“We were running a bunt play and I saw him (talking in it),” pitcher Jon Lester said Saturday.
Maddon says he’s done it for years because it’s simply easier to remember thoughts that sometimes “you forget 20 minutes later.”
“It’s nice, at the end of the day you go and play it back,” Maddon said. “When I’m really on top of my game I’ll have it in my car. If I have that with me I’ll have a much better chance (of remembering).”
Or at least he’s serious about winning baseball games. He may or may not be a ball-of-laughs away from the park, but Lester is one of those guys who views playing baseball as his job -- and so far he sees that in the Cubs.
“It’s nice to see young guys that understand this is a game but at the same time it's work,” Lester said Saturday morning. “We’ve got to work. That goes to the No. 1 guy down to the however number of guys we have in camp.”
This is no cliché. His serious nature was apparent during his first live batting practice session facing his teammates Friday.
“You can’t go into a batting practice and just get through it,” Lester said. “I’m trying to get those guys out regardless if it’s BP or those guys are my teammates or it’s a game.
“I’m trying to execute my pitches. I’m not going to just lob balls in and let them hit. It’s called pitchers BP for a reason. They get to hit the easy pitches later (off coaches) and see how far they can hit it. I’m trying to get guys out and get better.”
Are you starting to get the picture? Lester isn’t messing around. He even downplays the connection to his friend and catcher, David Ross. It’s an easy story to report. Lester and his personal catcher both sign with the Cubs to keep their success together going. The Cubs haven’t decided if Ross will be Lester’s personal catcher yet, but Lester says it's "overblown" anyway.
Maddon watched Ross catch a batting practice session earlier in the day and saw why the two work so well together. Their communication was in mid-season form.
Some might think this was a fait accompli, as Ross has caught Lester the last couple of years with plenty of success. With him behind the plate in 29 Lester starts, the pitcher’s ERA is 2.77. That’s best among any catcher who has caught him at least 12 times. But Ross’ bat isn’t what it used to be -- he hit .184 overall last year and just .158 against righties -- so the Cubs could really be sacrificing offense by sitting the lefty Miguel Montero when they’re facing a right-handed pitcher.
“Sometimes the comfort between the pitcher and catcher, and the defensive component, can outweigh the offensive side of it too,” Maddon said. “I haven’t wrapped my mind totally around it.”
As every Cubs fan knows, the team is more than likely to face one of the toughest righties in the league on Opening Night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Here’s the question: Do you want Ross behind the plate for Lester or Montero in the batter’s box facing Adam Wainwright? Maddon has a tough decision to make.
MLBPA meeting: The Cubs were visited by the Major League Baseball Players Association on Friday morning, as they are annually at this time of year. Ross says the 90-minute meeting touched on a lot of items.
“It was very informative,” he said later in the day. “A lot going on. Bargaining is up at the end of 2016, so that part is coming. You start preparing yourself and get informed.
“We touched on everything. Pace of game, meal money, salary, we covered it all. Old or new, we touched on it all. That’s why it’s an hour-and-a half.”
On the mend: Pitcher CJ Edwards has a fingernail issue.
“We might need to send him to a manicurist,” Maddon said. “They need to trim his nails up.”
It’s not a serious ailment, but it required a wrap on his finger. Lefty Zac Rosscup was hit in the wrist by a line drive off the bat of Jorge Soler but continued his batting practice session.
Javy on Manny: Cubs infielder Javier Baez is excited to have hitting consultant Manny Ramirez back with the team. He and Ramirez got friendly last year while the two were at Triple-A Iowa.
“I grabbed Manny’s stuff and put everything in my locker and told him he was going to be here with me,” Baez joked. “The next day he moved all his stuff out.”
Rain coming: The forecast for rain over the next four days in the Phoenix area could throw routines off for many Cactus League teams, including the Cubs. They’re better prepared to handle it as their spring facility has covered batting and pitching areas, but fundamental work is where the Cubs might get behind schedule, according to Maddon. Plus, it negatively affects the manager’s daily bike ride.
But that was pre-Jon Lester.
The cameras clicked from onlookers that included fans and media alike. Anthony Rizzo stepped into the box, and Jon Lester began his Cubs career in front of dozens instead of the thousands he’ll see on Opening Day.
