Chicago Cubs: Chicago Cubs

Baez good at 2nd for 2015; Grimm, Ramirez in bullpen

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
7:21
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Despite striking out 95 times in 52 big league games in 2014, Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez is on track to be the Cubs' opening day second baseman next season. The front office doesn’t envision him needing another stint in the minor leagues to begin 2015, as it hopes to see Baez adjust to big league pitching.

“He’s got some of the best raw ingredients to work with in all of major league baseball,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. “His approach and some mechanical things need to be tweaked. He’s well aware of that.

“In the long term, he’s going to be someone you want to bet on.”

The Cubs hope calling up Baez when they did this season will benefit him next year. Epstein cited Anthony Rizzo as a player who needed time to figure things out. Baez is still just 21.

“Javy is extraordinarily talented and raw at the same time,” Epstein said. “Some players can make those adjustments in-season. More often than not, they occur over the winter.”

Epstein addressed several on-field issues as the Cubs turn the page to next season. While Baez is slated to play second, the front office doesn’t plan to move its three-time All-Star, Starlin Castro, off shortstop anytime soon.

“We’re making our plans for 2015 with him at the shortstop position,” Epstein said. “Young players are really versatile and really athletic and have a chance to move around the diamond. Increased versatility is something we’re going to stress for all of our young players. I think that’s the way the game is going.”

It means prospect Addison Russell, for example, will get some looks at second and third base next spring while other players, such as Kris Bryant and Mike Olt, will see time in the outfield. Hitting is at a premium in baseball these days, and the Cubs want to fortify themselves around the diamond in case of injury. The object will be to replace a player with another potent hitter, not just the one guy who can play that particular position.

The Outfield

The Cubs ended the season with three potential 2015 starters securing spots in the outfield. Jorge Soler will undoubtedly be in right field next year, while the Cubs liked how Arismendy Alcantara took to center. The big surprise came in the form of left fielder Chris Coghlan. He got on base more than 35 percent of the time and played better on defense as the season wore on.

“He’s certainly going to have an opportunity to have a meaningful role again in 2015,” Epstein said. “Just because we have three guys that can form an opening day outfield doesn’t mean we’re content.”

The Cubs say they will look to add, but that could come in the form of a bench player, who would most likely be a veteran. Another on-base type of player wouldn’t hurt either.

Pitching

The Cubs are happy with their bullpen and don’t plan to make many changes, though they could always sign an arm for depth, given that the volatility of relief pitchers from one season to the next is well documented.

There’s been season-long speculation that relievers Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez could return to starting roles, but Epstein said they are staying where they are: in the pen.

“Right now, the plans are to keep them in the bullpen,” Epstein said. “I think we can be selective when it comes to adding bullpen talent.”

One thing is for sure: Hector Rondon is the incumbent closer after a huge season as a first-time man in the ninth inning. He had 29 saves in 33 opportunities.

“What a success story,” Epstein said. “[He] shows no ill effects to the ninth inning. He knows how good his stuff is. He’s been as good as you could possibly hope.”

Starting pitching is still a work in progress. The Cubs have two mainstays right now, in Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Travis Wood should be given a chance to rebound from a poor season, and the Cubs have said they’ll look outside the organization for at least one more starter. In-house candidates Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Eric Jokisch and Tsuyoshi Wada are all possibilities as well.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Cardinals 3

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
10:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in 10 innings on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Welington Castillo drove in Anthony Rizzo with the winning run after Rizzo doubled with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning. The Cubs got out to a 2-0 lead when Castillo drove a ball into the left-field bleachers in the bottom of the second inning for his 13th home run of the season. They added one in the fifth on a Matt Szczur home run, his second of the year. But the Cardinals tied it in the sixth while chasing starter Kyle Hendricks. Matt Holliday hit a game-tying, two-run home run before Castillo's heroics in the 10th.

What it means: Hendricks pitched well but got hit in his final inning. Still, he gave up just five base knocks and made that one bad pitch to Holliday. His ERA climbed to 2.46 with one start to go, as he’ll pitch the season finale Sunday in Milwaukee. Szczur had only one home run in 414 at-bats in the minors this season. He has two in fewer than 60 at-bats in the big leagues.

Rotation set: Before the game, manager Rick Renteria announced the three starters for this weekend's season-finale series in Milwaukee. Eric Jokisch will pitch Friday, Tsuyoshi Wada on Saturday and Hendricks on Sunday.

