Chicago Cubs: Chris Bosio
"I'm going into [the spring] like I'm fighting for a job," Wood said this week. "Stay sharp and hungry."
"We challenged him last offseason," pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "He responded."
Wood's response was an All-Star appearance and an ERA that was mostly below 3.00 until late in the season. Unlike 2012, teams rarely hit him hard as he ranked sixth in batting average against in the National League. Opponents hit just .222 off Wood, which might have been his most impressive statistic.
"Like I said all last year, just using all sides of the plate and having the confidence to throw what I needed," Wood said.
"Confidence" is a word that comes up often with Wood. It can be a fragile thing for baseball players, but once they realize they can play the game and have success in the major leagues, there's no telling what that confidence can do.
"This game is a lot about it," Wood said. "If you believe in yourself and know you can do it, things can kind of fall into place. It's also easy to lose it. You fall into a slump or have a few rough innings, you have to find a way to get that confidence back."
It's one thing Bosio and Wood have worked on since teaming up in 2012: Maintaining that confidence through tough times. Wood says they've been on the "same page" since day one.
"He's not arrogant," Bosio said. "He's not cocky, but he means business when he gets out there. We like to dictate the tempo, and Woody does that."
Much of what Bosio wants out of Wood this year is more of the same. "Stay the course" as Bosio puts it. After all, why mess with success?
"Taking the same approach because you can never been satisfied in this game," Wood said. "I want to fine-tune everything."
The Cubs haven't had many success stories over the past few years, but Wood is one of them. With the uncertainty surrounding teammate Jeff Samardzija's future with the team, the Cubs need someone they can count on for their youth movement. There aren't many of those guys on the mound right now. Wood qualifies as he turned just 27 earlier this month and is Cubs property for two more seasons after this one before he can become a free agent. He also got an approximate $3.3 million raise from last season and could be in line for a long-term deal soon.
"Not much talks on that end, so we'll just go through this year and give it everything we have," Wood said.
Besides being its best pitcher right now, Wood might be one of the team's best athletes, as well. He's the best-hitting pitcher -- he hit three home runs last season -- and he's always full-speed on the base paths. His previous manager had to dissuade him from sliding at second on double-play balls. But it's what he does on the mound that will help determine if the Cubs can actually be contenders soon. They need him to be great.
"'You have to be hungry and you do have something to prove,'" Bosio said he has told Wood. "'Let's validate what you did last year and prove you are one of the better lefties in the league.'
"Now he's had a taste of success. Now it's time to take it to another level."
The dye was cast early last spring. Although the Cubs believed the back end of their pen was going to be fine once the season started, the signs for early troubles were evident in Cactus League games. Former Cub Carlos Marmol wasn't very good in March, and later it was revealed that newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa was hurting. He eventually underwent Tommy John surgery and Marmol was demoted and then traded.
"I'm here, no better than anyone else," Veras declared before the Cubs' first spring game. "But I think I can get three outs."
Those last three outs were so very difficult for the Cubs last season. The bullpen blew 26 saves and although not all came in the ninth inning, almost all were gut-wrenching.
"We had some struggles closing out games," fellow reliever James Russell said. "It's kind of tough. We lost Fujikawa early. He was one of the guys we were counting on to close games and Marmol kind of had his struggles. It was tough to pick it up from there because we didn't have guys with experience closing games until (Kevin) Gregg came."
Gregg is gone but the experience remains with Veras. He was a combined 0-5 last season with Houston and Detroit but his 3.02 ERA was respectable and he saved a combined 21 games in 25 chances. It was his first real stint as a closer after about seven years as a middle man.
"It's hard to be here (in the majors)," Veras said. "So many players all across the world want to be here. I'm blessed with that. It's not easy. There's 30 teams, I'm one of 30 closers. People think it's easy. It's not easy. You have to work for it. You have to give your life, everything you have to be here."
Veras says his out pitch is either his fastball or his curve and he believes his demeanor works for the ninth inning. He's an opposing figure on the mound at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. As for leadership, Veras checks that box for the Cubs as well. It wasn't a role Marmol was right for, not with him fighting for his major league life.
"He's been doing a good job with (Hector) Rondon and (Pedro) Strop and those guys," Russell said. "They're always working together and running together. It's only going to help the team."
Veras responded: "If they see me that way that's great. I'm focused on showing what I have."
Predicting the success of a bullpen is a dangerous proposition. The Cubs had a decent one toward the end of 2012, but it blew up in 2013. It looks better on paper this season and frankly it can't get much worse. Then again, if all the arms aren't around all season, all bets are off. Veras could easily be on another team come the end of July. That's what the Cubs do these days: Flip veterans at the deadline.
"I don't think about what's going to happen. I'm here today, I'm going to pitch today, get my three outs and prepare for tomorrow," Veras said. "I'm not worrying about things two or three months from now."
The plan, according to pitching coach Chris Bosio, is to pitch Veras in the middle of games this spring so he faces other team's regular hitters. That wasn't always the case for Marmol, who struggled against minor leaguers anyway.