Afterward, manager Joe Maddon summed it up: “I thought he looked really good.”
Ross knows Lester better than anyone. He says his fastball was crisp, but Lester is always wanting more.
“He wants it too bad sometimes,” Ross said. “It’s a good quality. He’s hard on himself more than he should be. It’s his first batting practice, and he wants it to be locked in.”
Lester threw approximately 45 pitches to a group of hitters that included Rizzo, Javier Baez, Chris Denorfia and Jorge Soler. Rizzo had the best contact off him, to the base of the wall in left-center field.
“He’s a horse up there,” Rizzo said. “The biggest thing is he felt good. Talking to him afterwards, that’s good to hear.”
According to Maddon, Lester threw a few off-speed pitches, including some cutters, but mainly stuck with his fastball. Baez pulled a grounder through the hole at shortstop and saw some of Lester’s good stuff.
“I told him right after live batting practice, I prefer to play defense for you,” Baez joked. “He was acting like if it was a good pitch or a bad pitch (as it was released). He knows what he’s doing.”
There’s no doubting that. And after the session was over, Lester talked things over with his catcher, Rizzo, Maddon and the other hitters. Ross said these are the moments they’ll recall later in the season when they need to reference back to something they worked on in spring training. The communication is essential.
“You can see how David (Ross) brings out the best in Jon,” Maddon said. “They’re on the same frequency.”
Maddon wouldn’t commit to Lester starting the Cubs' Cactus League opener next Thursday, but there’s a good chance it happens. They actually have a split-squad game that day, one home, one on the road. The Cubs shouldn’t miss the chance to debut their new ace in front of a sold-out crowd, so bet on Lester throwing in Mesa -- against his old team the Oakland Athletics -- and not in Scottsdale against the World champ San Francisco Giants. That’s if he’s ready.
“We want to be perfectionists in our game,” Ross said. “Jon is no different. He wants it all to be right. And he wants feedback, and I know him.”
As for the bright lights and all those cameras clicking everywhere he goes, been there, done that.
“It’s probably nothing compared to Boston,” Rizzo stated. “It’s just good to have him here and get those butterflies out of the way.”
MIAMI -- Outfielder Juan Pierre announced his retirement Friday after a 14-year career in the majors that included a World Series championship with the 2003 Florida Marlins.
Pierre, 37, ranks 18th in career stolen bases with 614. He was a .295 hitter who finished with 2,217 hits.
Pierre broke into the majors in 2000 with the Rockies and also played for the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers and Phillies. He batted .247 in 113 games with the Marlins in his final season in 2013.
The Alabama native played in every game from 2003 to '07. He batted over .300 six times, scored at least 100 runs three times and stole over 60 bases three times.
"We always pay attention during the course of the year as guys come up, go down, different considerations that may be a part of those decisions -- we're always paying attention to those things," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told mlb.com and other reporters Friday.
By keeping Bryant in the minor leagues for about two weeks this season, the Cubs will gain an extra year of service time from him before he becomes a free agent. That would happen in 2021. If he breaks camp with the team, he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. But teams aren’t allowed to blatantly hold back players for monetary reasons. It’s why the Cubs avoid the service time issue every time it comes up with Bryant. Instead, they give a general answer about him needing to work on his defense or become a complete player.
"How it relates to when someone might come up and when not, those are all things that we pay very close attention to," Clark said. "As the year goes along, we'll see."
It’s also why it’s a little harder to forecast when Bryant might make his debut. If the Cubs bring him up on the exact day they get that extra year out of him it could look fishy. It’s the same exact scenario that the Houston Astros faced with outfielder George Springer last season. Springer started the year at Triple-A, making his debut April 16. It was about a week later than he could have with the Astros still saving a year on his service time. In other words, teams have to make it look good. And an agent can pursue a “service time grievance” if things don’t look right.
So while everyone knows why Bryant most likely won’t start the year in the big leagues, the Cubs can’t officially address it. And if he happens to play defense like Mike Schmidt this spring, the Cubs are really going to have to stretch for a public reason to send him back to Triple-A Iowa.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Adam Wainwright won't pitch in exhibition games until mid-March because of his abdominal strain, a delay that could prevent the St. Louis Cardinals ace from starting the major league season opener at the Chicago Cubs on April 5.