What’s next: Game 3 against the Cardinals takes place Wednesday night and features Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA) against John Lackey (3-2, 4.50).

Kyle Schwarber committed to catching

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
9:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are all-in for 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber continuing his career behind the plate. At the very least, they're going to give it their best shot.

"Ultimately, for us, that's where the greatest impact lies," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "When you can put that left-handed bat behind the plate, that's something we have to try."

[+] Enlarge Kyle Schwarber
AP Images/Four Seam Images/Dennis HubbardKyle Schwarber wants to prove that he can be a major-league catcher.
Schwarber was the No. 4 overall pick this past June, and he quickly acclimated to the professional ranks, as he produced a composite .344 batting average to go with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs at three different levels of the minor leagues. Even so, the Cubs were unsure if they would leave the former Indiana Hoosier at one of the tougher positions to master. His bat is nearly major-league-ready, so it might take some time for his defense to catch up.

The easier route would be to have him play left field. He played both catcher and outfield this summer, but he wants to continue his career behind the plate.

"It's my job to prove that I can," Schwarber said. "I have a passion for catching. I feel like if I can do that, I can help out in a lot of different situations. I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Schwarber and his family were guests on the field during batting practice before the Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, and the stocky lefty took some swings with his future teammates.

"It was fun," he said afterward. "Happy to be out there [and] getting to know the guys."

The luxury of a dangerous, left-hitting catcher would be a huge asset for the Cubs. It would leave the outfield open for others while putting a big bat behind the plate. Not many teams have that, so the benefit of trying outweighs the downside of any delay to the start of Schwarber's major-league career. Epstein said Schwarber proved it was worth a shot with his improvement behind the plate throughout the summer.

"He probably had more catching instruction as a pro than he had in a long time," Epstein said. "This will be a catching crash course for him in [instructional league]. [We] think he'll respond to it well."

Instead of going to the more competitive Arizona Fall League, Schwarber will report to the instructional league for hands-on training. It'll be a controlled environment in which he'll learn the craft of catching, from calling a game to blocking balls in the dirt.

There were signs of progress throughout the summer.

"Once you show that, then it's in there," Epstein said. "It didn't necessarily come out all the time, but once you show that physical ability, it means if you work hard and get the right coaching and improve, it's in there. And it can come out."

Said Schwarber: "I feel like I made tremendous strides between college and this offseason."

Two things Epstein has been certain of since the December is Schwarber's bat and makeup. In some ways, he has been more sure of Schwarber in the clubhouse than on the field.

"Players are drawn to him," Epstein said. "He has leadership qualities and a big personality. And a special bat. He sees the ball incredibly well."

Like any top pick in his situation, Schwarber is just taking it in. He took pictures on the field with his parents and roped line drives in batting practice. He'll give catching a real shot this fall, and then next year -- most likely at Double-A -- see where things fall.

"I know they have the best interests for me and everyone else," Schwarber said. "That's what I truly believe. Whenever they tell me to come on up, I'll be more than ready. They knew what the talent was, but they believed in me as a person."

Jake Arrieta nears a no-no again

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
11:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- With self-confidence you don’t see often in the frustrating game of baseball, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta has risen to the top of the team’s pitching staff. Any lingering doubts about his abilities -- if there were any -- were vanquished in a masterful one-hit, one-walk, 7-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

“It’s nice to finally shake the catcher's hand at the end of the game,” Arrieta said of going the distance for the first time in his career. “I was able to come out and pound everything down in the strike zone. When I missed, I missed out of the strike zone and not over the heart of the plate.”

Except once.

Arrieta’s lone blemish was a ball he left up in the zone to Brandon Phillips in the top of the eighth inning. Phillips hit it to the wall in left center, but not before a streaking Matt Szczur attempted a diving catch with just five outs to go for Arrieta’s first no-hitter.

“It was close,” Szczur said. “I was about four inches off. It was close. I would have run through the wall if I had to. It’s a shame I couldn’t come up with it.”

[+] EnlargeJake Arrieta
AP Photo/Paul BeatyJake Arrieta has retired the first nine batters he's faced in five different games this season -- more than any other pitcher in baseball.

We’ve seen this act before with Arrieta, as he’s now taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning twice this season. He also has flirted with perfection into the middle innings several times. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he’s retired the first nine batters to start a game five different times this year. That’s the most in baseball.

