finally broke through, but even that was tempered by the reality that they got shut down. Cardenas faced Burnett in late May and didn't do so well, going 0-for-3 with two errors in a 1-0 loss. "I remember him and seeing how he was working throughout that game," he said. "When I was able to get that hit, it was great but it was very short-lived because we lost 5-0. ... It's definitely sweet to break up the no-hitter here at our place. That's something you don't want to be a part of." While Burnett cruised along, Casey Coleman had a rough night after being recalled from the minors. Pitching in Dempster's place, he lasted just 4 2-3 innings, allowing four runs and seven hits. Walker quickly put the Cubs ahead in the first when he drove a 2-1 pitch to right for a grand slam -- the second of his career and second at Wrigley Field. He also had a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Burnett's performance overshadowed the big news before the game, with Dempster going to the Rangers for two prospects. The Pirates were a busy bunch, too. They acquired former All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez from Florida and sent third baseman Casey McGehee to the Yankees for reliever Chad Qualls. Notes: Along with Coleman, the Cubs also recalled Cardenas and C Welington Castillo from Triple-A Iowa before the game. ... GM Jed Hoyer said it might not be long before Josh Vitters is called up from Triple-A. He was batting .298 with 15 homers. ... In the Sanchez deal, Pittsburgh also got minor league pitcher Kyle Kaminska for minor league outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and the extra draft pick for 2013 that the Pirates won in the competitive balance lottery for financially weaker teams. ... The Pirates recalled RHP Daniel McCutchen from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Brad Lincoln's spot in the bullpen. Lincoln was dealt to Toronto for Travis Snider on Monday.

Taj Gibson starting for Bulls on Opening Night puts spotlight on shooting

Taj Gibson starting for Bulls on Opening Night puts spotlight on shooting

The Bulls’ starting five is set and healthy before Thursday’s season opener against the Boston Celtics, with Fred Hoiberg announcing that Taj Gibson will start at power forward after his strong preseason.

Or, if one chooses to be a little more realistic, Gibson won the competition in large part due to Nikola Mirotic’s underwhelming showing, as Mirotic came into camp as the favorite with his outside shooting making him a more natural fit offensively.

With Gibson’s insertion, the Bulls will be one of the worst 3-point shooting starting fives in the league, although Mirotic and Doug McDermott can balance things out when they’re on the floor.

“We feel like he has played excellent basketball throughout the preseason,” said Hoiberg of Gibson. “He’s been good in practices. We’ve talked to our guys about that. Niko has had a couple good practices in a row now. You try to get him in a good rhythm coming out of the gate. But that’s the way we’re going to start.”

Hoiberg has touted Mirotic’s practices as being stellar, but he struggled though most of the preseason. It seemed like Hoiberg was attempting to give Mirotic the benefit of the doubt before announcing what should’ve been obvious to those who’ve watched the Bulls in the preseason, that Gibson was the better performer.

“Taj is a fighter,” said Jimmy Butler, who wasn’t surprised with the outcome. “That’s one thing you know you’re going to get from him. He’s one of the toughest guys that we have, somebody that’s always working.”

One of Butler’s main concerns last season was that the Bulls lost their defensive identity, that their toughness left the building when Tom Thibodeau was fired and the offensive-minded Hoiberg was ushered in.

Presumably, Gibson’s nod can be taken as a return to the Bulls’ roots—although anyone in their right mind wouldn’t be wrong to think if Mirotic had been the least bit consistent, he would be a starter and Gibson would be a reserve.

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“I think everybody is trying, man,” Butler said. “I’m not going to say that we’ve got the best defenders, that’s for sure, but as long as you’re putting in the effort. Sometimes good defense is just getting in the damn way. I’m telling you.”

The Bulls finished as a middle of the pack team in terms of defensive efficiency last season, but experienced a steep decline after the All-Star break, leading to their first lottery appearance since 2008.

“As long as guys are out there competing, we’ll take it if someone hits a tough shot over you or whatever,” Butler said. “When we think about the offensive end entirely too much that’s when we get down a lot.”