Wainwright was hurt Monday while putting a 45-pound weight back on a rack. He returned to St. Louis for an examination by Dr. Michael Brunt, who said the injury was minor.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is open to the idea of pushing back Wainwright's season debut a couple of days if the right-hander doesn't respond to prescribed rest as quickly as doctors expect.
"That's always an option," Matheny said Friday. "We just have to see where we are and what it looks like, too."
Wainwright will avoid running and weightlifting for at least the next couple of days, but can resume throwing because his delivery and follow-through don't cause any discomfort. He even emerged from the clubhouse during one of Friday's downpours and threw on flat ground.
"It's the news that we thought we were going to hear but it was relieving to hear it -- to know that there isn't something else in there going on that should cause some concern," Wainwright said.
The Cardinals' training staff will evaluate Wainwright's progress early next week.
"Everything that I've heard is that in four or five days I should feel dramatically better and they can start kind of bringing me along slow to get back into a normal daily routine," Wainwright said.
Wainwright and the Cardinals say he needs at least three and preferably four spring training starts to be ready for the season.
Hendricks was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 when he went a combined 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA split between Double and Triple-A. Last season he went 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA -- best among rookie eligible pitchers -- in 12 big league starts after being promoted, giving him a leg up for a rotation spot this season.
Earlier this week at spring training, Hendricks sat down to reflect on his time with the Cubs and to look ahead:
Jesse Rogers: After making your debut and having some success at the major league level, what was the offseason like reflecting back on it all?
Kyle Hendricks: It was definitely different, I'll say that. I think it comes more with being older, not necessarily making it. Every year you learn more about yourself and your body and what you need to do to be ready. Coming into last spring training I knew 100 percent I needed to win a spot, so I came in 100 percent full-bore ready to go. This spring I'm still trying to win a spot, but I know I don't have to be 100 percent ready to go coming into it. I'm still performing, trying to win a spot, but without being 100 percent. I think that will help me later in the season. I'll be healthier and stronger later through it.
JR: I understand what you mean. You still have to win that spot again, but you don't have to impress the powers that be every single moment now. You can hold back so you're stronger months from now.
KH: No doubt. At least that's how you feel, but most of the time I'm not thinking about the powers that be because that's something out of your control. Focusing on what you can do is still the best way to go about it.
JR: So I have to give Rick Sutcliffe credit. He was really high on you last spring, and I know he helped you over the last 12 months or so. How so?
KH: Tremendously, to be honest. He hung out with me last year, followed our group around and talked to me a lot, just little things about the game. He watched some of my bullpens and gave me little tips here and there. Or pickoff drills. Everything, really. He knows what he's talking about, and I'm just lucky that he took a liking to our group, in particular, and hung around us. This year he watched a couple of my bullpens already. The first one he was standing there the whole time telling me "don't even worry about what the ball is doing." You know as a pitcher you're always worrying about that, but he's right, in the first 'pen of spring training it's all about how you feel, mechanically, on top of the mound. Don't worry about what your pitches are doing.
JR: I know we talked about this last spring, but I'm going to give you a chance to say "I told you so" or whatever. Those prospect rankings that you never cracked must have put a chip on your shoulder. Nothing against [former Cub] Arodys Vizcaino, but he hadn't pitched in two years and was in the Cubs' top 10 while you were the organization's minor league pitcher of the year and were nowhere to be found. C'mon, that had to stick with you.
KH: Nah, not really. The word "prospect" for a pitcher is put on guys who have "stuff" -- who throw hard and have good stuff. I don't necessarily have the fastball or the nasty stuff. For me, not being a "prospect," I kind of agreed. I get it. It's fine. I didn't worry about it. It didn't affect anything I really did. I had confidence in myself from the beginning, so I knew coming in here if I did my thing and stayed true to myself and just got guys out I would get a chance. I mean that's it. If you get guys out long enough you're going to get a chance.
JR: Usually we don't talk about money, but as an eighth-round pick in 2011 it's not like you got the signing bonuses that the top guys get. What was it like last year on that Friday or second Friday after you were called up to get a big league check? Because I know no one is getting rich in the minors.