“Today was as good as he’s been all season,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “His pitch count was very well in check. His stuff was pretty electric.”

Arrieta only needed 109 pitches to get through nine innings. He flew through some of the middle frames using his devastating array of pitches. Simply put, when he’s been on this year, he’s been unhittable.

And now he’s the unquestioned ace of the staff. There’s no denying that.

“It’s not going to frighten me if that’s what you’re wondering,” Arrieta said of that notion.

Arrieta trusts his stuff like he never has before. Several times in the bullpen before a game, including on Tuesday night, he hasn’t felt he’s had much to work with. But each time he gives pitching coach Chris Bosio a knowing nod, as if to say, "I got this." Then he takes the mound and proves it.

“He’s turned a big corner,” Renteria said. “His maturity has definitely improved. He has a trust in his stuff.”

And the Cubs should trust he can carry over what he’s learned this season. Arrieta has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse as much as he’s emerged on the mound. He didn’t flinch when asked how close the Cubs are to winning.

“We’re right there,” he said. “It’s obvious for the guys in the clubhouse.”

Arrieta acknowledges adjustments have to be made, as he knows “the transition to the major leagues from Triple-A is the biggest in sports.” While his teammates continue to absorb and learn, Arrieta is already there. His ERA sits at 2.65, with one or two starts remaining.

Maybe he’ll get that no-hitter.

“It was a little easier having those experiences earlier in the season,” he said. “I kind of tried to just put it in the back of my mind.”

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Reds 0

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs shut out the Cincinnati Reds 7-0 behind Jake Arrieta's one-hitter.

How it happened: The Cubs broke open a 1-0 game with five runs in a sixth inning that included two bases-loaded walks. Chris Coghlan’s three-run double was the big blow in the inning. Jorge Soler homered in the seventh, but the story of the night was Arrieta. Once again, he came close to perfection; he gave up just one walk and one hit -- a Brandon Phillips double in the eighth -- while striking out a career-high 13.

What it means: Arrieta has been flirting with no-nos all season long, but he left a pitch up on Phillips, and Phillips didn't miss it. Once again, Arrieta's array of pitches was masterful, as the Reds were off balance all night. Arrieta is the only pitcher this season -- and just one of four over the past five years -- with multiple no-hit bids into the eighth inning or later. It took him only 107 pitches to produce the Cubs' first complete-game shutout of the season. He improved to 9-5 while lowering his ERA to 2.65.

Jackson to start: Edwin Jackson is set to start Friday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers with lefty Eric Jokisch scheduled to follow him, if needed. Jackson has missed time with a lat strain since ineffectiveness saw his ERA balloon to 6.09.

What's next: The Cubs go for the sweep on Wednesday when Kyle Hendricks (6-2, 2.38 ERA) faces Daniel Corcino (0-0, 5.19).

Rizzo, Alcantara out of lineup

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
6:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo wasn't in the starting lineup against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, as the Chicago Cubs are playing it cautious with his back one day after he returned and hit a game-winning home run.

“He’s been down three weeks,” manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday afternoon. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s like a rehab schedule.”

Rizzo missed 18 games with a sore back but returned Monday and promptly hit a walk-off blast in the Cubs' 1-0 win over the Reds. After the game Rizzo said he would see how he felt in the morning, but Renteria said the plan going forward is to take it easy on the Cubs first baseman either way.

“I would say I still plan on giving him every other day and then increase his playing time to two days in a row, maybe three,” Renteria said. “But I have to let it play itself out before I decide where he’s at.”

The Cubs also are without center fielder Arismendy Alcantara after the rookie ran into the wall while making a game-saving catch in the eighth inning Monday. He injured his right hand in the process.

“He’s a little sore,” Renteria said. “Right now, it’s just soreness.”

Alcantara had an MRI, but the results weren’t known before the game. He was seen with a wrap around his right wrist and hand. Renteria declared his status day-to-day.

Cubs leave Daytona, unsure of Kane County

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
6:50
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – While announcing an affiliation change at the high Class A level of minor league baseball, Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein said the organization is still unsure if it will return to Kane County with its low Class A team.

“They’re making a push to do some things,” Epstein said. “We’re looking around at the best fit for development purposes. Big part of that is facility. Location is big, so is facility.”

