With nothing to lose, Cubs giving Scott Baker his shot

With nothing to lose, Cubs giving Scott Baker his shot
September 6, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Tony Andracki

Scott Baker made his pitch and got what he wanted. Now he has to execute on the mound.

The Cubs announced Friday the veteran right-hander will start Sunday, his first big-league outing since Sept. 24, 2011.

Baker inked a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Cubs last winter as he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2012 season and after a few setbacks, had his 2013 season delayed.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum indicated last month Baker would re-join the rotation when he returned, then said last Sunday the Cubs only see Baker as a reliever, possibly a long man out of the bullpen.

But Baker wanted a chance to show his stuff as a starter and made his case to Sveum and the Cubs front office.

"They definitely valued my opinion on it. I said, 'I feel like I need to pitch. I want to pitch,'" Baker said. "I definitely appreciate the opportunity to get back out there and it's going to be fun, for sure.

"We had conversations of what to do next. I thought it was important for me to pitch and continue to pitch through September. I told them there's no way I don't want to pitch in a major-league game after going through this rehab process for basically two seasons."

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Baker had Tommy John surgery in April 2012 and his goal before the season started was to be pitching again by Opening Day. It didn't work out that way, but the Cubs rewarded the seven-year MLB veteran for his hard work and professionalism.

"He's done everything we've asked," Sveum said. "He's worked his butt off. There hasn't been any setbacks. I think he deserves a chance to start.

"He'll be the first one to say his stuff doesn't have the life, but when you [pitch in the Majors as opposed to minor-league stadiums], you find out when you dip into the adrenaline and all that. He deserves the right to be able to have a chance to do that.

Baker made eight rehab starts between High-A Daytona and Low-A Kane County, tossing 29.2 innings. His numbers in those outings (5.46 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 10.6 hits per nine innings) leave something to be desired, but he built a big-league pedigree after the Minnesota Twins selected him in the second round of the 2003 Draft.

Baker turns 32 Sept. 19 and hopes he can return to his pre-surgery form, when he made 159 MLB starts from 2005-11 with a 63-48 record, 4.15 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

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"Physically, I feel great," he said. "I think surgery was a long time coming for me. I had dealt with some elbow issues for a couple yeras. It was really a battle to get loose, to stay loose and every start was a process to even get out there.

"Surgery was inevitable. But, I feel like I'm still the same guy. I'm not pre-surgery. I think everybody knows that. But I do think that I will get there at some point. Whether it's this September or next season.

"Nothing's ever come easy for me. I've always had to figure things out or work hard for it."

With only three weeks left in the 2013 season, neither Baker nor the Cubs are thinking beyond this weekend.

Sveum said he hasn't considered a six-man rotation yet, and will cross that bridge when it comes after evaluting Baker's start Sunday.

"It's good for all parties," Sveum said. "He's had to be down in Arizona almost the whole year. He's done everything we've asked and he's been the ultimate professional and worked hard and done everything he could to come back and be healthy.

"It's good for him going into the winter and it's good for us to see him and evaluate what's going to go on after this."

Earlier this season, there was talk the two sides could work out a deal to bring Baker back to Chicago in 2014, but that is up in the air now. Next year's rotation already has three spots set with Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and $52 million man Edwin Jackson. Jake Arrieta, 27, and Chris Rusin, 26, are auditioning for the final two spots.

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Baker's stock will be low heading into the offseason, but he still fits the under-the-radar mold Theo Epstein's front office has focused on since arriving in Chicago. They've made it work with low-profile veterans like Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman, flipping them for young arms before the trade deadline each of the past two seasons.

"It's been a long season for me and things haven't worked out the way I wanted them to, but I think you just try to end on a positive note," Baker said.

"Obviously, it's been a while since I started a major-league game. There's definitely a lot to be excited about.

"Regardless of the results, you just go out and do the best you can and enjoy it. You never know when things are going to be taken away from you, so you have to appreciate each and every start."