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."

James Franklin and staff celebrate Penn State wrestling win in singlets

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USA TODAY

James Franklin and staff celebrate Penn State wrestling win in singlets

Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy — the man with America's finest mullet — made headlines last week when he posted a video promoting an upcoming Oklahoma State wrestling match while wearing a singlet.

Hilarious, right?

Well, as you can tell from that video, the match was against Penn State. And Penn State won.

So, to celebrate the Nittany Lions' big wrestling win, James Franklin and his staff upped the ante, donning singlets for a meeting and tweeting out this "Last Supper" style picture of it Monday morning.

You've got to love seeing football coaches and teams supporting the sports that don't get as much attention.

I'll let you be the judge if this is, as Franklin tweeted, #NotAGoodLookOnUs.

Scottie Lindsey didn't light it up vs. Rutgers, but his return is huge for Northwestern

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AP

Scottie Lindsey didn't light it up vs. Rutgers, but his return is huge for Northwestern

Scottie Lindsey didn't light up the scoreboard in his return to action, and Northwestern still struggled offensively.

But getting their leading scorer back from a four-game absence was huge for the Wildcats.

It was to be expected that Lindsey wouldn't be back at 100 percent in his first game since Jan. 29. Lindsey chipped in just six points, his second lowest scoring output of the season, and played only 24 minutes, his lowest total of the year. Head coach Chris Collins told reporters after Saturday's nail-biter of a win over Rutgers that Lindsey hadn't done anything for three weeks.

"I was proud of Scottie. It's not easy. Really, he didn't work out, he didn't do any exercise for three weeks," Collins said. "A lot of you have your workout regimens that you do, and you know how you feel when you don't do anything for three weeks. You lose conditioning, you lose shape. And so for him on a couple days' notice to find a way to get out there and give us 24 minutes — I was actually mad at myself at halftime. I looked at the box score, and I felt like I played him too long in the first half. I think he played 13 minutes. He didn't really have much left in the second half."

No, the numbers were not pretty in Saturday's game. Northwestern is cruising toward its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, while Rutgers is spending another season at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Yet the visiting Scarlet Knights led for much of the second half, a period during which the Cats shot just 35 percent from the field and made only seven baskets. Seven of Northwestern's nine turnovers came in the second half, and it took some heroic 3-point shooting by Gavin Skelly and Bryant McIntosh in the final minutes to prevent a third straight home loss and what would have definitely been the team's worst loss of the season.

But even with all that, the Cats have to be thrilled to have Lindsey back on the floor.

In the six games prior to Lindsey's absence — a six-game winning streak with victories over Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska again and Indiana — the Cats averaged 74.5 points per game and shot a combined 44.5 percent from the field. But in the last five games, the four without Lindsey and Saturday's win over Rutgers, Northwestern has averaged 63.8 points per game and shot a collective 39.6 percent from the field.

Obviously the quality of opponent has a lot to do with that. Three of the four games during Lindsey's absence came against the Big Ten's three best teams. But Lindsey sitting down for those three games plus the unexpected loss to Illinois made a tough stretch a whole lot tougher.

Even after Saturday's rough game against Rutgers, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that the Cats can start putting up some points during the regular season's final two weeks.

There are only four games left on the regular-season schedule: at Illinois, at Indiana, home against Michigan and home against Purdue. Those first three opponents are among the Big Ten's worst, defensively, though Michigan has stepped things up of late. That right there ought to provide perfect opportunities for Northwestern to start scoring points again.

And there's the way McIntosh has played of late. He's finally found some consistency, which proved challenging earlier in the year. He was again great Saturday, scoring 18 points and hitting the biggest shot of the night, a go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play. In his last nine games, McIntosh has scored at least 17 points in seven of those and 20 or more in five of them.

Plus, Lindsey will obviously get better. He'll get healthier and more accustomed to being back on the court. And he'll get back to the guy, Northwestern hopes, who averaged better than 15 points a game before his four-game absence.

"He's only going to get better," Collins said. "His whole thing is every day he's got to keep working, he's got to get through that soreness, he's got to get through that fatigue and get his conditioning back.

"Hopefully we can get him back to being the Scottie that we've had most of the year."