The Kane County Cougars won the Midwest League championship over the weekend, but that didn’t stop the Cubs from officially cutting ties with them, though they still can sign a new agreement after exploring other opportunities. Kane County issued a press release recently that said they were upgrading their facilities with the Cubs in mind. It remains to be seen if those changes are enough for the Cubs to return.

“Sometimes it can get sticky, but we have to do what’s best for our players,” Epstein said.

Meanwhile, the Cubs officially moved their High A team from Daytona to Myrtle Beach.

“We had a lot of weather issues,” Epstein said of Daytona. “That was the crux of it for us.”

Rain delays and cancellations were the norm in Daytona. The switch means the team will move from the Florida State League to the Carolina League, a move Epstein thinks is better for the organization.

“Myrtle is the type of franchise you jump to get in there,” he said. “They were looking for a team with a national brand for them. Carolina league is the best High A league for developmental purposes.”

The Cubs also cut ties with their short season A-ball team in Boise. Epstein wasn’t sure when an announcement would come on the two teams looking for new homes.

Starlin Castro proved '13 season was fluke

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
1:24
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Even if he doesn't play another game this season, Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has already proved again he's a near-elite player at his position.

Castro, who has a high ankle sprain but might not be finished for 2014, rebounded from a disastrous 2013 to make his third All-Star Game. More important, he may have won back a skeptical fan base.

[+] EnlargeStarlin Castro
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro bounced back from a tough 2013 season to make his third All-Star team.
"We give him a lot of credit because he's had to take it on, and it's been his responsibility to change the way people view him," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. "I think he's done a really nice job."

Castro, 24, tied his career high in home runs with 14. His .292 batting average is nearly 50 points higher than last season, and the pressure of batting cleanup was never an issue for him. He batted .328 with runners on base and .286 with runners in scoring position. He did his job.

"He didn't start off the way anybody would have wanted him to start off," Renteria said. "He kept working and grinding. His defense started to get better and his offense continued to take off. He worked himself back into an All-Star role again."

After getting into the best shape of his career over the winter, Castro injured a hamstring early in spring training. He missed most of the Cactus League but made sure he was ready for Opening Day. But was he? He went hitless in his first nine at-bats, then was 1-for-13 and 2-for-17. He just didn't look comfortable at the plate. It was at this point you had to wonder if his previous bad year combined with his spring injury was going to get the best of him. Would we look back at 2014 and realize Castro's year was derailed when he pulled that hamstring in Game 2 of spring training? He answered that quickly, going 7-for-his-next-12, and never looked back.

"In my mind's eye, he's had a very productive season," Renteria said. "He's dealt with a lot of different things very positively. He's worked extremely hard."

It sounded like a cliché late last season when Castro showed some signs of life and declared that he was getting back to "being myself." The Cubs famously tried to get more power and plate discipline out of him, and it didn't work. At least not on their timetable. Being himself has translated into numbers this season that are nearly identical to his numbers before the 2013 season, when he slumped to .245 with a .284 on-base percentage along with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs.

"He relaxed and was comfortable with who he is and where he's at on the team," his agent Paul Kinzer said. "He communicates well with Renteria. He's growing.

"He had fun again. That's an important thing for those guys. They enjoy coming to the ballpark every day."

Castro is as happy-go-lucky as they come -- and that attitude helps his game. It wasn't the case late in 2013, especially on the day former manager Dale Sveum batted him eighth for the first time that season.

"I don't like it there," Castro said with a scowl at the time. "He asked me if I like it, I told him no."

But that's all in the past now. Castro's numbers have rebounded.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.86) is in line with his production from 2010 to '12 as his overall walks and strikeouts have both gone up. But where he's surpassed his old self is with his power. Maybe he saw better pitches batting behind Anthony Rizzo or maybe he felt the inherent need in the cleanup spot, but his home run percentage is a career-high 2.5 percent this season.

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Same goes for his overall ability to drive the ball for extra-base hits. He squared more balls up this season, as his line-drive percentage went from 18.6 percent in 2013 to 25.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And where he was indecisive last season, often letting hittable fastballs go by, he's hit .339 off them in 2014. That's been the key to his resurgence.

The irony is it all happened on Castro's timetable, not the Cubs'. It's something team president Theo Epstein forecast nearly a year ago.

"Starlin is somebody we just want to be himself," Epstein said on Sept. 19, 2013. "He's a pretty unique hitter. I think we made efforts to introduce him to the concept of getting pitches he can really drive, because in the long run that will benefit him. But if that can't be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, then you just have to let time play its course and he'll naturally evolve that way."