KH: It was big [laughing]. When you're in the minor leagues you don't make anything. You can barely pay rent. That's what those signing bonuses are for. But the money side of it you can't think about, either, because if you love the game you just go out there and want to be on the mound. Having said that, sure, it's a nice perk.
JR: Did you do anything special with the check or the money? Frame it? Buy a car?
KH: No, I actually didn't do anything with it.
JR: That's typical Hendricks there.
KH: Yeah, it is typical [laughing]. I just got it and went back to worrying about pitching.
JR: OK, let's talk about video technology and how you use it. The Cubs think you can be even better utilizing it at the major league level where it's more sophisticated.
KH: When I'm in the video room I'm not watching myself, I'm watching the batter. I don't watch my mechanics. If I'm going bad and hit a rough spot I might take a look. "Am I throwing that bad? Does it look off?" Other than that, I don't watch myself because I'm so much of a feel guy that I might see something that throws me off, and I don't need to see that. So I watch the hitter. In the offseason there is an app that they give us on our iPad and you can go on there and see all the hitters, all the at-bats that they've ever had, so just sitting around I just watch guys that I know I'm going to face just to kind of refresh my memory. Just staying sharp so you can recall it on the mound.
JR: Your best pitch is the changeup. I feel like that's a pitch you're just always going to rely on, where you're not worried about hitters seeing it too much or whatnot. "Here it is, try to hit it." Is that about right? Or are you trying to find another go-to pitch?
KH: For me, taking the next step doesn't mean adding another pitch. It's always just the constant grind of trying to make my pitches perfect. The four that I have, including the changeup, I know I can get guys out with them. But I'm always trying to get the feel and know the movement of them. And being able to spot all four and know where they're going. It will probably never happen to perfection, but that's what you're always striving for.
JR: After your half-year, is your confidence where you know you can be doing this in the rotation for the next decade?
KH: Definitely. I think so. I always thought that coming up. It's not something that it just hit me because I got called up. I saw guys on television that relied on changeups or sinkers and hit spots and got guys out. [Greg] Maddux, obviously. That's all he did.
JR: What about the competition? Those rotation spots are valuable. Only five for every team. What's that like with your friends?
KH: There are no hard feelings, ever, between all of us. Because we are all teammates. But like you said, there are a limited number of spots. We have so many guys that could fill those positions, so at the end of the day everybody is just concerned with what they have to do to get better. Including me. Whoever makes the team at the end is up to someone else.
JR: Have you had any conversations with Jon Lester? I noticed a few guys have yet to approach him. He does have a presence to him.
KH: Yeah, he does. I have noticed he's a quiet guy that goes about his work. I'm kind of the same way, so we haven't really talked too much at this point. Spring is very individualized -- so many guys trying to do their own things.
JR: What about the thought of playing for a potential winning team in Chicago?
KH: Yeah, the big league team, whether I'm on it or not, is going to be good. We're going to win a lot. It started way before this offseason. It started with the guys coming up through the system. And what they've implemented through the system. They've implemented winning ways now, whereas when I first got traded over here you could still tell they just didn't care so much about winning. You could just feel it, almost. And now the mindset is 100 percent flipped. Everyone at every level is expected to win.
JR: Was there a moment in the offseason when you thought "OK, man, we're serious now?"
KH: Definitely Jon Lester. Joe Maddon, yeah, was huge, but the players are who win it. When you sign a guy like that, who has won World Series, you're like, "wow, they're ready."
"That's the first time getting to see him up close," 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber said afterward. "That's impressive. The swing is there. It's short and quick."
Schwarber was in the same hitting group as Bryant and watched him first hit a home run to left field and then connect on a bomb out to left-center. It was by far the longest hit from anyone in that group.
"Now I know why the kid hit 40 [in the minors] and hit for such a high average," Schwarber said. "I don't think he appreciates people hyping him up that much, but the kid is a great player and he's going to do great things."
Alcantara all over: Infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara wasn't concerned when the Cubs traded for center fielder Dexter Fowler -- though it changes his role into a super utility guy.
"Mentally you have to be ready for that," Alcantara said. "They want me to play second base and the outfield."