"We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves when it comes to Veras," Bosio said.
Bosio wouldn't expound on that, but if it means getting some more late-inning outs, Cubs fans will be all for it.
The 23 year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues in two years yet he’s still listed on Cubs top 10 prospect lists. Think about that. The Cubs minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 with a 13-4 record and 2.00 ERA, Kyle Hendricks, can’t crack those lists yet both Baseball America and ESPN.com’s Keith Law rank Vizcaino as the 10th best prospect in the Cubs system.
The reason for the optimism is simple. Vizcaino is a flame thrower, hitting near 100 mph on the radar gun when healthy. He just needs to put his injury-riddled past behind him. That can be easier said than done. Tommy John surgery kept him out of the big leagues in 2012 and then bone chips in his elbow set him back in 2013.
“One hundred percent healthy,” Vizcaino declared Friday. “I’m ready to show that.”
Vizcaino was originally signed by the New York Yankees as an international free agent in 2007 before being traded to the Atlanta Braves where he made his major league debut in 2011 appearing in 17 games. He was rated the Braves' second best prospect coming out of that season before undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of 2012.
At least on paper.
Three aspects of the hirings stand out, including hitting coach Bill Mueller, bench coach Brandon Hyde and the addition of another bilingual coach in Jose Castro.
Mueller has only a short time on his resume coaching players on a day-to-day basis, as he took over the interim hitting coach position with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007 before moving back to the front office. There really isn't a history of players to look at to determine his communication abilities. However, Mueller's career on-base percentage is an outstanding .373, and getting on base is a cornerstone of the Cubs' offense under this current regime.
Former hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer didn't have that kind of success at the major league level, yet they did have more coaching experience. So the Cubs potentially traded experience for know-how, although assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley does have experience as a coach in the majors for several years. It's not a stretch to assume -- since Mueller knew the strike zone well as a player -- that he can impart that knowledge as a coach; this isn't a home run and strikeout guy such as Deer teaching players how to get on base. This is a guy who has done it. It makes sense.
Hyde makes sense being on the bench, as he's had a hand in overseeing some of the Cubs' top prospects. Many will be making their way to the big leagues, and with Hyde around, there's bound to be seamless communication between the dugout and front office where Hyde previously resided as the director of player development. Often a first-time manager will have a more experienced managerial type as a bench coach, but the Cubs probably aren't as interested in needing to max out every in-game scenario as much as they are in developing players with a winning attitude. That's the aspect of the job Renteria and Hyde bring.
As quality assurance coach, it simply means Castro is another coach on the field who will have a hand in many aspects of the team, not unlike Franklin Font and Mike Borzello. But the addition of Castro means three coaches will have bilingual capabilities, including the manager. Previously, only Font spoke Spanish. The Cubs have made no secret of the fact they need more of a Latin American presence -- or at least more Spanish-speaking coaches -- on the staff, as several key prospects are either Spanish-only speaking players or rely on it heavily.
The return of Chris Bosio as pitching coach comes as no surprise, as he did well with the staff he was given, especially the starters. Lester Strode's return as bullpen coach keeps at least one aspect of the Cubs consistent.
The changes -- all the way up to the manager -- undoubtedly were made to have a profound effect on the offense. Renteria's responsibilities to teach while keeping a positive clubhouse, along with Mueller's focus to get more guys on base, will go a long way in determining if the coaching moves made Friday were the right ones.
Handicapping the coaches from the outside looking in can be a difficult task. They do the bulk of their work behind closed doors, in the form of video and of course communicating with – as well as teaching -- the players. They aren’t subjected to twice-a-day media scrums like the manager, and their success or failure with players can’t always be measured in numbers.
Still, there are some things that become obvious in terms of the value of a coach, especially with the task of developing a young core.
Here’s a look at the status of some on Sveum’s staff:
Chris Bosio, Pitching coach
Considering the Cubs keep trading his pitchers, he might be the hardest to judge. But by all accounts he’s done an admirable job. Travis Wood would be the poster child for a success story. Bosio has gotten him to work all sides of the plate and not be afraid to throw any pitch at any time. Jeff Samardzija still has room to grow but hasn’t embarrassed his pitching coach in any manner. And it would be hard to point to Bosio for the failures on the staff. Former pitcher Shawn Camp's struggles could not have come as a shock, considering his age and mileage on his arm. Carlos Marmol was on the decline before Bosio appeared on the scene. Kyuji Fujikawa got injured before Bosio could have much effect on him. There are enough positives -- and few provable negatives -- to think Bosio could return even if Sveum doesn’t.
"We have to get that bullpen figured out," Bosio said before the Cubs played the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night. "We have to produce."
Unlike the front office, or even manager Dale Sveum, an assistant coach like Bosio isn't concerned about the future or the word "rebuilding." He's about the here and now. And right now he has a bullpen in flux.
"It is what it is. You have to get these guys out there," Bosio said of two newcomers. "We have to get them on the mound."