Castro has done just that. And defensively, it's been a very good year for him as well. Errors never tell the whole story about a fielder, but in Castro's case, there's meaning. He committed a career-low 15 this season with a career-high .973 fielding percentage.

In the past, Castro had a tendency to make errors on the routine plays, sometimes from mental lapses. There were rushed throws on slow runners and too much time taken on the fast ones. That led to miscues. Many of those lapses were eliminated this season. No one is perfect -- Castro stared at a ball to the wall recently and didn't make second base -- but those kinds of mental breakdowns used to be the norm, now they're becoming the exception. And he's only 24 years old.

That brings us to the trade rumors. The moment the Cubs acquired Addison Russell from the Oakland Athletics in July, media-driven talk of moving Castro popped up. There's little doubt the Cubs have a surplus of middle infielders and one could be moved for some pitching.

"He's our shortstop," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "And there's a reason why we have Javy [Baez] playing second base right now."

That's for now, of course. Things can change this offseason or beyond. No one can handicap whether Castro will be the Cubs' shortstop next season because no one knows the offers they might get. The point is, no longer are they possibly trying to "dump" Castro -- a thought from a year ago. He's a major asset. If the right deal comes along, the Cubs should make the move because they do have that surplus and Castro isn't untradable.

But he is a three-time All-Star who has proved everything that Russell and Baez have yet to, so the deal has to be right. The Cubs know that. And if they move Castro, they can thank him for returning to All-Star form and netting them a big return. He's had a very good year at the toughest position in baseball.

"All in all, this year has been extremely positive," Renteria said.

Backups take center stage after injuries

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
12:50
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Just as the Chicago Cubs' offense is starting to come together, there's a good chance they'll be without first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro for at least part of the final month of the regular season.

Rizzo is out with a mild back sprain, while Castro left Tuesday’s 7-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers with an ankle injury. The Cubs are still figuring out how serious it is, but the two Cubs leaders might have to lead from the sidelines.

"You want to go out and set the example and set the bar high," Rizzo said before Tuesday's game and Castro's injury. "It's no secret that, especially with the trades we made, Starlin Castro and myself, this is our team."

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastWelington Castillo, left, and Arismendy Alcantara, right, celebrate after scoring in the fifth inning Tuesday.
Rizzo and Castro might be the de facto leaders, but now they have help in the form of players such as Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara. The former had another hit and RBI on Tuesday, in addition to reaching base twice, and the latter homered for the eighth time in 200 at-bats this season. He also has eight doubles and a triple.

"He's got some explosive hands, and everything is in sync," manager Rick Renteria said of Alcantara. "He's able to drive the ball out of the ballpark."

If Castro remains out of the lineup, Alcantara could move back to second base, and Javier Baez would take over at shortstop. Baez played short while Castro was on the bereavement list recently and after he left the game Tuesday. Logan Watkins might get more playing time as well, as he entered the game for Castro and played second base after the injury.

In Rizzo's estimation, there's a silver lining –- at least for the team -– with his injury, and it could apply to Castro as well, assuming it's not something serious.

"It's an opportunity for the guys here," he said. "People are going to be playing first and getting more at-bats than they normally would with me being here. Hopefully people make the best of it."

The Cubs need to fill out a 25-man roster for next season, and the competition among role players is already on. Chris Valaika, Watkins and Matt Szczur are all getting a look, and the injuries to the Cubs' two All-Stars will place them in the spotlight even more.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Brewers 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
10:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened
: The Cubs scored four times in the first, as two errors by shortstop Elian Herrera opened the door for a big inning. Luis Valbuena and Jorge Soler had RBI hits. The Brewers got one back when Ryan Braun brought home Scooter Gennett in the third inning, but the Cubs broke it open in the fifth when a Welington Castillo RBI double was followed by an Arismendy Alcantara home run to right. It was his eighth on the year. Cubs starter Jake Arrieta went six innings and gave up five hits and a run while the Cubs pounded Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo. He gave up eight hits and five earned runs in five innings.

Castro hurt: Shortstop Starlin Castro left the game in the first inning after he slid awkwardly into home plate. The Cubs said he injured his ankle but didn’t fracture any bones. He was due for an MRI and was still under evaluation, according to the team.