He'll see some time at third base as well, but right now he could be in competition with Javier Baez at second. The two have been switching off playing there during drills.
"I just try to do my job," Alcantara said. "I don't worry about other guys."
Either way, he's very valuable, according to his manager.
"When you get a guy like that and you want to give someone a rest, you don't feel like you're losing anything," Joe Maddon said. "And the big attraction there is also in-game. It's like having an extra guy on the bench.
"It really thickens the pool. It permits you to do more things late in the game."
Maddon even went as far as to say players like Alcantara -- or Ben Zobrist, formerly of Tampa Bay -- should be considered for the All-Star team, as they're the type of players who can help you "win a game."
More important than anything are the adjustments Alcantara made at the plate over the winter. He struck out 93 times in 70 games after making his debut in August. So what did he learn?
"Veteran guys use all their pitches," he said. "They can throw you a changeup, breaking ball, fastball on any count. You have to learn and make adjustments."
Lester to first: It's well-known that pitcher Jon Lester's strength isn't throwing to first base -- that's on bunts or holding a runner on first. In fact, he didn't throw over to first base even once last season, but runners stole only 16 bases off him.
"We knew that with the Rays that he would not throw over there," Maddon said. "When a guy is quick enough to the plate you don't have to throw over there. I'm still working on that or trying to understand that. I don't think it's a mental issue. I think he just likes to focus on the plate. I don't know enough yet but we're going to definitely work on that."
The Cubs, including Lester, worked on bunt plays during drills on Thursday.
“I watch two episodes every night,” Maddon said on Thursday. “I’ve been here, what, 10 days? I’ve probably watched at least 20 episodes of The Office.”
Maddon says he prefers watching “a comedy to go to sleep” but prefers episodes of "The Office" prior to star Steve Carrell leaving.
“I’m at the point now where Pam and Jim just got married and they had the baby,” Maddon said. “They’ve been switched over to Sabre. All that stuff is so good. It’s outstanding. I’d rather go to sleep at night watching something funny than something serious.”
Maddon even pronounced Sabre (sah-bray) correctly. He’s also a fan of the show "Curb Your Enthusiasm," starring Larry David.
The whole conversation started when Maddon couldn’t remember his team’s upcoming scrimmage schedule.
“I feel like Michael Scott,” he joked.
Josh Hamilton. I caught it. No injuries. One time I fell on my knee and the other time just ran it down.
DF: Come watch the game and you tell me how bad I am. Or if I'm bad. I'll discuss it if I'm bad.
#askdexter what do you attribute to your poor defensive season last year and is CF your position of choice?— chad (@chitownnit) February 24, 2015
“I’m going to be tip-toeing today,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo half-joked. “That’s unfortunate. Especially with those seasons coming down to the stretch.”
Rizzo was asked about being mindful of the risks while playing full out. As you could imagine, there is only one way to play in his mind.
“You can’t play scared, and if you think about getting hurt, you’re going to get hurt,” he said. “You just go out and play fearless and relentless.”
It’s an answer echoed throughout the locker room, but Rizzo is into seizing the moment, not worrying about things out of his control.
“Injuries will happen, no matter what sport you’re in” Rizzo said. “I play the (same) game whether I’m on a little league field with 20 people or millions of people watching.”
Day 1 practice: Workouts on Wednesday consisted of live batting practice where Cubs pitchers threw to hitters. Traditionally, pitchers are a little ahead of batters as they’ve been in camp for a week already. Wednesday was no different, though there were a couple of big hits, including Dexter Fowler taking Edwin Jackson out to right field.
The infield: Manager Joe Maddon reiterated that his infielders -- save Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo -- will move around the diamond. That includes newcomer Tommy La Stella, who took grounders at third base on Wednesday. He’s never played third as a professional, only during “one summer” in his past, according to manager Joe Maddon.
“He’s all in for getting it done,” Maddon said.
Mike Olt was paired with La Stella at third while Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez worked out at second base. Both those players -- especially Alcantara -- will see time at third base as well.
It’s all another indication the Cubs are preparing for a flexible roster and probably life without top prospect Kris Bryant to start the season. He’ll likely be at Triple-A Iowa.