New guy Kevin Gregg finally did get on the mound, in Friday's 5-4 loss to Milwaukee, for the first time this season. He promptly put two batters on base and was pulled.
Bosio knew Gregg would be rusty. Kameron Loe has pitched one inning in 11 days so expect some unneasiness when he gets out there again. Both pitchers were picked up off waivers, so they hadn't pitched much in quite some time.
"It's tough. Since they've been here, we've been in these really tight games, and all of a sudden we're in these one-run games and you really don't want to send a guy out there that hasn't pitched in a stadium in two weeks," Sveum said.
"We want him to be our closer," Bosio told ESPNChicago.com. "We want all our players to do well, and Carlos is not any different than anyone in this room."
"It's the first game of the season," he said before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday. "I think it's magnified by the struggles he had last year."
There's little doubt Marmol's struggles are always magnified by his past. But Bosio is quick to point out Marmol's second half last season -- after early struggles -- was very good. He had 12 saves in 13 chances with a sparkling 1.52 ERA.
After Fujikawa walked his second batter in the sixth inning, pitching coach Chris Bosio and Japanese interpreter Ryo Shinkawa, went to talk to him with catcher Dioner Navarro. Navarro said communication before Shinkawa appeared on the mound didn't go so well between catcher and pitcher.
"A little rough," Navarro said after the game. "It's part of spring training. We're trying to get on the same page."
CHICAGO -- First-year Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum says he prides himself on his patience. It will be interesting to see if he has any remaining heading into year No. 2 of a poise-crushing rebuilding project.
Sveum was at the helm during just the third season of at least 100 losses in the long history of the Cubs and the first since the club lost 103 games in 1966. The club also lost 103 games in 1962.
In fact, Sveum was told during his interview that he wouldn’t be judged on victories, but rather his ability to teach and to forge a unified clubhouse.
In that sense, Sveum, along with bench coach and right-hand man Jamie Quirk, delivered exactly what was expected.
But was everything perfect? Not exactly.
Sveum insisted on going to his right-handed hitting bench over and over again, even though it showed early in the season that it was having difficulty against left-handed starters.
He and pitching coach Chris Bosio let Jeff Samardzija run wild with an ineffective curveball for a month, although the argument could be made that by letting him see that it wasn’t a good pitch for him, Samardzija was able to strengthen his resolve around the pitches he does throw well.
And Sveum was quick to jump on young shortstop Starlin Castro for his mental gaffes, even though there were plenty of other issues from players up and down the roster.
He clearly had the respect of his players, though, establishing a no-nonsense attitude that prevented infighting in the face of all that losing.
ATLANTA – Chris Volstad figures to remain with the Cubs at least until the All-Star break but there is no certainty that he will pitch any time soon.
If Ryan Dempster can start Sunday, the Cubs would need a roster spot and Volstad could find himself on the way out after an outing Tuesday that did not impress the coaching staff.
Zeroing in on the most disappointing moment, it was actually immediately before the five runs in the fifth inning started to pour in. With runners on first and second with nobody out, Volstad walked pinch-hitter Eric Hinske to load the bases. He didn’t come close to escaping the jam.
In the big picture, there seemed to be plenty of disappointment that Volstad shook off catcher Steve Clevenger throughout the outing. The fact that the struggling pitcher didn’t trust the gameplan was not something that went over well.
Afterward, Volstad said he couldn’t recall shaking off very many pitches and actually said he was on the same page with Clevenger.
“Whether he says so or not, I don’t know if you want to call it communication but there was a lot of shaking off going on,” Sveum said. “We’ll try to get to the bottom of it."
Pitching coach Chris Bosio felt the same as Sveum and that shaking off of pitches happened too many times.
“I’ll just say we wandered a little bit from what we like to do and not get to in depth,” Bosio said. “We do have a clear gameplan and when we execute our play for the most part we have been in every game. When we deviate and walk guys or don’t make pitches, we have to make pitches to put the ball in play and not walk guys. That walk yesterday (to Hinske) really hurt us in that inning.”
As a team tries to establish both a starting pitching staff and a bullpen, there have some hits and a whole lot of misses.
“We’ve walked some pitchers and at the same time we’ve got some big hitters out,” Bosio said. “It seems like we pitch well against some of the big boys ad we relax at the worst possible time of the game. There is a lot of room for improvement all around and it seems like we’re in development mode every pitch of every game but that’s where we are.”
“Carlos has been fine,” Bosio said quickly when the subject of Marmol was broached.
There have been plenty of changes for Marmol since last season. There is a new pitching coach, of course, in Bosio. Then there was the decision to eliminate the cut fastball from his repertoire since he had little to no success with it last season.
Known to have wild mechanics, Marmol even underwent an adjustment to his delivery aimed at improving his slider and leaving him in better fielding position once he releases the ball.
The Chicago Cubs will name Chris Bosio as their pitching coach in the coming days, the former Mariner and Brewer told the Appleton Post Crescent on Friday.
A major league source said the team would introduce him officially at some point next week.Read the full story. »