What it means: The Cubs keep rolling, especially on offense. Even after losing Castro -- and already playing without an ailing Anthony Rizzo -- they crushed balls off of Gallardo. Even the outs, like a Soler blast to the wall in the fifth, were tagged. And all of a sudden Alcantara is sneaking up on double-digit home runs. Soler continued a hot streak with another RBI hit and barely missed another home run with the smash to left. The Cubs have started September the way they left off in August: winning.

What’s next: The Cubs go for the series sweep on Wednesday night when Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.91 ERA) takes on Matt Garza (7-7, 3.58).

Cubs to use six-man rotation

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
9:19
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs will indeed utilize a six-man rotation, manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday.

The Cubs have been intimating for several weeks that they want to see some of their young pitchers, and with rosters expanded for the month of September, they’ll continue to see a lot of them.

After Jake Arrieta's start Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs will go with Kyle Hendricks followed by Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood and Jacob Turner. Then, they'll repeat that cycle until further notice.

Two of Tuesday's call-ups from the minors, Eric Jokisch and Dan Straily, might not start a game right away but could "piggyback" another young starter's outing. Cubs president Theo Epstein had high praise for the lefty, Jokisch, in particular.

"Outstanding minor league career," Epstein said Tuesday. "Plus changeup. Three pitches now. Really consistent, impressive season at Triple-A. He’s a long-term starting pitching candidate."

Jokisch, the Cubs' 11th-round choice in the 2010 draft, went 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts for Triple-A Iowa this year.

The Cubs promoted their pitchers based on performance and season-long pitch and/or innings counts. For example, Triple-A starter Dallas Beeler reached his limit, so he wasn't recalled with the group of his former teammates.

Olt to play first once healthy

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:58
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs infielder Mike Olt will return to the team in the coming days while he rehabs a hamstring injury, team president Theo Epstein said on Tuesday. Olt will be part of the group of players called up from the minors when rosters expanded Monday.

"There will be a slot at first base, [and we'll] get him some at-bats while [Anthony] Rizzo is out," Epstein said.

It will be Olt's second stint with the team after he struggled earlier this season in his first time around. After earning a job in spring training, he hit just .139 with 12 home runs in 189 at-bats for the Cubs. As the season went on, his power became more sporadic, while his strikeout total rose. He struck out 84 times before being demoted in late July.

Olt hit well for Triple-A Iowa while playing first base and produced a .302 batting average with seven home runs in 28 games. Rizzo's being out with a back injury should give Olt plenty of playing time in the final month of the season -- good news, given that his future with the team is murky. He hasn't played since mid-August due to the hamstring strain.

Starlin Castro leaves with leg injury

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:24
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro left Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers with a sprained left ankle after he slid into home plate awkwardly in the bottom of the first inning, the team announced.

Castro easily made it home from second on Jorge Soler’s RBI single to left, but as he slid, his cleat got caught in the dirt surrounding home plate, and his left leg wasn’t able to fully extend. He was attended to by the trainer and walked off under his own power before leaving the game.

“I saw his cleat get stuck, and I saw him grabbing his ankle," Welington Castillo said. "He said, ‘my ankle, my ankle.’ I saw his face was in pain.”

Castro will undergo an MRI, but the Cubs have ruled out any bone fracture. He’s still under evaluation, according to the team.

"It looked very awkward," manager Rick Renteria said. "Anytime you see someone cringe in pain, you grab yourself a little bit, but obviously, he walked himself off the field."

In fact, Castro didn't want to come out of the game, Renteria noted.

After the injury, Javier Baez moved from second base to shortstop, while Logan Watkins came in the game for Castro and batted third. Castro is hitting .292 after his first inning single off Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo.

Kris Bryant eyes '15 with 'chip on shoulder'

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
7:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Despite a monster year in the minor leagues, 2013 No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant is back at home in Las Vegas while many of his Triple-A Iowa teammates are playing with the Chicago Cubs this month.

“I think now more than ever, I’m realizing this game is a business, and all I can do is go out there and play as hard as I can and make it really hard on the guys in charge,” Bryant said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think I did that this year. If I’m taking that mindset, then I’m not really going to be sitting there with my head down at the end of the year.”

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Dennis Hubbard/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesDespite an impressive year spent between Double-A and Triple-A, Cubs prospect Kris Bryant will wait until 2015 to make his big league debut.
Service time issues and 40-man roster spots are helping prevent the top prospect in baseball, according to ESPN.com's Keith Law, from starting his major league career just as the team called up seven other, less-accomplished players on Tuesday. The Cubs don’t believe a player finishing his first full year as a professional should be called up anyway.