With Dwyane Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo needing Mirotic to provide the necessary floor spacing to keep defenses honest, it means there’s more pressure on Hoiberg to stagger minutes and alter his rotations early in games.

Wade has shot the ball well in the preseason, but is a career 28-percent shooter from deep. Rondo shot 36.5 percent last season but like Wade, is at 28 percent for his career.

Butler is the best of the bunch, having shot 37.8 percent in 2014-15 but dipped to 31 percent last year, and is a 32.8 percent shooter for his career.

“We just have to step up, take them, shoot them with confidence like we do every day in practice,” Butler said. “I think we’ll be fine. As long as we’re guarding, the offense will take care of itself. We’re constantly in attack mode. There’s more than just shooting 3s.”

Which means a tough task just became all the more complicated. Hoiberg typically replaced Wade with McDermott midway through the first quarter and then brings Wade back to finish up in place of Butler.

More tinkering and some downright wizardry will have to be worked for things to go smoothly—but then again, it doesn’t have to be smooth to be effective.

“if we can things staggered it the right way---and we’ll continue to look at things---what you see on Thursday might not be what you see in the middle of the season,” Hoiberg said. “We have to start somewhere. We’re comfortable with the lineup and the rotation plan we have.”

Cubs not surprised 'good dude' Mike Napoli is on another winning team

Cubs not surprised 'good dude' Mike Napoli is on another winning team

CLEVELAND — As the Cubs readied themselves to play in the franchise’s first World Series game since 1971, a number of players were able to look over at the Cleveland Indians and seen an opposing team transformed by good-dude-in-chief Mike Napoli.

Those players, specifically, were catcher David Ross and starters Jon Lester and John Lackey, all of whom teamed up with Napoli to win the 2013 World Series with the Boston Red Sox. 

“I know their players are going to be ready just based on one player alone and that’s Mike Napoli, I know what he brings to the table,” Lester said during the Cubs’ pennant-clinching celebration. “He helped transform our 2013 team.”

Napoli’s impact on the 2016 Indians stretches beyond his career high totals in home runs (34), RBIs (102) and runs (92). While he was only worth 1.0 WAR despite those gaudy totals, Napoli’s unquantifiable presence on the field and in the clubhouse helped keep Cleveland from breaking apart despite injuries to outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. 

“Having a guy that’s playing every day can unify the group is really tremendous,” Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said. “I think it’s undervalued sometimes.”

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Napoli played a key part in the Red Sox’ worst-to-first turnaround in 2013, quickly becoming a leader in a clubhouse Lackey said was a “zoo.” It was one of the 34-year-old’s best seasons in the majors, too — he hit 23 home runs with an .842 OPS — and he became a guy his teammates knew they could trust to come through in key situations. 

“He’s a guy you want in your foxhole,” Lackey said. “He’s a winner. He steps up in big situations and wants to be in them. I’m not surprised to see him on another winning team for sure.”

Ross sees a lot of Napoli in the personality first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who’s emerged as one of the Cubs’ best leaders during their rapid ascendance to the top of the National League over the last two years. 

“When you do things with Rizzo off the field, you have a good time. Napoli’s one of those guys (too),” Ross said. “No matter what you’re doing, you’re going to enjoy yourself. He’s one of those guys you’re like, Yep, I gotta have Napoli go with me, I gotta have Rizz go with me, because we’re going to have fun.”

A few minutes after Ross, Lester and Lackey filed out of Progressive Field’s posh club lounge, Napoli walked in wearing a Party at Napoli’s T-shirt. Ross said he wanted to get his hands on one of those shirts in time for Monday’s World Series media day, but had to settle for wearing a Cubs hoodie. But the whole “Party at Napoli’s” thing encompasses why he’s been such a good fit in clubhouses in Cleveland, Boston, and everywhere else he’s been in the majors. 

“I’m just myself,” Napoli said. “I like to have a good time, I enjoy my teammates on and off the field.”

Said Lackey: “He’s a great teammate, a gamer and just a good dude.”