“It’s kind of funny, all the rules,” said Bryant, who led the minor leagues with 43 home runs this season. “Coming into professional baseball, I had no clue. I didn’t pay any attention to it in college, either. At the end of my first season, I kind of know the lingo about all this stuff. I guess the system works in some ways, and in some ways there are some flaws. I can’t focus on that. I’ve always been high on avoiding the distractions.”

Bryant doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft this December, as he’s already protected because he’s just a first-year player. If the Cubs wait to bring him up until at least mid-April of next year, Bryant won’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season. If he comes up now, and stays for good, he’ll be a free agent a year earlier. That’s a big deal for a player who could help transform an entire franchise.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he believed it was important enough to call Bryant personally and explain the situation. Epstein has always maintained that calling up a first-year, minor league player would take extraordinary circumstances. He even noted that Javier Baez didn’t need Rule 5 protection, but they called him up anyway because he’s been in the system longer, even though he’s younger than Bryant.

“I told him the other day, 'You did everything you could possibly do as a first-year pro to impress and make us proud as an organization,’” Epstein said. “I told him the simple fact we’re not in a pennant race and for a first-year professional who didn’t miss any time, it’s a long season, a long grind, whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest.”

Bryant didn’t suggest taking some time to come down from the grind would be a bad thing.

“It was a long season for me,” he said. “I think I’m more tired mentally than physically just because I’ve never played 142 straight games without many off days.”

But that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to play for another month. He would have loved to have been reunited with former teammates Jorge Soler and Baez in the Cubs lineup. Instead, he’s taking the longer vacation with some motivation.

“Next year, I’m really looking forward to coming out with a little chip on my shoulder,” Bryant said. “I’m going to go out there looking to prove something.”

He proved a lot this year between Double-A and Triple-A, putting up 110 RBIs, a .325 batting average and a .438 on-base percentage to go along with the 43 home runs. Epstein wants Bryant ready for a seven-month season, as the Cubs are hopeful a more competitive team might lead to a possible playoff berth in 2015 and beyond.

Whether it’s April 1 or later, Bryant isn’t far from appearing at Wrigley Field.

“I certainly think he’s close enough where he can start setting his sights on the big leagues. Whenever that times comes, we don’t know, but it’s getting closer,” Epstein said. “He’s as advanced and mature and professional a prospect as we’ve had. He’s as low maintenance a prospect as we’ve had. He handles new situations extremely well. It seems like nothing flusters him. If anyone can jump into the big league picture in the middle of the season and not miss a beat, it's Kris Bryant.”

But where will Bryant play once he gets to the big leagues? He worked hard at third base this season and wants to stick there. The Cubs aren’t sure where he’ll fit in just yet.

“We’re going to keep outfield fresh for him,” Epstein said of plans for next spring. “Now that it’s been a full year since college, we want to make sure he doesn’t lose that. We think -- no doubt in our minds -- he can play third base and be a really good third baseman, but we just don’t know how the roster is going to look a year from now, two years from now, five years from now. We want to keep that fresh for him.”

Bryant is committed to third, where he made 21 errors this season.

“I would really like to stick at third base,” he said. “I think, as good a season I had offensively, a case can be made I might have had a better season defensively because I’ve come a long way at third base.”

Bryant made some errors on routine plays mostly due to his tall stature, and the Cubs still want him to work on his side-to-side movement. But by all indications, he is improving at third, and considering the position is still open at the major league level, it might be where he ends up.

For now, Bryant will watch the Cubs like any fan would. The difference is he’s every bit as good as Soler and Baez and anyone else the Cubs will play this month. He just has to wait for his turn.

“I am definitely looking forward to next season and playing with those guys,” he said. “I’ll be paying attention to it here in September. I look forward to playing with those guys for a long time.

“[This year was] a good season I’ll look back on, and I’m heading into this offseason with a lot of confidence. I’m going to work real hard and improve next year, but this year was awesome.”

Chat alert: Jesse Rogers at noon CT

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
9:47
AM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers takes your Cubs questions during a live chat at noon CT Tuesday. Click here to submit your questions.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Starlin Castro
BA HR RBI R
.292 14 65 58
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
WJ. Arrieta 10
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167